I could tell it was a bit of a disappointment when I said ‘Right, we’re going for a burger’ to my 14-year-old lad, and then quickly added ‘it’s vegan’. He crumpled his nose up and made a noise. This reaction doesn’t really fit with his general outlook, by the way.
He’s not a ‘no meat, no lunch’ type by any stretch. His favourite place in town by far is Bundobust, where he’d eat every day of the week if he could, and there’s not a single beast to be seen in those fine establishments.
That said, throw in a lottery win/crypto currency windfall and he’d be developing juvenile gout at Hawksmoor. But think burger, and he thinks beef, sadly, and that’s where we are. Why, if you’re opposed to animal products, would you want something that either looks like it, or is trying to create the same texture, he wonders on the way to the tram.
It’s a fair enough comment, but surely it’s also fine to miss some of the characteristics of meat, even if you’ve turned your back on the ethics of it. Nonetheless.
The Vurger Co arrived in the Northern Quarter (landing on Tib Street, next door to the giant piano showroom that the city has been crying out for for so long) a couple of months back, and it’s a very handsome place indeed, with white tiles, industrial ducting and nice chairs. It feels like it’s proud of its environmental creds, rather than being all smug about it too.
All the packaging is compostable (the Canary Wharf branch – there are just four in all – even has its own composter), and none of what you throw away goes to landfill, instead going back into the system to make green energy, which then powers the restaurants in a pleasing closed loop situation. The bog roll is from a company called Bumboo (it’s made from bamboo).
So it’s ticked plenty of boxes before you’ve even ordered. No contribution to the billions of delicious cattle guffing out methane all day long, so all that remains is that it’s both sustainable and delicious. Is it though?
Hmm. Burger-wise, there are four basic options – faux beef in the form of the New York Melt, featuring a Beyond Meat patty (at £9.95), a sausage-style ‘pork’ patty for the BBQ Pork burger (also £9.95), the soy-based crispy chicken (from £8.95) and the pure veggie ‘Auburger’, fashioned from aubergine, tempeh, chickpea, and chipotle (£8.45). They variously come with vegan cheese – mozzarella style on the faux chicken, a smoked gouda style on the BBQ faux pork, for example – and they’re served in a soft and pleasingly shiny glazed bun.
They all arrive looking extremely handsome. Cut the New York Melt, and it bleeds burger sauce. But I personally find the taste of Beyond Meat specifically unpleasant. I can’t pinpoint it, but it could be slathered in all the ketchup, mayo, burger sauce or mustard in the world, and I’d still detect it. The Boy, however, polishes his off, no messing. “It’s pretty good,” he says. That’s relatively high praise for a teenager.
The same cannot be said for the Buffalo Vurger. The tang of vinegar in the buffalo sauce is there, as is the spice. But the texture is off, stringy and slightly too chewy. Tasted alone, it’s bland. The Boy won’t even finish his. “It just doesn’t taste particularly nice,” he says. Personally, I’ve a mind that it’s not awful. But neither is it great. Will I be rushing to buy another? I will not.
The Aubuger has ‘zero nasty additives’. It also has zero seasoning, not a solitary grain of salt in its entire make-up, I’m convinced of it. It makes me long for the days of Burger King’s long-departed Spicy Bean Burger. Season this up, coat it in crumbs and deep fry it, and they might be onto something. Neither The Boy nor I continue beyond a first few exploratory bites.
But flavour and ingredients aside, there’s a far wider issue here, and it’s kind of unavoidable. Structural integrity. For me, if a burger can’t stay together during consumption, it has simply failed to perform its most primary of functions. And each and every burger at The Vurger Co slipped and slided its way into complete disarray. I count them, and we use 23 napkins. 23. Put simply, that is too many napkins.
It’s calamitous, and, I think, down to the traction-free cheese on the top and the lettuce at the bottom of each. And while I’m at it, tomato has precisely no business in a burger. None. Never. Vegan, carnivore; it doesn’t matter. Throw a watery, slippery slice into an already structurally compromised situation – as per the New York Melt – and the game is truly up. It needs addressing.
There are positives. The tater tots (£2.95) are marvellous. Plunge one into the garlic parm dip, and you’ll struggle to find a better burger accompaniment in town. I’d go in for those alone. The fries (£2.95) are also very decent indeed, skin-on and crisp, and available in sweet potato format too, or half and half (£3.45), and a side of ‘fauxerella’ sticks (£4.95) – digits of liquid vegan mozzarella in seasoned breadcrumbs – will do very nicely too.
The hazelnut chocolate shake (though a frown-inducingly robust £4.95, add a shot of booze, and it’s £8) is superbly good, subbing out cow’s milk for almond and soya to great effect. I struggle at any shake costing this much, but the bar has been set this high and there’s not much I can do about it now other than grumble and buy one, or grumble and don’t. But if you’re going to chuck a fiver at a shake, you could do considerably worse.
There are other very decent vegan fast food options at the nearby Arndale Market, like Wholesome Junkies, not to mention V Rev on Edge Street. And I wanted to love The Vurger Co, really I did, and deep down I think The Boy wanted to as well. But this might not be the place to change his mind.
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