Monday, 29 July 2013

London's latest US import: Five Guys Burgers, Covent Garden

"So, when you're in America you have to go to Five Guys." I was firmly told by someone before I went to the States back in May this year. "Their burgers are just insane. Err-MAZ-ing!".  But in two weeks on the other side of the pond I never got round to visiting this fabled burger chain.  However, on my return to the UK, the same burger fan joyously informed me that he'd heard the exciting news that Five Guys was following me back home.  On the Fourth of July - a national holiday back in the USA - Five Guys opened its first British branch down in Covent Garden.

And I was ready for it.  The burger fanatic had made sure of that!  I had even made contact with the charming lady at Five Guys who was heading up the launch.  Dammit, they were even expecting me on the first day, and delightfully offered to shout me lunch.  But when I arrived - accompanied by my salivating Five Guys-loving pal obviously - we were informed that if we wanted to partake of luncheon at this establishment - which is, in basic truth, really just a standard counter-service takeaway joint with seating - we would have to wait for 45 minutes IN THE STREET before we could get anywhere near a some meat in a bun and a portion of chips.  [Note from the Five Guys expert: apparently the lunchtime queue on the opening day ended up with the most hardcore of burger fans waiting 2 hours for a bite to eat!] That was not going to happen. However great those burgers were reported to be.


So I tried again.  And again.  But still the ridiculous queues of people with nothing better to do than queue for lunch remained; between me and what was reportedly the latest, greatest fast food in town.  But finally, fourth time lucky and some three weeks after the place opened, the queue dropped down to about 10 minutes or so and I finally made it through Five Guys' doors.

Large bags of shelled peanuts divide the queuing customers, patiently waiting to put their orders in at the kitchen, and large boxes marked 'peanut oil' and 'potatoes' sit beneath the windows. Everything is red and white, most things are striped. Fortunately, whilst the queues are long the menus are not. You pick your burger - plain hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger (being careful to ask for a 'little' burger if you don't want to receive two chunky meat patties in your bun) - any toppings and sides (obviously you want fries too) and a drink. You receive your receipt (and order number - don't forget or lose this!) and an empty paper cup. Hmmm, tasty.
While your order takes shape amongst the many others in the open kitchen, awaiting assembly on neat squares of tin foil, you fill up your empty cup at the TARDIS of drinks machines. No easy Fanta, Sprite, Coke or Diet Coke dilemmas here. You want Coke? Well sure, but what kind? Cherry? With vanilla? With lime? Coke Raspberry? And how about some ice with that? The time you take a wavering between regular Fanta or Fanta Grape however will give the kitchen staff plenty of time to assemble your burger and toss a generous truckload of fries into an accompanying brown paper bag for you.  And then, taking a booth or a stool some peculiarly mismeasured distance from a counter-top, you finally get to see what all the fuss is about.
I have to admit it: my first Five Guys burger didn't instantly blow me away. Sure, it was tasty, wonderfully juicy, and in the kind of slightly sweet, squishy bun that reminded me of the burgers you used to get at school barbeques and village fetes.  But I could've lived with just the one pattie.  There is no delicate way of eating a Five Guys burger.  It's the kind of mouthful that would be far easier to swallow if you were one of those massive snakes that can unhinge their jaws and choke down an entire goat in one go.  But damn, those fries are something else.  Crispy and crunchy and fluffy and salty and, most importantly, plentiful.  And as I ate, my opinion of the burger seemed to improve.  I was stuffed by the time I dragged myself back to my desk at work, with a slightly salty, greasy but not unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth.
And the longer I sat there in front of my computer without a massive paper cup of Raspberry Coke and an oozing burger nestled in a foil wrapper in front of me, the more I wished I was back in Five Guys with another feast ahead.  Most odd. As the feeling of hunger (or just plain greediness) grew, I began to appreciate the cult following and hype around this place. There really is something strangely and unfathomably addictive about Five Guys.  Must be something in the Raspberry Coke.

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10 comments:

  1. I vaguely remember people saying this sort of stuff about MacDonalds when it opened. And oddly, I find McD weirdly addictive, or at least their Filet o Fish. Still, I wouldn't queue for it unless I was really desperate

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    1. There's always somewhere that's the hot new burger joint in town, isn't there, Jenny? But let's hope the queues calm down to McDonalds standards soon or I'm not sure even my desire for their brilliant fries will get me to wait that long again...

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  2. Wow, mental queues for a burger! I remember when Meat Liquor first opened and the queues went round the block - must have been over an hour long!

    Still not sure if I want to try it here...maybe I'll go along on a whim one day when the queues have reduced. The fries sound amazing though!

    Caroline x
    Cocktails and Caroline

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    1. Crazy, eh, Caroline? I could see Five Guys being the new Meat Liquor actually, although without the prentious overtones - Five Guys is way too laid back to pretend to be cooler than it is! Maybe give everyone time to calm down and then go. Even if only for the fantastic fries!

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  3. I walked past the swarm of pilgrims queueing at this altar last Friday and wondered what it was all about. I genuinely thought they might have been handing out free burgers (The Diner on Shaftesbury Avenue were a few weeks ago).
    I must give give this place a try, if I can get a burger before my lunch hour is up...

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    1. It's crazy how the pilgrims are still flocking there, percythelondontaxi. Hope you get to wade through them and grab a taste sometime!

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  4. Where have I been? How come I hadn't heard of this ? I need to try, I am a burger fan. That said, I am off to New York soon...what should I do: try now, or layer?

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    1. Ooh New York, lucky you, Muriel. Well if you've still not grabbed a Five Guys by the time your back give me a shout - think we're overdue a blogger catch up, maybe we should go?!

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  5. I think i prefer Shake Shack burgers, but Five Guys fries (reading that back, I think i just answered my own question of "why am i carrying an extra kilo?!") Lucky you, both are now in the UK!!!!! I enjoyed this little piece - especially your snake imagery, even though i really don't like snakes at all in the real world! X

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    1. I have yet to try Shake Shack, but it's on my list...have a feeling their burgers may be better (given general consensus) but Five Guys fries will take some beating! Sorry to creep you out with my snake imagery...promise they're not quite so bad in real life as you imagine; I had a crash course in having to get used to them deep in a jungle a few years back!

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