Joris Minne: Rocket and Relish
Grab yourself a little piece of burger heaven as Rocket & Relish park their buns on the Lisburn Road to offer fast food at its finest
Belfast has developed an addiction for pizzas. At the last count, there were more than 20 pizzerias listed in the Yellow pages for the Greater Belfast area. Staggeringly, almost half of them are on the Lisburn Road. Pizzas simply don’t go out of fashion — they change with the times. You might see some, God forbid, with lettuce on them, Texan barbecue sauces and other abominations, but they’re still pizzas.
If properly made (there are many variations on the theme — thin crust, thick crust, stuffed crust, even) they can be a simple, nutritious delight, easy to eat and universally appealing. Crap ones are awful but it’s hard to say which ones these are as one man’s bad pizza is another’s shining example nowadays.
So with funky new pizzerias popping up all over the place in recent months on the formerly trendy south Belfast street, it was only a matter of time before the loud crack of a backlash should resound. This came from the people behind the burger caravan of choice at most rock festivals. Rocket and Relish burger vans are now a feature of most big outdoor events throughout Ireland and now they’ve pulled up, very cheekily, on the Lisburn Road.
In a clever bid to fit in, R&R have abandoned the caravan in this latest venture (the stand is still present at St George’s Market throughout the year) and opened a burger bar on dry land. And very sexy it is too. A small corner transformed into a gleaming white and grass-green semi-sit-down place, the new burger bar offers little in the way of comfortable furniture. It’s really meant to be a takeaway but there is just enough seating for a hungry diner or two to quickly shovel some burger and chips at a high table with stools or outside on the garden furniture. It’s not going to be easy to bring a party of five or more to enjoy a lunch or early dinner here together. Which is a sin, because the burgers are divine.
The adviser is very well acquainted with the work of Rocket and Relish. Conveniently for her, they park the van once a year on the City Hall’s front lawn near her workplace during the Christmas season and all her dinner money goes on their lunchtime burgers. “It was always quite a posh burger,” she says. “Anyone who puts rocket leaves in a burger has a bit of class.”
But it’s not just down to the cosmetics of a bit of rocket that places these burgers at the top of the heap, the adviser advises. It’s the quality of the meat, the care with which the patties are grilled and the choice of top-end accompanying relishes, sauces, cheeses and other essential components.
Two years ago I declared the best burgers in Belfast were made in Belmont Road’s Gourmet Burger Bank. They are still good, but Chris Boyd’s R&R have stolen that crown and are now current title holders.
What is it that makes something so simple and unpretentious, as exciting and mouth-watering as any fine dining experience? A very sensitive hand, that’s what. The char-grilled flavours and firm exterior texture of the flame-braised beef, the juicy soft meat within, intermingling with, in this case, Cashel Blue cheese, maple-cured bacon, fried onion, tomato, aioli and rocket, the lot encased in a large soft white bap that has been briefly toasted on the inside, provide a moment of dribbling indulgence. And it doesn’t stop there, because the rough-cut chips, delicate and floury within, light, golden and crunchy crisp on the outside are among the best in the city. If you thought that was good enough, R&R tops it with even more high-quality delights with optional sweet potato fries. These are an unbeatable way of letting on to yourself that you’ve actually eaten something very healthy. Yet they are sinfully salty and unstoppable.
The list of burgers is a mix of exotic and conventional and takes the concept a step further. While they all contain as their common-base ingredients fried onion, tomato, aioli and rocket, the choice is wide ranging enough to make you want to go back every day until you’ve tried them all. Chicken burgers, vegetarian ones using char-grilled field mushroom with feta, pesto, country relish, or aubergine, goat’s cheese and sun-blushed tomato fill out the list that offers beef ones with tapenade.
The charm of being able to offer the under-12 menu, which is effectively a smaller version of whatever the adults are having, is irresistible to most families, particularly when this includes a burger, chips and innocent smoothie for £3.95.
R&R deserves a Legion d’Honneur for maintaining the quality and for not cutting corners. Over the years, it has built an enviable reputation on the basis of that unique quality. They burgers are better than the much talked-of Parker le Meridien burger bar.
Now, R&R’s turn in the sun is coming because it has been shortlisted from 10,000 to the final 20 in the British Street Food Awards. These will be judged on September 12 by Marco Pierre White and Antony Worral Thompson. If R&R don’t win, these two need their heads and taste buds examined.
Bacon & blue £4.75
Cheese & relish £4.75
Cranberry & Brie £4.75
Mini Moo for under 12s £3.95
Sweet potato fries £2.50
Cold drinks £5.60