IT seems you can’t swing a cow in London these days without hitting a burger joint. From high-end deconstructed gourmet fare through to the slop it together, wrap it in paper and hand it over the counter, there are a myriad of options, in a multitude of settings, for those who just want to get their hands on a piece of meat wrapped in a bun.
Deciding just which option to pick when the craving hits is more difficult. Take a recent visit to a much-lauded recently-opened outpost of an American chain in central London. A one-hour wait to order before seating resulted in a sloppily made, cheese-coated greasy imitation of a burger. I could have gone to a fast-food joint for the same outcome, with much less fuss.
It is perhaps both the blessing and the curse of the single-dish restaurant. Advertising yourself as a specialist in one particular type of food can make customers hone in on you when they’re craving that offering, but it also means you may only have one chance to get it right. Stuff up your signature dish, and you’ve effectively cancelled out your own reason for existence.
Luckily SLABS London pulls off the specialty menu. Technically SLABS — Steak, Lobster and Burgers — has a number of options for those looking for variety, but it’s the burgers offered up as the prize. A family-run restaurant in the heart of Marylebone, it promises classic dishes made with seasonal ingredients and a selection of burgers which sets it apart from the capital’s other burger joints.
SLABS caters mainly to the after-work crowd, or the quick and easy lunch for the busy office folk in the area. On a busy Friday night, the interior of exposed white brick walls, leather banquettes and quirky knot rope lights dangling over a long granite-topped bar could provide a stylish backdrop to a few burgers and cocktails with friends. However, on a quiet autumn weekday evening the slate grey and steel lends it a slightly cold edge.
A friendly waiter warms the tone, explaining the menu in detail and bringing us a bottle of a crisp, very drinkable house Sauvignon Blanc. I’m also tempted by the cocktails, which are visually represented on a flavour compass — from sweet to sour, and fruity to strong — before becoming distracted by the starters.
I must admit, I had pre-judged SLABS as primarily a burger restaurant, and wasn’t expecting to be impressed by the non-meat offerings. The two seafood starters certainly challenge my preconceptions, and are enough in themselves to satisfy any dining companions who are not fellow burger enthusiasts. The salt & pepper chilli squid is a substantial pile of lightly fried squid pieces. The sweet chilli dressing is tangy, fresh and full of flavour — fleshed out with coils of cucumber, sliced chilli and spring onion. The pan-fried tiger prawns are well-presented — thick, fleshy prawns sliced down the middle and served with a garlic and brandy jus sauce.
Now — the burgers. Leaving the steaks for another time, the burger menu offers the usual beef, chicken and veggie options. However, it is the Wagyu Burger and Spanish Burger we’re recommended, and who are we to argue with authority. Both burgers come out on slate plates, so thick with extras they’re offered up as two halves — begging the age-old question, to eat with your hands, or a knife and fork? My dining companion dives right in, declaring the Spanish Burger patty of chorizo sausage and prime beef ‘deliciously chorizo-y’. Combined with melted mancego cheese, Serrano ham and a garlic mayo sauce, it quickly becomes a messy, flavoursome mess in his hands. I attack my Wagyu Burger like a lady, trying to get a bit of everything — the prime beef, shiitake mushroom, tangy Asian slaw and wasabi mayo spread on the toasted sesame bun — all on my fork with every bite. It’s a genuinely great burger, and well-deserving of its name as house specialty. A side of thick hand-cut triple-cooked chips are just that — perfectly crisp chunky pockets of potato.
How there is possibly still room for desert is one of life’s mysteries, but a recommendation of pancakes is well worth making space for. Thinly cooked pancakes are deliciously soaked in thick caramel sauce and topped with sliced bananas, crunchy walnuts and walnut icecream. Yet again proving, there is still life left in simple classics made with appreciation for interesting flavours.
SLABS London is open Monday to Saturday 11am — Midnight and Sunday lunch at 19 New Cavendish Street, London W1G 9TZ. See Slabslondon.com for bookings.