WowBurger, 3 The Triangle, Ranelagh, Dublin 6 (01) 496 7147
What is it that makes a great burger? It's a question that preoccupies if not the greatest thinkers of our time, then certainly people of intelligence and discernment and, of course, savvy business folk the world over.
There are endless lists of the best burgers to be found in any given city and, in recent years, there's been an explosion here of both home-grown and imported burger chains. Bunsen and JoBurger are two of the best of the native Irish, while Five Guys in Dundrum, which originated in the US, also has its fans. Wowburger, with three Dublin branches, in Ranelagh, Wicklow Street, and Wellington Quay, is part of Paddy McKillen Jr's Press Up group which also includes restaurants such as Angelina's, Cleaver East and Bison.
On a Saturday lunchtime, my daughter Ellie and I visit the Ranelagh branch after her morning basketball session. She's famished. It's all eye-watering red and yellow American diner-style décor, with booths along the window facing out onto the street. You go up to the counter to order and pay, and wait for your number to be called to go and collect your food.
Back to what makes a great burger. You need meat that's not too lean, as fat is needed for both flavour and lubrication. Try making a burger at home with the ultra-lean minced round steak that you'll find in some supermarkets and you'll understand immediately.
A few years ago, I co- authored The Irish Beef Book with Ireland's most famous butcher, Pat Whelan, and in the process learned a lot about burger-making.
Most importantly, I learned that, for great burgers, as for so many other things in life, the 80:20 rule applies.
For a really succulent burger, the perfect ratio of meat to fat is 80:20. Some cuts, such as chuck, short rib and cheek, naturally have about 20pc fat, so there's no need to introduce extra fat if you make a burger using one of those cuts.
Heston Blumenthal, who applies the same precision techniques to burger- making as he does to every other aspect of food, reckons that the optimal ratio is 2:1:1 of chuck, short rib and brisket, which is worth trying the next time that you are barbecuing, especially if you are catering for a crowd.
If you use a leaner cut, such as sirloin or flank, then you can supplement the lean meat with bone marrow to achieve the desired 80:20 ratio. Adding bone marrow makes for a ridiculously flavoursome burger. If you're not sure about the percentage of fat in the cut of meat that you're thinking about using, ask your butcher's advice. And make sure you get coarse ground mince, which elevates the texture and flavour of the finished burger, and cook the burgers on the day that you buy the meat.
Aside from good-quality meat - which should be dry-aged and from a good butcher - there is no need for anything else in a burger. Season it with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt just before it hits the grill to promote the Maillard reaction - that lovely charring and caramelisation that happens to enhance the flavour of the meat when it meets high temperature - and that's it. No breadcrumbs, egg or onion have any place within the burger itself.
Burgers taste better when they are served medium rare, but restaurants get into trouble if they don't cook their burgers through, so a pink-in-the-middle burger is for home consumption only. (Children, the elderly and anyone with a compromised immune system should only ever eat their burgers cooked through.)
At Wowburger, they get around the problem of a large burger that could become dry if cooked all the way through by making their burgers with two patties rather than one. I don't know what cuts of meat they use, as there is zero provenance information on the menu or website, but it is truly flavoursome and clearly has plenty of fat. The bun is vaguely brioche-y, and there's a generous complement of American-style cheese and super-tasty bacon sandwiched between and around the two patties of meat, with the (unlimited) toppings distributed around for maximum coverage and scant regard for the drip factor. Both Ellie's bacon cheeseburger and my plain hamburger with jalapeño, lettuce and Wowburger sauce, which has an assertive kick to it, are exactly right.
Garlic butter fries are as evil as they sound - actually a bit too evil, completely smothered in butter.
The onion rings are unexpectedly delicate, the large, sweet rings comprising a single sliver of a layer only and deep-fried in the lightest, crunchiest of batters.
The other thing that makes for a great burger is the circumstance in which it is eaten. Really, this kind of food is medicinal and best enjoyed either after hard physical work or when suffering from a serious case of the morning-after-the-night-before, as seemed to be the case with a significant cohort of our fellow customers. The burgers at Wowburger are well up to both jobs, but I don't think that I could go and sit at a desk and work for the afternoon after eating one of them.
Our bill for two, with one soft drink, came to €22.75.
9/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
The basic hamburger costs €5.95. That includes any number of free toppings: grilled mushrooms, grilled onions, raw onions, jalapeños, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles, plus ketchup, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, hot sauce and Wowburger sauce. Add fries for €2.95.
ON A BLOW-OUT
Bacon cheeseburgers with chilli cheese fries and shakes or sundaes for two would come to €29.70.
THE HIGH POINT
THE LOW POINT
Food this dirty is probably best appreciated when suffering from a hangover.