Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The cachet of Haché

Trying to find really good burgers in London like those you get in the States has been a quest of mine for a good while now, albeit one I haven’t been pursuing as vigorously as I perhaps might've.

The other night I found myself in Camden again, with half a mind to return to Brewdog to see if they were at least doing real burgers, having abandoned real beer.

But that research project will have to wait for another day: Wetherspoons met my beer needs with beers from their Spring beerfest available a couple of days ahead of schedule, and just around the corner from the Ice Wharf is the original branch of upmarket burger chain Haché, which had been on my ‘would like to try sometime’ list for a while.

Not your typical burger bar
Now with outlets in Clapham and Chelsea, they’re pitching to the high end of the market and the low-key décor feels more like an intimate French bistro than the sort of New-Worldly brashness you get at a Byron Burger or GBK.

But I prefer to let the burger do the talking, and have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised here. It might not feel like you’re in America but it certainly tasted like it!


Like GBK, Haché has an extensive menu, with at least a dozen different topping combinations, ranging from classic (cheddar and bacon) to experimental (the spicy ‘Bollywood’ burger which includes an onion bhaji and mango chutney). I was sceptical.

However, they seem to have succeeded in the crucial area where GBK fall down rather badly in that the huge range of burger formats available does not detract from the quality of the beef.

While they get the bovine fundamentals just right, it is, unfortunately, their policy to ‘serve medium-well, unless otherwise requested’ which is a senseless tragedy. Many customers will be unwittingly missing out here and go away under-appreciating the burger having experienced it under sub-optimal conditions.

Mrs B-V had the default cremated version and it was ‘OK’, but a bit dry and tough and lacking in any wow factor. She also drew the short straw in opting for the ciabatta bun which was uninspiring, but it’s good that they offer a choice I suppose.

I asked for mine rare and on brioche, and it was a thing of beauty – soft, pink, meaty and very succulent indeed, the juices mingling with the melted Stilton and decadently saturating the tender flesh of the soft brioche bun.

Few could argue with this bad boy...
Actually, scratch that bit about choice being good. All burgers should be cooked rare and served on brioche with blue cheese!

It was, without a doubt, one of the best burgers I’ve had in London, and my only gripe – a very minor one at that - would be that there was a little too much black pepper and I was finding unexploded pepper bombs in my mouth for hours afterwards.

Cut to the Chasé

The burgers start from around £7 for a basic 6 oz burger and go up to around double that for a 12 oz double burger with the toppings of your choice. £14 might be a lot to pay for a burger on its own (OK, with a tiny salad garnish) but remember that this is for a big one and it’s extremely good.

As seems to be the norm at the moment, sides are extra, and generally in the £2-3.50 range for a decent sharing portion. We went for the skin-on chips (a little bland and not as good as Byron’s), the superb onion rings (massive yet light and tempura-like) and some slivers of gherkin, which really should be included with every burger in my view.

There are chicken, tuna and falafel burgers available, plus breadless salady options which I should probably be choosing for health reasons,  but I just can’t imagine going to a burger place and not eating beef in a bun.

We shared a dessert - a huge, puddingy chocolate brownie with good quality ice cream – at a reasonable £4.50 and left the restaurant feeling deeply satisfied.

Like the décor, the service doesn’t seem to adhere to the American model either. While the food arrives promptly after you’ve ordered it, expect to see the waiting staff hanging around and chatting with each other for long spells, rather than attending to you every few minutes.

Again, this isn’t the kind of thing that bothers me particularly, and if you can put up with this, and the slightly incongruous feel to the whole experience, you’ll be rewarded with a very fine burger at Hache.

Just make sure you tell them not to overcook it!

Where to find it...

Haché Camden
24 Inverness Street,
Camden Town,
NW1 7HJ (map)
(Other branches in Chelsea and Clapham)

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