WEEK THREE: THAT BURGER LIFE
This year, Visa WOAP’s Burger Welly presented by Garage Project features more burgers than ever before – in fact, more than double the total in 2017. That’s before factoring in all of the multiple offerings from various venues catering to choice and dietary requirements. It’s a massive undertaking for what was already the busiest burger month of the year. I’ve really appreciated seeing so many veg alternatives to regular meaty burgers, with at least 24 vegan options that I’m aware of.
As usual, some crazy ‘grammers appear to be trying to crack the 100 mark (you know who you are), but it’s simply not possible to review everything. I was lucky enough to have some sneak previews in advance of 17 August, which has meant not having to go on a serious burger binge to share my thoughts. Here are at least ten burgers I’ve had to date, starting with the good and finishing with the outstanding.
Black Doris – "The Fifth Element"
This is Black Doris’ first Burger Welly, and despite the title and description they’ve played it relatively safe with a crispy McChicken style offering. While the menu promises chicken karaage with ginger, soy, mirin, Asian slaw and Japanese pickles, served with yuzu mayo and handcut fries, the result isn’t quite as exotic. It’s a pleasing chicken burger nonetheless, at a good price.
Laundry – "MacBurglar"
“Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese…” You know the song. My pick from The Laundry isn’t their beef MacBurglar – it’s the tastier and more colourful vegan alternative, with mushroom and beetroot patties, special sauce, pickles, lettuce, vegan cheese, served with potato shoestring fries and vegan lime aioli.
One area that the beef option does outshine the beet is alongside the beer match, with the Garage Project Kuro: Japanese Black Lager.
Baobab – "Don’t Know Jack"
The second vegan option is this fresh and light burger from Baobab, which gave me those real summertime feels. Tender pulled jackfruit with beetroot hummus, fresh pea and coconut purée, spicy date and tamarind chutney, and slaw in a delicate beetroot-pink bun. For once, it’s nice to see jackfruit being used with fresh and subtle flavours rather than over-the-top smoky BBQ. Served with a decent portion of wedges, and a summery beer pairing of Garage Project's Hapi Daze.
D4 – "Poppin’ Jalapeño Stag"
If you put “jalapeño” in your burger title, you better bring your jalapeño game. Fortunately, that’s exactly what D4 has done here, with delicious building heat through a cheese sauce that deserves to be mopped up. As for the filling: a tender venison patty, with lettuce, tomato, sour cream and ranch, plus crisp corn chips to bring some texture. It’s both huge and moreish, with everything holding together surprisingly well until the last bite. Accompanied by the best thick-cut fries I’ve had in a while: fluffy inside, crisp outside, with a light coating of garlic mayo; and another safe but suitable pairing with the Garage Project Hapi Daze.
Hippopotamus – "Bourgeois High Tea"
This is the obvious choice for those who can’t decide what to have this Burger Welly. The “Bourgeois Burger High Tea” features one of everything across savoury and sweet categories: catch of the day with avo and sundried tomato; Otaki honeycomb & French chevre (my surprise favourite of the lot!); Wagu beef, djion and truffle aoli; free range pork with ginger, apple and candied bacon (also delish!); Zelati's cookie smores (another easy favourite!); Welly Choc Factory macaroons; and Lokoumi's Turkish delight macarons. Served with your choice of tea, of course!
You may feel too fancy to eat with your hands while sitting in Hippopotamus, but there’s no other way about it – just pop the pinkie finger up, and all will be right.
Lulu – "Big Kahuna"
You know what they call a Quarter Pounder at Lulu? The Big Kahnua! Lulu is known for its themes, and for this year’s Burger Welly they’re throwing a Pulp Fiction themed party, complete with rolling screenings of the Tarantino cult classic. Their primary burger option is the angus beef patty with fried crumbed camembert, charcoal roasted pineapple, smoky bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickles, pineapple mayo and island barbeque sauce in a potato brioche bun, served with curly fries and a syringe of sriracha. If beef doesn’t tickle your fancy but that melted cheese looks too good to pass up, there are also chicken and mushroom options available. This Big Kahuna burger joint is sure to remain a crowd pleaser throughout the Festival.
