Joris Minne: Gourmet Burger Bank
If your idea of burgers is one of fast food served in polystyrene cartons, a visit to this welcoming spot will change your mind.
If Belfast has a reputation as a gritty industrial city, it’s thanks to the capital’s eastern quarter. East Belfast has always been slightly dislocated and self-contained, but there’s no mistaking the busy H&W cranes, the mighty factories of Bombardier and Thales and the masses of engineering units dotted about the place.
It is the opposite of bohemian and Latin Quarter and feels reassuringly tight-laced and Protestant. But beneath that veneer of sound work ethic, godliness and tidy front gardens there lies a seething, writhing alternative culture that, like molten magma beneath the earth’s crust, erupts volcanically and unpredictably to prove to the world that as well as being home to hard work and God-fearing honesty, this part of town is a cradle of creativity.
George Best, CS Lewis and Van Morrison are the holy trinity of east Belfast creativity, but there are plenty more. James Galway, Stewart Parker, Danny Blanchflower, Glen Patterson and Kenneth Branagh, to name a small sample, are or were titans of sport, literature, drama and music.
East Belfast is also physically different to the rest of the city. Unlike the other three quarters of the capital, it is made up of villages that still have strong identities: Strandtown, Bloomfield, Woodstock and Ballyhackamore.
Throw into this mix a decent portfolio of restaurants and you soon start to realise that, in fact, it might be worth getting the Range Rover out for a quick skite of discovery around the red-brick streets of the east after all.
The long-established Park Avenue Hotel, now a boutique affair with pretty rooms and a decent restaurant, provides the social heartbeat for this part of town, but around the corner are Bennett’s and Sam Spain’s Gourmet Burger Bank (GBB), both offering quality food, pleasant surroundings and good service.
The two neighbouring restaurants provide different experiences: Bennett’s changes its menu frequently and offers daily specials; GBB does burgers — there’s not much else you can do when the clue’s in the name — yet they are both reliable and have been delivering quality for years.
GBB burgers are so good they are fine-dining fast food. Burgers sound easy, but if you go to another burger temple — Rocket & Relish on the Lisburn Road — you’ll soon see that what is eaten without a knife and fork requires timing and cooking skills beyond the short-order, pattie-flipping effluent you might find in better-known burger chains.
Gourmet Burger Bank’s approach is equally attentive and each burger looks and feels like an individually created item. On offer are ironic and wonderfully pretentious burgers: there are Lebanese lamb kibbeh burgers, venison burgers, duck burgers and vegetarian burgers. Among these, however, are proper, lush beef burgers with all sorts of cheeses, relishes, and chips.
The chips went through a difficult moment a while back but they are back to their fabulous standards once more, whether you go for chunky or skinny.
There is a toy-shop quality to GBB thanks to the sensitively executed décor, which features lots of Banksy-style art, regiments of ketchup bottles on shelves and a very artistic approach to blackboard promotions. All of this might remind you of an Andy Warhol exhibition.
The bright colours, high ceiling and shed-like, industrial-unit feel to it all (it was a former Allied Irish Bank building) add to the democratic vibe and everybody is happy in their booths or at their tables.
Should you ever need a family restaurant to defuse a row, to alleviate summer boredom or just to feed the baying children, this is the place to tick all the boxes. Especially when you order the nachos.
Nachos (offered here as a starter) are a great communal law-enforcement weapon. As soon as the blistering hot dish of nachos smothered in cheese and accompanied by dips of chilli, guacamole and crème fraîche, cools down enough for you all to start, the mood becomes friendly, smiley and warm.
The quality of the food is very good; if burgers could approach being part of a healthy diet, then these would be quality. Freshly minced Irish Angus beef, good quality beef tomatoes, lettuce, onions and pickles are all top class. It’s the details that make the difference: the chilli, the chorizo that is integrated into the beef pattie (and which is explained each time it is served so as to settle any nervous diners who might think the meat looks suspiciously pinkish), the smoked bacon and all the other components.
Sam Spain who started it, and who now runs the successful Barking Dog, says he wants to open an even more stripped down, Five Guys-style burger bar. If it’s a quarter as good as GBB, east Belfast is on for another treat and you have another reason to go there.
Nachos x 2 £9.90
Chorizo burger £8.25
Bacon & Cheese burger £7.75
Satay Chicken burger £7.50
Lamb kibbeh £8
Hand cut chips £2.50
Skinny fries £2.50
Rocket salad £3.50
Glass shiraz £5.15
Stella bottle £3.25
Diet coke £1.40
Milkshake x 2 £5.10
20-22 Belmont Road, Belfast BT4 2AN.
Tel: 028 9047 3333