West Cork Burger Company has saved my life or at least filled my belly at several festivals over the years, so their WCB meal kit (great value at €40, serving eight, with all the trimmings) seems the perfect opportunity for a long overdue review. The USP is the beef: directly sourced from West Cork farms by splendid Macroom butcher/WCB partner Michael Twomey, Wagyu and Angus, a particular speciality.
While most Gaels believe BBQs only go with shorts and suncream, I’ve been defying the ongoing wintery monsoon, following the credo of an old Tennessee pitmaster of former acquaintance, who told me that the best BBQ is cooked just outside the kitchen door, year- round, through winter’s worst — even Christmas Day turkey.
For the past month, I have been defying the elements to cook al fresco and, despite kit instructions to pan fry, beef this good is only crying out to be grilled on the BBQ. As fat and juices cascade onto white-hot coals, flame and smoke sear and season. Resting and assemblage completed, we bite into succulent smokey burgers, carmelised on the outside, juicy and tender within.
Though its origins may be ambiguous, the classic burger is universally perceived as an American creation but that doesn’t mean their version remains an unalterable gold standard.
Just as the English invented football but gradually learned that other countries were often more naturally gifted exponents of the ‘beautiful game’, so the US burger is a starting point for innovation, not slavish imitation.
Accordingly, the current fad for flavourless ‘American’ cheese has us baffled. We cast it aside. ‘Irish cheese’ is even more ‘challenging’: artificially orange, glistening sheen, a throwback to a grim past. We bin it, instead dressing this fine burger as it should be, today, Hegarty’s Cheddar and Crozier Blue to yield the ‘Brazil of Burgers’!
When The Menu was first introduced to the term, ‘smash burger’, purportedly a comparatively new concept growing in popularity on the back of the US Smashburger chain’s huge success, he believed he was learning of some entirely new and enlightened method of cooking a burger and the elemental pleasures of a good burger, if done properly, can on its day, satisfy a primal hunger like no Michelin fare will ever manage to do.
But as he listened, he realised that the technique, in which the meat patty is flattened into a flat-top grill to carmelise the exterior and seal in the juices, was no more than a rebranding of a technique generations older than Smashburger, established in 2007, and which he in fact used himself when cooking in a US-themed grill bar in London many decades ago — back then, it was just a plain old ‘burger’.
Nonetheless, when done properly, it makes for a very tasty burger indeed and The Menu will be putting on his boot skates and zipping down to Clonakilty to taste the offering from 8020 — a new LA-style click&collect burger van, using their own 80:20 blend (hence the name) of Allshire’s superb local beef, from Rosscarbery.
And, by all accounts, they are doing a very fine job of rendering it as a delicious burger eating experience. Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from 4pm to 8pm, in the Scally’s Supervalu car park.
Yay Burger is a pop-up takeaway burger operation at Levi's in Ballydehob.
‘Takeaway burger’ is a loaded descriptor, once covering a multitude of sins, but the generally rising tide of Irish food standards has led to an abundance of upmarket burger offerings, further supplemented during the pandemic by other hospitality outlets pivoting to offer same. After all, everyone loves a burger and you don’t need a Michelin star to turn out a pretty decent one. However, Gemma Greany and Chris McDonald’s stupendous Yay Burger creations are a level above ‘pretty decent’.
It begins with sourcing: superb West Cork beef, from Twomey’s in Bantry, dry-aged for 28 days, mixed with rib top fat and smoked bone marrow, and a larder of fine local provisions furnishing all trimmings.
Combinations are ingenious and innovative but at the core of each burger is a sublimely seasoned, deliciously textured, deeply-flavoured patty, lush, juicy, and sporting gentle smoky notes of charcoal and ashwood over which it is cooked.
La Daughter’s Classic (ketchup, carmelised onions) epitomises the elemental excellence of Yay Burger’s menu but weekly specials are an equal joy: Notorious P.I.G., features 14-hour BBQ free range pulled pork atop the beef patty, Dubliner cheddar, American mustard slaw, crispy onions, aioli, pickles, lettuce and tomato; Beef My Valentine adds ruby sour cream slaw, shallot, American cheese, crispy onions, house BBQ sauce, Gubbeen bacon in bright pink beetroot brioche bun.
