GBK shows just how far the humble burger has come

BY VICTORIA PREVER Since the first Gourmet Burger Kitchen was opened by three carnivorous New Zealanders – advised by my kitchen hero Peter Gordon – the London burger scene has never looked back. A number of similar outlets have followed suit, elevating t


Since the first Gourmet Burger Kitchen was opened by three carnivorous New Zealanders - advised by my kitchen hero Peter Gordon - the London burger scene has never looked back. A number of similar outlets have followed suit, elevating this foodstuff from traditional fast food to aspirational eating.

Long after the days of the good old Wimpy Bendy Burger, there are now a few places offering decent burgers, but GBK is the grand-daddy. A couple of years ago, the cunning Kiwis sold out to the Clapham House Group, where GBK has as its stable mates The Real Greek, Tootsies and The Bombay Bicycle Club. All are respectable places for a reasonably priced speedy meal on the hoof. Clapham House has been busy - there are now 43 GBK branches nationwide, 23 of them in London, three in north-west London.

I love a burger and think I'm a pretty good judge, but who loves them more than kids? So I decided to borrow some small people to assist me in my assessment of Crouch End's Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

Locals Jake (12), Amy (9) and Rafi (three and three-quarters) are regulars. At 6.30pm it was long past Raffi's suppertime and approaching bedtime. He and his siblings were champing at the bit when we set off with Mummy, a friend since school days.

On a school night, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We pulled two tables together and were quickly brought menus by a smiling man who seemed to be wearing many hats - waiter, barman, host and till-operator.

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The menu offers the usual beef burgers, a couple of lamb burgers, a few chicken breast versions and a range of veggie creations, including falafel, puy lentil aubergine and goat's cheese and Portabella mushroom. For those who hadn't realised they were eating in a burger joint, there are a few salads. We were there for the meat though, and after we'd spent several minutes allocating who was going to try what, we all trooped up to Mr Many Hats to order.

Chairs and tables are pretty functional. I'm no expert in colour therapy - or whatever the dark art of influencing people using colour is called - but I strongly suspect the "easy" orange backrest on the bench was used specifically to discourage a longer linger. It definitely wasn't plush but was perfectly serviceable and a whole lot different from less gourmet burger outlets.

My expert advisers - who, thankfully, are not also my nutritionists - told me that I HAD to try one of the fantastic milkshakes. Just as well, as Many Hats announced that it was pretty much that or nothing. No smoothies and not much in the way of juice. I imagine my arteries and belly fat paid the price when we each took delivery of a huge silver bucket of creamy, icy milkshake. My chocolate one was excellent as was the very-yellow banana version. We could have easily shared one between two or three. Only the eminently sensible Raffi chose a healthy, vitamin C-packed fresh orange juice.

We'd been warned that the burgers would be 10 to 15 minutes but I was so busy with my milkshake and our lively conversation, I didn't notice how long we waited. The burgers all looked great. Desperate Dan-sized stacks of beef, bun and filling. Again, Rafi put us all to shame with his sensibly sized Junior Burger with no extras. My cheese-burger - held together by a long wooden skewer and immense willpower - was immaculate. Tender, tasty burger, mature melting cheddar, a piquant, tomatoey relish, fresh lettuce leaves "all in a sesame seed bun,". Even the bun was quality and not your usual sweet, doughy pillow. My only complaint was the difficulty in eating it. "You wouldn't order one of those on a first date" was Mummy's main opinion, wiping her Jamaican burger's thick, pureed ginger and mango sauce, mayo and relish from her face.

Jake's (relish-less) cheeseburger disappeared in seconds and even the delicate Amy managed to wolf down her entire grown-up sized pesterella - a cheesily named burger filled with pesto and mozzarella.

Chips were hot, golden and in big enough portion sizes for five of us to share two bowls. The smoked chilli mayo was smokey and mayo-ey but not heavily consumed by us. Our bowl of "homeslaw" - listed as an Antipodean coleslaw - was also very good. It was the usual ingredients disguised with a vinaigrette so sweet it even got the seal of approval from my panel of experts.

By the time we'd worked our way through milkshakes, burgers, chips and salad we were all too full to look at more food. A table census established an average score of 9 out of 10 for the burgers and milkshakes, with points only really lost for the excessive size of both.

Amy awarded them eight and a half as "there was no room for dessert", Jake declared his burger to be "deelish" but deducted 2 marks for the lack of juice, Rafi gave his meal twelve out of ten. Mummy felt her meal worth a nine - one mark deducted for the burger not being "girlie" enough. They'll definitely be back and I'm sure that's not the last GBK burger I'll have eaten.

o This week's poor service prize goes to Le Cochonnet (French for piglet or the little ball you throw your boules at when playing petanque), a Maida Vale stalwart favoured by tennis players (from the park or nearby tennis club), trainee city types and other local residents too lazy to cook or looking for a buzzy place to quaff wine. Staff were always friendly and the food good. My last visit was disappointing.

Many of the staff have forgotten what they're employed for. Minutes after ordering, our waitress promptly forgot Grumpy's order.

My main course Caesar salad with grilled chicken was priced at £9.95 but was tiny. I asked for some more salad leaves. It disappeared and only returned after Grumpy had almost finished his main course and we'd grabbed a waitress to ask where it was. They'd added parmesan shavings and extra (stale) croutons. No-one bothered to ask if it was any better.

Once they'd lifted our main course plates we were ignored. We had to interrupt a waitress - busy dancing at the bar - and ask her for our bill. We also watched another waitress uncomfortably trying to move a group who'd already been seated at one table and were enjoying their drinks. The table had apparently already been reserved. It may have been a bad night for staffing, but they could do with pulling their glittery disco socks up.

GBK, 45 Topsfield Parade, Tottenham Lane, Crouch End, N8.

Telephone: 020-8347 5241.

Food: Five stars

Service: three stars

Hours: Mondays to Fridays noon to 11pm, Saturdays 11am to 11pm, Sundays 11am - 10pm.

Cost: About £16 per head, including service.

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