Restaurant review: it's the battle of the burgers
Five Guys Burgers & Fries Victoria Square, Belfast. Tel: 0800 0833 005. Bulletproof Burgers, 36 Anne Street, Belfast. Tel: 028 9043 4340.
Belfast is in the grip of burger fever. There are more than 120 restaurants and takeaways serving burgers in Belfast city.
The good ones are made from local beef and served within a huge variety of rolls, baps and buns. Some are innovative and brilliant, like the shin burger created by Michael O'Connor in Barking Dog. Others are strictly for a post-2am attack of the munchies when anything may be considered edible.
But in the city-centre lie some seriously commendable burgeries. It's all very subjective. Reactions to my review of City Picnic, which declared their burgers to be the best in town, were such that I considered entering a witness protection scheme.
Today's review focuses on newbies Five Guys and Bulletproof. The principle difference between the two is that Five Guys is part of a global presence, whereas Bulletproof is home-grown by two brothers, Edmund and Ronan Byrne.
Bulletproof is full of dark humour. The head of Santa still adorns the top of the Christmas tree in early January, there is punk street graffiti all over the walls and there's a hellish quality to the dining room generated by the red fluorescent tube lighting. But, charmingly, it's also waiter-serviced and serves prosecco.
The adviser, a daughter and I had been in Five Guys the day before, so with fresh memories and assessment heads on we ordered cheese burgers, sweet potato fries, chips, beers and some sriracha sauce.
Five Guys might offer you a choice of 15 add-ons (tomato, lettuce, pickles, etc), but Bulletproof gives you the option of a nuclear-fusion sriracha, which is the kind of hot sauce field hospital surgeons might give you to take your mind off a leg amputation. Hot, but pleasantly full of flavours, so long as you deal in micro drops.
The burger patties are wholesome, soft to the bite and on the verge of crumbly. The buns are like a soft and firm Belfast bap, which gives the burger plenty of structure lasting well beyond the third bite.
Chopped tomatoes and lettuce, small cornichon pickles and crack sauce (the server said it's like McDonald's, but it was better, more eggy) made for a very good support act.
Sweet potato fries are fine, with just the right coating of salt and light batter, but the potato chips are excellent. Variable-length chunky chips means you get plenty of crispy bits as well as soft, fat, full-length jobs with reassuring potato flavours and textures. Worth mentioning too is the Yardsman ale and lager on tap and the surprisingly brilliant North Bound bottled Kolsch.
Five Guys also does good beers, including Brooklyn. The business was conceived by five brothers in Washington DC 30 years ago. Bulletproof is run by two brothers and Five Guys Belfast by the three Desmond brothers. Must be a dude thing.
Five Guys is a counter service operation and I counted 14 people behind the pass, so even on a busy Saturday afternoon, it's quick.
The bright white and red interior is the opposite of Bulletproof's bad-ass darkness, but this doesn't make it any more or less welcoming.
Bags of Yorkshire potatoes are stacked to give you a sense of friendly functionality and the chips are, as it turns out, top of the class. The potato flavours, the skin-on crispiness, the sheer size of a small portion make this among the best chippies in town and I notice some people are in just for a 'fries solo'.
The burger is encased in a very soft toasted, seeded bun. The patty is crumbly and benefits from a bit of charring. It's soft and thin and the choice of add-ons is generous and well thought-out.
Five Guys is marginally a cut above Burger King and McDonald's. It is imbued in a kind of quality glamour of its own making. Reducing the sauces and making more of the ingredients makes for an excellent burger.
In this burger-off, by a paper napkin, Bulletproof nudges just ahead of Five Guys on the basis that the experience is strictly Belfast, a bit Bolshi and with loads of attitude.
While it takes nerves of tungsten to create your own brand, rather than buy a franchise, the decision is not on the basis of its independence. It's down to experience.
Cheese burger (x2 ) £16.00
Lil' cheese burger £5.50
Large fries £5.00
Diet Coke £2.50
Coors Light £3.50
Cheese burger (x2) £15.00
Double burger £6.50
Sweet potato fries £4.25
Hand cut chips £2.75
Diet Coke £1.85
North Bound Kolsch beer £4.20
Pint Yardsman lager £4.20