Review of Solita Christmas Burger 2016
What they say:
Candied pig in blanket, Brioche bun, Port and cranberry sauce, Deep fried sprouts, Sage and onion patty, Gammon slice, Buttermilk fried turkey, Aged cheddar cheese, Burger patty, Turkey gravy, Prawn cocktail shooter, Sherry trifle boozy shot.
Proving that cold shoulders don’t have to work in both directions, we are back at Solita’s Preston branch to get stuck into the brand new Solita Christmas Burger. It’s priced at £15.90, which I think it more than last year, and certainly higher than 2014, but a) someone has to pay for all these neon lights and b) 50p of this burger goes to charity.
Having seen the promos for the new burger, it was clear it wasn’t entirely new – well, I suppose there are only so many variations of Christmas dinner in a bun. And as Executive Chef Marcin explained to me as he brought it out, last year’s burger was very popular so the principle was to improve on it this year rather than change it. Evolution rather than Revolution.
While we waited, Marcin showed us the newly-completed private dining room which takes 70 covers. It has its own bar and I was genuinely impressed, not least because it has windows. You’ll see from my photos that the private dining room makes food look a lot better than in the yellow/red hues of the main windowless room.
He also explained that, apart from the Christmas burger, there are a few more new items coming to the menu soon, as Solita continues the innovation which, for me, is its stand-out feature.
You see, while the main Solita Twitter account entertains the world with pictures of building projects, cats and fridges, the outstanding kitchen staff under Marcin’s management are clearly putting in the hours and getting on with the business of providing innovative and downright tasty food. I’ve never once had a poor FOH experience at Solita either, and Preston is no exception. Very welcoming to children and adults alike.
Back to the food though, and this burger is definitely bigger than last year’s but with less sticking out the top (one of my burger bugbears) and rather less gooey. Content-wise, it’s very similar, but a few alterations here and there and it really does look like a different burger. Not different enough to remove the deep fried sprouts which seem to be a bit of a Solita “thing” these days, but definitely different to the eye.
With three types of meat inside and a sausage sticking out the top, this isn’t anyone’s idea of a light meal. This year, there’s a vegetarian version which looks similar, but if anyone thinks I’d choose that one over the proper one, they don’t know me. Marcin is very proud of it though and states that it tastes almost the same, so maybe one day I’ll put that to the test.
However there does seem to have been an explosion in vegetable versions of food lately. Vegetable menus have grown, vegetable traders are street-folding all over the place – I wonder if it’s only a matter of time before hipsters start walking around with celery in their pockets…
The tower of meat that was given to me took my mind completely off the vegetablisation of the world as my eyes took in the thick beef patty, the thicker fried turkey and the generous rolls of gammon. I knew I was going to enjoy this. Turkey (obviously), gammon, beef, along with festive additions like port and cranberry sauce, gravy, sage and onion (in a patty – it was bauble-shaped last year) as well as the cheddar which could potentially get lost.
Everything is provided generously without excess. The cranberries are all over the place and the turkey isn’t just a slice – it’s a thick chunk fried in buttermilk and crispy-coated. The meal also comes with “shots” of starter and dessert in the form of prawn cocktail and trifle. Probably a bit gimmicky but gimmicks are very much the preserve of Christmas burgers these days so we’ll let ’em off.
I mentioned before it’s not quite as gooey as last year’s, but it certainly doesn’t lack lubrication. The Monterey Jack has been replaced with Cheddar which I think is an improvement. I did worry it might get a bit lost but it definitely comes through. They’ve used a good mature one which does seem to bite above the gravy, sweet cranberries and all the meats. The burger as a whole also does give sufficient festive tones to warrant its title, so I am very pleased with it.
But back to the size for a minute, and when he handed it over, Marcin did say “good luck”. What this meant in practice is that I couldn’t eat it properly. No way. This is always the problem with big burgers and I’d probably always choose one that I can pick up and eat as I feel that’s a large part of the enjoyment of a burger. But not here, it was immediately obvious that I’d be using the cutlery. In fact, the Commodore Junior said right away “that’s about a foot tall”.
So, my taste buds were itching to stop writing about this foot tall tower of yum and get on with eating it. So I did.
Top-down, the candied pig was small and delicious. Our waitress described it as addictive and the best thing on the menu (I corrected her – she was nearly right, but the cheeseburger spring rolls are better). It was better than last year’s.
The sage and onion patty on its own was a little dry, but as part of the package this wasn’t a problem. I only noticed because I tried some on its own, and most people probably wouldn’t. It could however be dealt with by a little pot of that turkey gravy on the side to dip into, just a thought. Apart from that it was big, it was crispy and it was festive, so it’s a very well chosen addition and I do think works better than the external ball from last year.
The port and cranberry sauce was probably the defining feature of this and it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I actually do like sweetness on a burger, to a point, so I loved this. It was very sweet, not overdone, but tasty and relatively unique. It did devour the deep fried sprouts a bit. I could taste these sprouts occasionally when I got them with less sauce on the fork, but as part of the package, the sweet tang of the berries was the winner in that battle for my taste buds.
The meat triple whammy was killer. We’ve talked ad infinitum about Solita’s beef patty in these pages and it’s still up there, as good as ever. Distinctive, thick and very tasty. It was helped along the way by a thick helping of turkey. The coating on this could’ve been a bit crispier but I suspect the lashings of cheese, gravy and cranberry sauce probably had a lot to do with its softening.
Onto the gammon then and this was positively delicious. Rolled and folded into the burger, I can imagine development including the question of whether it was necessary. Necessary maybe not, but an utter delight. I haven’t had gammon in ages and this makes me want it again very very soon.
When I did finally get a mouthful of gravy-soaked meat it was fantastic. Warm and inviting and wasn’t slopped all over the place. In fact, despite the sheer size and number of different ingredients in here, this was a very accomplished build.
By about halfway through I was verging on full. Make no mistake, this is a MEAL, and a delicious one at that. I soldiered on like the trooper I am but unless you’re trying to impress someone, this is unlikely to be part of a three course meal (which is why it probably comes with the mini shots).
Another damn fine burger from Solita, proving that small changes to menu items can work very well and also that the chain is in very safe and secure hands with its new Executive Chef at the helm.
A very merry Christmas to all of Solita’s fantastic kitchen and front of house team, from all of us at BURGER LAD®