Whilst in NewYork, I made two rather exciting discoveries. Firstly, that my hotel was located less than 10 minutes walk from the original birth-site of burger-Mecca ‘Shake Shack’ in Madison Square Park. Secondly, that in mid-2013 Shake Shack will be opening its first London branch in Covent Garden’s market building.
Always selflessly preoccupied with doing good deeds for others (ahem!), I decided to take one for the team and try out this famous burger joint, purely in the best interest of my fellow Londoner of course.
Shake Shack was born in Madison Square Park, and what began as a hot-dog cart flogging burgers, has now turned into a 20 site chain, with a big presence in the Middle East, and soon to be opening London branch. Despite its undeniable popularity, the reviews I’d read pre-visit were rather mixed. The best way I could find out how good they were though was to judge for myself. After all, a real American burger was one of the things I was desperate to try whilst in NY, and Shake Shack was certainly ranking up there in the guide league tables.
Warned about the mammoth queues that Shake Shack’s landmark site generates, I headed down there on a Sunday evening around 6pm fully expecting to have to wait at least an hour for my food. What I found was an impeccably oiled machine, where everything is geared towards reducing your wait and making the operation as swift and painless as possible. Imitating a drive-thru, you walk up to the first window, place your order, pay, collect a pager and head off to the ample seating area surrounding the fairy-lit, urban wood and metallic structure. I waited roughly 8mins before my pager burst into life and I headed to the next window to collect my bag of food. Peeking inside I almost let out a squeal of excitement. You see this is what I’d dreamed of – a real life American burger, and it was ALL mine!
I wrapped the bag up tight and began my hurried rush back to my hotel, clutching the food tight to me as I power-walked the 10 blocks back. On arriving back at the hotel, the doorman noticed my bag of plunder and exclaimed that he ‘looooooves Shack Shack’ before he mock chased me to the elevator as if he was going to steal my burger. Yeah, fat chance buddy, I’d like to see him try!
So, back in the privacy of my room I de-robed my supper from its bag and prepared to tuck in. First I tried the crinkle cut fries. If you’re a traditionalist and like your fries to be big chunky lumps of hand-carved potato then these are not going to float your boat I’m afraid. They are 100% ‘fake style chips’ as I call them. Unnaturally crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. And boy they taste heavenly for it! The vanilla milkshake was dreamy also. Not too thick that you risk suffering an embolism trying to suck it up through the straw, but not at all watery and limp in texture. It was just right.
The burger looked an absolute picture. The downside however is that it was swimming in grease. The paper bag that housed it was almost entirely transparent after the walk back, and the soft, sweet bun had soaked up enough grease that it lost its integrity and collapsed on me whilst eating.
Now, I’m not saying that it didn’t have potential. I’m almost certain there was an incredibly delicious burger nestled under that pool of grease it was swimming in, I just had a hard time getting over the fact I was likely accelerating my mortality rate by eating it.
Londoners have become rather big fans of burgers in the last 18months (no doubt a large contributing to Shake Shack’s decision to open up here). However, with that fanaticism has come a rather heavy dose of snobbery. London is now shunning the fast food burger styles for more hearty, mile-high, fresh ingredient options. Just take a look at the popularity of Byron burger and how they seem to be winning over the fast food crowds these days. We like to be asked how we’d like our burgers cooked, we like to see the meat to bread ratio ever decreasing, and we like our selection of cheeses and varying other accompanying burger ingredients to resemble a well-stocked deli counter. In other words, Londoners have become burger aficionados. 5 years ago I imagine we’d have gone utterly nuts for the likes of Shack Shack. Now, I’m not so sure to tell you the truth. If they can tame down the grease factor they may just win round with those fries and milk shakes. I’m seriously tempted to give it another try when they open here just to see how it exports, but I’d be highly unlikely to go back for seconds in NY. I think my inherent gluttony met its match at Shake Shack.