Chicken appears in several iterations: our favourite being Chicken Shish: smokey, succulent grilled breast, chilli-laden za’atar salad, tzatziki and house flatbread. Each dish comes with delicious fried spuds in rosemary and garlic salt. With ‘finish-at-home’ kits in the pipeline, further expanding their geographical reach, Yay Burger is undoubtedly one of my culinary highlights of lockdown.
Speaking of burgers, Ballymaloe Relish have teamed up with chicken and burger specialists, Coqbull restaurant, operating outlets in Cork and Limerick to put together a limited edition combo, a rotisserie pulled chicken and beef burger topped with Ballymaloe Fiery Relish, Dubliner Cheddar Cheese, crispy tobacco onions, mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion, which all makes for a rather mighty mouthful.
Order from Coqbull at the door, by phone, or click-and-collect.
The Dunraven Arms Hotel in Adare, County Limerick has created a West Limerick Spring Lamb Burger kit made from finest meat sourced by butcher Brian Costello and with Menu favourite, Rigney’s Farm rashers and wild garlic aioli as toppings. Click-and-collect.
I have rules. It is not a proper burger if it so big it needs to be eaten with a knife and fork; the meat needs to ooze juices; the bun needs to be soft but not mushy; the cheese needs to be somewhat industrial but still have flavour; and once you have finished your burger it should not feel like you have eaten a brick.
Yes, I loathed all those so-called ‘Gourmet Burger’ joints that we imported from London (via New Zealand) back in the mid 2000s. I hated their pretensions and I hated that they broke all my rules.
Thankfully this concept has run its course and proper burgers are back in fashion since around 2017 — and back in 2018 I rather heaped praise on the fine burgers of BuJo in Sandymount created by chef, Gráinne O’Keefe, in conjunction with local businessman, Michael Sheary.
Gráinne is the award-winning chef in Clanbrassil House and is known for her classical style mixed with creativity and wit. In a review for this page a couple of years ago I praised her caramelised leeks topped with chicken skin and a chopped egg vinaigrette, her panko-crumbed ham and cheese croquetas and pretty much everything else except the kale — but then I’ve never praised kale!
I know we can all cook a burger at home and I’ve been doing so for years but there is something about the meat mix used in BuJo burgers that I have been unable to reproduce. Enter the BuJo Masterpiece kit which can be delivered to every address in Ireland both north and south.
The kit arrived via DPD and was securely packaged with ice blocks plus a WoolCool Pouch which resembled a rough blanket to ensure everything stayed cool. I was delighted to see that everything except the plastic around the cheese slices was recyclable or compostable. The 'blanket' is also compostable but was instead added to the cat’s bed in the garage for those nights when she patrols our perimeter keeping us all safe.
The meat in BuJo burgers is from certified grass-fed Irish beef and only fresh meat (not frozen) is used from whole muscle cuts with no additives or preservatives. BuJo’s burgers do contain a little more fat than my own recipe (they call it ‘white gold’) but fat is actually key to the flavour it turns out. Gráinne’s advice is to cook the burgers on a barbecue as they do in the restaurant to allow the fat content to drip onto the coals and allow the resulting smoke to help flavour the burger.
I confess I simply cooked them in a very hot frying pan and allowed them to rest for a few moments on kitchen paper. The brioche buns from Coughlan’s Bakery in Kildare fit into the toaster and crisped up nicely — the top even bounced back once pressed.
I drizzled a little of the BuJo sauce onto each cooked burger along with some onions fried in the fat from the burgers (another rule: fried onions add extra umami to a burger and are a must — I abhor raw onion). I also added some slices of dill pickle from the kit and some lettuce and tomatoes (not included).
The burgers were a revelation — the meat was sweet and oozed so much juice it dripped down my arm, the bun was light and fluffy but also firm enough to hold the burger in place, the cheese melted perfectly and added a creamy tangy flavour which mixed nicely with the rich BuJo burger sauce. The BuJo sauce had an extra kick of chilli which perked up the flavours further and overall this was the most satisfying burger I’ve tasted since I last visited BuJo in person nearly two years ago.
To celebrate St Patrick’s Day there is a special Weekender’s Kit which includes a Burger Kit as above plus a Brownies Kit and a Breakfast Kit for the morning after containing BuJo Rare Breed Pork Sausage Patties, Oliver Carty’s Smoked Bacon Rashers, Margaret’s Free-Range Eggs and Innocent Orange Juice. Four cans of Wicklow Wold Craft Beer can be added for an extra €10.
I know you think you can make your own burgers — trust me you can't. And do order BuJo if you can.