Artisan Burger Rising
Hold the truffle fries. These days, your dry-aged, hand-chopped “craft” burger is likely to be served with small batch, stone-ground polenta chips and homemade aioli
When Momofuku’s David Chang debuted his limited edition Momofuku Shrimp Stack burger for Shake Shack’s 10th anniversary in their iconic Madison Square Park outlet in 2014, he caused the longest ever queue in the burger legend’s history. It stretched more than one and a half kilometres long. Closer to home, cult Californian institution In-and-Out burgers sold out mere minutes after the line opened during their surprise pop-up debut in Singapore.
Burgers have long been a mainstay of any quick service restaurant. The first hamburger originated in the US in the late 19th or early 20th century. Early hamburgers were a convenient necessity in a rapidly industrialising society. With flavours and ingredients that were straightforward, affordable and easy to understand, they were comfort food for the mass population. Fast-forward to the present and their popularity shows no signs of abating, even as global beef prices rise. In the US, despite record beef prices in 2014, hamburger consumption rose three per cent. But on the other hand, there is the slow, sure decline of the fast food burger. McDonald’s, one of its leading pioneers, is experiencing a slump in domestic sales for the first time in a decade, and is in the midst of closing hundreds of stores.
There is no question that in today’s burgerscape, a machine-made frozen patty with pre-packaged sliced cheese tucked in a supermarket-bought white bread bun simply does not cut it. These days, burgers come with gourmet ground meat patties and a premium array of trimmings, all dressed between artisan brioche buns. As utilitarian as they once were, burgers are also a perfect canvas for evolution and interpretation. In the early noughties, French-American chef Daniel Boulud rocked the culinary world with the launch of the game-changing DB Burger at db Bistro Moderne in New York. The epitome of burger couture, it took three days to prepare and was stuffed with red-wine-braised short ribs, black truffles and foie gras—a burger for grown-ups.
At US$32 a pop, it soon spawned a legion of copycats worldwide, all attempting to level up on the haute burger trend. These ranged from the Million Rupiah Burger at the Four Seasons Hotel in Jakarta, packed with Kobe beef, foie gras, Portobello mushrooms and strangely enough, Korean pears; to chef Hubert Keller’s outrageous US$5,000 The Fleurburger 5,000 experience at Las Vegas’ Fleur Restaurant, which includes a bottle of 1995 Chateau Petrus as part of the package.
Quietly, while one corner of the burger camp was piling on the caviar and gold flakes, another wing was delving into the origin and provenance of the burger ingredients. Meat patties, for example, used to be made from ground off-cuts, typically supplemented with egg and breadcrumbs to stretch the little that was there. A new guard of restaurateurs experimented with the type of buns used, different premium cuts of meat, meat-to-fat ratios and various methods of cooking in search of their holy grail—a flavourful, moist patty matched with a perfect bun that can to stand up to it. Burgers slowly morphed from shiny Vegas showgirl to Portland hipster and the monochromatic Australian minimalist, as their creators pursued the bovine equivalent of the Proustian madeleine. Fluffy potato or rich brioche buns? Seeded or unseeded? Rib eye or rump? Dry aged, or not? A smashed patty or regular chargrill? American sliced cheese or melted Gruyere? Amidst these dilemmas plaguing the burger cognoscenti, a first world aesthetic is burgeoning alongside, one desirous of social narratives and a human connection to what we’re consuming. Above all, it bucks the industrial trend of mass production and machine manufacturing, in favour of all things artisanal and handmade.
If it is not already so, your burger may soon come with a side certificate of pedigree, straight out of an episode of hipster American satire Portlandia. You will know the ranch your particular steer was from, the exact blend of flours and eggs folded into the burger brioche, signed off by a master baker, and the fromager from which the slice of cheese was procured. Accompanying it will be probiotic pickles, heirloom tomato slices, organic house-made ketchup and a bevy of secret sauces. The irony of it all is that despite the hype, for the food lover, it does not get any more real—or chefy—than this. And that’s not too shabby at all for convenience food.
Hankering after a double cheese? The island is undergoing a resurgence of artisanal gourmet burgers made with just about every cut of grass-fed, dry-aged meat out there. From see-and-be-seen outfits to fuss-free takeaways, here are some of the island’s burger joints du jour.
If you like your burgers with a serious side of rock n’roll and sass, London burger concept MEATliquor is the joint for you. The local offshoot of this cult London street truck brand is a haven for the city’s young scenesters, who flock in droves to gobble up favourites such as the double-patty Dead Hippie—a juicy, glorified rendition of a Big Mac, with a side of fried pickles sliced paper-thin and battered.
Ph: 6221 5343
We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at home in your jammies with a burger craving the size of Bukit Timah Hill and McDelivery isn’t quite what you were looking for. For a delicious quick option without the sit-down fuss, Omakase Burger is your best bet. The quick service burger outlet serves perfectly cooked burgers with charred juicy beef patties that are just the right blush of pink inside. A blend of USDA choice beef patties smashed on the grill, layered with American cheese in a locally made Omakase bun, it may not the cheapest option out there, but it sure hits the spot when that double cheese craving calls.
Ph: 6737 3218
Carvers & Co
Foodies in the know whisper about a small, unassuming restaurant in Joo Chiat that serves up a formidable gourmet burger. Carvers & Co’s owners Sarah Lin and her husband Wen Ming Soh took two months to research their burger. They tasted every popular burger in Singapore and experimented tirelessly—with meat-to-fat ratios in their fresh ground beef rump patty and the perfect burger bun custom-baked by BAO—before launching The General. Available in limited quantities only on weekends, The General is a glorious combination of beef patty, melted aged cheddar, caramelised onions, gherkins, house-made ketchup and Dijonnaise. Here’s the kicker: the burgers also come with a bacon weave, strips of streaky bacon woven into a lattice, for easy eating.
Ph: 6348 0448
Wildfire doesn’t mess around when it comes to making a winning burger. If the litmus test of a good burger is its patty, Wildfire levels up on theirs by grilling them in an Inka charcoal oven. Similar to a Josper grill, the Inka produces beef patties with a distinctive smoke and char in flavour, while retaining all of the juiciness. Three types of patties are available—a classic grain-fed Australian beef, Blackmore full black wagyu, and a 45-day dry-aged Rangers Valley. They come tucked between a brioche bun from BAO, slathered with the signature veal-based master sauce and topped with a mound of onions caramelised with dark Japanese beer. Not to be missed are Wildfire’s umami fries, sprinkled with a tasty, umami equivalent of fairy dust.
Ph: 6734 2080