Top quality and taste beef up the burger market
Bunsen is bringing delicious New York-style fast food to Dublin, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan
'What I love about New York is that you have a guy that does the best chips, a guy that does the best sushi, a guy that does the best baguettes, the best coffee, and they can all trade independently – whereas here there is a rush to satisfy everybody under the one roof. We want to be known as having the best burger in Dublin. The fundamental philosophy is keeping it simple." Ambitious words from Dubliner Tom Gleeson, who has just started his own business, the hot, hip Bunsen, on Wexford Street.
However, with people more conscious than ever of what they eat, it is good to know that Tom sources selected cuts of the best Black Aberdeen Angus beef which are freshly minced each day for his top-notch burgers.
Following school at St Michael's College in Ballsbridge, Tom studied business and politics at Trinity College. "I finished the course in 2010. It was good, I enjoyed it, but it was probably where I decided academia was not for me," says the 28-year-old. "As I came out of Trinity, job prospects weren't too great."
Tom decided to go to Ballymaloe Cookery School. "I had always been interested in food. You couldn't bank on it being a business opportunity but I felt it would be a good life skill to have. I thought it was brilliant. It gave me a good grounding on more complicated techniques."
After that he went to America on the one-year Graduate Visa Programme where he interned for two production companies.
"It was a brilliant experience living in Manhattan for a year and trying all the best street food, getting lots of ideas. That's where the idea of getting this burger place began to germinate. You can walk into any bar in New York and get a really great-quality burger. I felt that was something you couldn't do here."
Whilst in New York he also staged at Eric Ripert's three-Michelin star restaurant Le Bernardine. "I did this to keep up my skills. One of my friends had been working there as an assistant – and just by chance I managed to get in."
Tom says Le Bernardine was a really good experience and one that got him further interested in the food world.
When his year was up in New York he applied to Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck in Berkshire, England, where he subsequently worked for three months.
"It was a monastic task, like picking apart tiny pieces of grapefruit, or scaling 50 salmon. Perhaps laborious tasks but they were interesting jobs that get you really close to the ingredient, you get to know everything about it.
"I was working there 17 hours a day, really enjoying it. It was a tough life but a very positive atmosphere, nothing like the TV stereotype of a restaurant kitchen, very much encouraging and a quiet sense of expectation that the highest standards would be followed. There were unbelievably high standards of cleanliness and procedure and it was great to draw on all of that stuff at a three-Michelin star level but, again, a mesmerising and crazy business in that it is 45 chefs for 45 customers and £200 for a meal.
"So, I thought two things. First, if I was going to work 17 hours a day I should do it for myself. Secondly, I'd like to get into a volume business, not putting things on plates with tweezers any more, but still have a good level of quality."
Coming back to Dublin, he set about researching his idea. He moved back in with his parents to lower his cost base and started to experiment.
"I experimented with every kind of bun recipe for three months and refining that until I was happy. I went to a commercial baker, trialling it and perfecting it, making sure it could be done to volume.
"I then started with the meat. I tried all the breeds of cattle, trying to really replicate that American meat. That's hard to do. In America, the cattle are twice the size, they are all fed on grain rather than grass, and so I was just trying to look at breeds and the cuts of the animal to create that American burger. The breed I settled on was Black Aberdeen Angus; and then the cuts, forequarter and hindquarter, with all sorts of different ratios. I settled on specific cut ratio, which is the secret blend.
"We get those cuts delivered in whole twice a week and we mince them fresh every day to this precise ratio. Our standards of cleanliness are exceptionally high. We mince everything in an atmosphere of under five degrees to be absolutely sure.
"We have full videos on our website and Facebook page showing production – from cutting the forequarters of beef, cutting them down, mincing them, and also with the baking, producing the ingredients from scratch which shows we are doing everything ourselves and shows the amount of thought that has gone into it, that is different and not just a fast food place – it is beyond that."
Bunsen serves only two types of burger – the New York-style hamburger or cheeseburger, priced at €6.95 and €7.45 respectively, and the burger is 150g. You can also have a double of each at €8.95 and €9.45 respectively. The toppings are pickle, onion, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard and mayo. Fries are €2.95, and wine is available by the glass from €4.50-€6.50 and by the bottle from €19.50. Bunsen Burger also stocks craft beers such as Sierra Nevada, Brew Dog, Dead Pony Club and Punk IPA, and milk shakes.
"You will alienate some people who want to have apple, avocado or banana on their burger, but what we try to do is get the people who love that classic American hamburger without it being messed around too much, and I guess there's a reason why they have stood the test of time over the years. It is an upgrade of that product because the bun is essentially artisan baking, and the meat is exceptionally high quality. It is just giving people a really good burger they feel they can morally and ethically feel good about eating in full knowledge that all of the ingredients are of a really high quality.
"I looked at using every possible kind of cheese, but ultimately what I settled on was the closest thing I could get to an American cheese slice in Europe. It was a very tricky one to track down but it is Irish made. People have said it's a processed cheese slice but it's just the thing that works best. What we are using is what works.
"I drew inspiration from places like Shake Shack and Burger Joint in New York, and Byron Burger and Meat Liquor in London, which are fast food places taken up a level. They have all really focused on the product and quality of food."
Tom's restaurant has been open for just 10 weeks, and he says the reaction has been great. The interior – designed by ABGC Architects – is hip urban industrial chic.
"I'd never run a restaurant before, so it was very hard to visualise what it was going to be like handing a customer food or taking money out of his hand – all those things seemed so alien that I would compare the stress of the first week with when you are in the airport and for three seconds you think you've lost your passport. It was that level of panic. Then you just realise that every day is going to be full of crises and problems – but sort it!"
Bunsen, 36 Wexford Street, D2, tel: (01) 5525408;
or see www.bunsen.ie