Restaurant review: Tribal Burger and Build-a-Burger
Both Botanic Avenue, Belfast. Tel: 028 9543 5210 and 028 9023 4595
Burgers. You can't live with them and you can't live without them. The simplest of foods, anyone can make them. A burger is a sandwich and as long as the sandwich features a bun or bap split in two and a patty, pretty much anything else can be added.
Because it is so simple, everyone is qualified to judge them. This means that you will find every molecule of a burger will at some point in its life, come under microscopic scrutiny. Burger King and McDonalds create theoretically perfect burgers. The Whopper and the Big Mac are as classical now as coq au vin, Ulster Fry and cock-a-leekie soup.
From the top of the sesame seed-covered bun through the tomato, lettuce, pickle and secret sauce to the ketchup and bottom foundation, both are acknowledged as such. But they are delicate affairs and not always up to the standard of the mouth-watering photograph above the tills.
They are prone to sogginess if taken away in a bag for consumption some minutes later (usually in the car or back home). The bun's structure can deteriorate and lose its strength rendering its role as protector of the fingers from the grease within, less than useful.
Many challengers have stepped forward to provide a superior burger and there's a whole lifestyle surrounding most of them.
Five Guys is cool and industrial, Wendy, homey and reassuring. But further along the line are the independents where the burger is treated as less of a mass volume product and more as an individual dish.
Two independents of note face each other across Belfast's Botanic Avenue. They are Tribal Burger and Build-a-Burger.
The latter has been there some years now and is hugely popular with students. It has a clattery cafeteria vibe and, in the style of Boojum, features a variety of patties including venison, vegetarian and chicken as well as your more conventional beef, a raft of accompanying garnishes, cheeses, sauces and pickles and mysteriously, Haribo jelly sweets.
You can even choose the kind of bap you'd like. Chips are excellent, hand cut, crispy and made from quality potatoes. And it's affordable. We had venison and vegetarian burgers and were well impressed.
So why am I not crazy about it? For one thing, the people behind the counter appear to be a bit stressed.
Maybe the man in charge needs to lighten up or something but hospitable is not the word I'd use to describe him.
The tables and chairs are fine for the mood but the little room does get uncomfortably packed.
Across the street in Tribal Burger, hospitality and hospitability are clearly evident. The vibe here is slightly more arty, may be a bit more hipster and relaxed and certainly less stressed.
High, long tables and stools afford a bit more elbow room. Here the system is more geared towards the client: you go to the counter, order from the menu and take a seat. A few minutes later the food is brought to you.
The operation is a bit slicker, the servers cheerful and willing and the burgers taste of fresh beef.
The room and its art work are more Warhol and the Factory.
I'm a sucker for Instagram and Tribal's account shows them making the patties and all the ceremonial craft which goes into making the perfect burger, something beloved of hipsters.
In fact, the pictures and videos are so compelling, they're what caused me to go there in the first place. There may be less of a choice (and the chips are not up to Build-a-Burger standard) but the overall experience here is better. I went twice to both of them to make sure.
The second time in Tribal I had the sweet potato fries. These are excellent. The exterior is as crunchy as an exoskeleton and I'd go back just for those.
It's a great thing for us that two quality independents are battling it out within yards of each other.
Burgers built the millennial generation and there's room for everybody. Especially when they're this good.
Tribal Classic ....................................£5.75
Tribal Chilli and sour cream chips .£3.75
Build Venison burger ...........................£6
Build chips ........................................£1.75