Sweet Release – "Jacked Up"
This is THE vegan burger to beat this year, and I’d really love to see it going head-to-head as a finalist alongside some of the meat burgers. “Jacked Up” is the meatiest jackfruit I’ve ever had, in the form of sticky BBQ ribs, on a house made brioche bun, with colourful slaw, vegan butter and aioli. I’ve had a lot of meat alternatives in recent years, and this is right up there with some of the world-renowned “not meat” on the market. Seriously, if this was served from a food truck with the smell of smoke in the air, and a beer match, the only question would be why there are no bones in these tender ribs.
Rogue Burger – "Go Rogue"
Japanese A5 grade wagyu is the pinnacle of the steak world. There are a number of reasons why this ridiculously rare, high-quality and expensive beef is not used for mere burger patties. But Rogue Burger has done it (I believe for the first time in New Zealand) with their custom blend patty, cheddar, onion, tomato, pickles, and burger sauce. Consider this the best value for money on this year’s list, because you won’t find an A5 wagyu burger anywhere else in New Zealand or perhaps anywhere in the world other than Tokyo, let alone for a mere $20. It’s a delicious and tender cheeseburger, almost faultless in its simplicity.
This is what Rogue Burger does: it makes burgers, and they are all delicious. Also, the crispy shoestring fries are my favourite in town. Another stroke of genius is operating the grill at Rogue Burger for takeaways only, while at the same time offering bookings and sit-down burgers from their takeover of Stirling Woodfire. My advice is to get booked in ASAP, because some of us are going back for seconds. Share your photos with the tag #GoRogue and you could even win some burger bucks!
Still Room – "In the Neighbourhood"
“In the Neighbourhood” is a brilliant example of local ingredients used right, which tickled my taste buds and my sense of Wellington pride. It’s made entirely from Hutt Valley produce, and is exactly what I look for in a chicken burger: beautiful lime and chilli marinated tender chicken with extra-crispy chicken skin (from Eastbourne), spicy chorizo (from Petone), fresh salad, house sriracha mayo, onion relish, and jalapeño cheese on a deliciously spiced brioche bun. Topped with beautiful pea shoots and a good serving of fries, this was also one of the most photogenic burgers on my list, and the only spicy burger to leave my mouth tingling.
What’s more, they appear to have an unlisted veg option with their crispy Sunfed chicken. Either is perfectly matched with Garage Project’s juicy and cooling “Golden Path” session hazy IPA.
Arborist – "Ain’t No Routine Poutine"
I’m not usually one for a gimmicky burger concept… But Burger Welly is the time for unique creations, and this is exactly how it should be done: a loud, visual statement, with taste to match. “Ain’t No Routine Poutine” features angus beef, crunchy potato stix, smokey bacon, creamy cheese curds, zingy pickles, sauce and umami gravy, all in a Zaida's potato brioche bun with extra poutine spilling out all over the plate. The gravy is poured at the table so everything is still crisp and fresh, while the inclusion of bright microgreens and bacon bits are just the cherry on the top.
Unfortunately, I didn’t try this with the Garage Project beer match, but for your reference it’s the “Weird Flex”: Grapefruit, Cucumber and Celery Sour. They’re booking up fast, so try to call well in advance if you can.
Eatery Diner – "Fatty Melt"
This burger could be called anything, look like anything, and you’d still have to try it. “Fatty Melt” isn’t exactly flattering, but it’s also spot on. And while not the prettiest by name or photo, this has been the tastiest burger so far this year. Juicy, caramelised beef-fat onion deliciousness, perfectly med-rare and well-seasoned beef patty, Russian dressing, white cheese and pickles, all in a pressed rye bread bun. If you’d put this one in a traditional soft bun, it would disintegrate within seconds thanks to that melted greasy goodness. I have no doubt this one will be on the finalist table for 2019.
Egmont St. Eatery has also transformed into Egmont St. Diner for Burger Welly, and I have a real soft spot for classic all-American vibes. Rolling all of this together, you have to try matching the “Fatty Melt” with the Garage Project “Cherry Cola” Dunkel. Just think more soda than beer, and this pairing has the potential to teleport you back to a classic 1950s diner.