Monday, September 21, 2009

A quick word about ratings

I've hummed and harred about whether or not to append ratings to my restaurant reviews for a long while now. I feel I'm somehow not qualified to be passing judgment on the creations of chefs who have spent their lives mastering and perfecting their techniques. Be that as it may, several readers have requested ratings as a way of comparing restaurants - seeing which might be suitable for any ocassion and etc.

So, I have done my best to present ratings across four facets. I find it hard to really present comparable ratings though, so I have sort of taken The French Cafe as my measure of excellence on this account. Though it may not gain a perfect score over all categories, it would be remarkably close on my scale, and I perceive it to be the best fine dining experience in Auckland.

O'Connell St Bistro, CBD, Auckland [republished]

That I'd been given vouchers to the famed O'Connell St Bistro only served to hasten my visit there. Sure I'd planned to go sometime, but one can only afford to dine finely as much as the pittance of a student's part-time wage can sustain. And as B was back from Sydney for the weekend, I had the perfect excuse to give this Auckland eating icon a try.

I'd become intrigued with this restaurant ever since walking past a few years back. Though the place was always filled with suits, they never seemed to be there on business, and looked to be truly enjoying gorging themselves on the gorgeous food.

O'Connell St Bistro has won the laudments of almost every Auckland food critic for its simple, elegant style, intimate dining experience, and especially for its deep and varied cellar, for which it has garnered several awards. The space is tastefully decorated without being overly romantic - wooden floors, chocolate walls and rich, red velvet curtains, with candle light on crisp white tablecloths (somewhat oddly covered in white glossy paper). There are mostly tables for 2, and a few for 4, with a separate private dining room at the back for larger parties. Several older couples and a group of business partners render the atmosphere relaxed though muted - 'Very Adult' as our voucher so plainly states.

I can't quite navigate the book-long wine list with much panache, so we opt for two mocktails (not on the menu). These arrive in martini glasses and are a combination of pineapple, cranberry and lime juices, topped off with what I think is ginger ale. Delicious and refreshing, and I suspect will be of use in cleansing the palate later on in the meal.

I feel I must make a mention of the complimentary breads - though not quite as fresh as, say, those at The French Cafe, they are superb little bites, dense and chewy and perfect for soaking up the Motutira (Te Arai Olive Estate Olive Oil - itself flavoursome, light and a little spicy.

Ordering is a la carte in the modern European Bistro style - notable for one of Auckland's top fine dining establishments is the lack of a degustation menu (which has almost become the norm), save the 5 course $250 pp Veuve Cliquot Set Menu. We'll save that for another time.. So without much further ado, we order:

Steak Tartare, Quail Egg Yolk, Matchstick Potatoes.

Not on the menu, this was one of several specials offered to us by the Maitre'd once we had been seated. Finely diced, premium eye fillet steak was marinated with capers, onions, parsely, gherkins, olive oil, cognac, mustard and egg yolk and pressed into a large disc. I was happy that the beef was not too finely ground nor too densely packed, as often steak tartare can come to resemble an uncooked burger patty. Instead, here the different ingredients in the dish were easily discernable and could even be tasted one by one.

The beef flavour was intensified by the tangy marinade, not saucy, but absorbed into the meat. The capers and onions provided a little crunch for textural contrast with the soft beef. The complexity of the marinade was perhaps overshadowed by a little too much salt from the pickled capers and gherkins, though it was not too salty for my taste. The raw quail egg yolk on top added a rich, fatty, eggy flavour that took the edge off the pickles and further highlighted the quality of the beef.

The fried potatoes on the side were well done, crispy, even something like McDonalds fries, and tasted great with the addition of the table sea salt.

This was a pretty sizeable starter for the price ($25) and I was surprised by the combination of different flavour and texture elements. Being a raw meat kind of a guy, I thoroughly enjoyed the full flavour of the fresh eye fillet and the simplicity of its preparation.

Seared South Island Salmon, Ruby Grapefruit, Snow Pea Shoots and Crispy Shallots.

A stark contrast in colours and flavours, this dish had it all. The salmon, wonderfully fresh, was seared til the skin was crispy, but melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside. Salmon can often be hurt by overcooking, changing a soft, squishy mouth feel to flaky and dry. This, however, was exemplar.

Accompanying was a textural medley - fresh sweet grapefruit, bitter shoots and crispy fried shallot goodness. I think that fried shallots should be served with everything from now on, they are just SO good! The flavours of the salad complimented the salmon perfectly, adding a refreshing change to the taste, and lifting the fat, whilst providing a nice textural contrast.

Pappardelle of braised Bendigo Station Rabbit, Rimu Smoked Bacon, Walnut Watercress Pesto and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Not wanted to be stuck with the usual sirloin, scotch or lamb rump again, I opted for the rabbit for my main. I'd eaten rabbit in a casserole before, and very much enjoyed the wild flavour. Here again the gamy flavour of the meat really stood out, though unfortunately it was a little tough in places. I would have thought that a slow braise would take the stringiness out of the meat and leave it soft, but perhaps it had been too quick of a job here.

The walnut watercress pesto, which I suppose was to bring a deeper earthier feeling to this dish, was slightly marred by the cumulative meat juices of the rabbit and bacon, which were dark, rich and very flavoursome, though obscuring the other flavours somewhat. I felt that this dish was one-dimensional where it didn't need to be. The pesto, tossed through the delicious fresh egg pasta, was lacking in punch, and light olive oil flavours didn't quite come through over the brawn of the smoked meat.

Milk fed Veal fillet wrapped in Prosciutto, Calvados caramelised Apples, Poached Baby Leeks and Truffle Jus.

I am always cautious to order veal, as I believe it takes a very skilled chef to be able to cook and garnish it well, and I am happy to say that this specimen was outstanding.

The fillet of rare-cooked veal was rolled in prosciutto and cut into medallions. The creamy, rosy pink veal was delicate and meltingly tender. The mild flavour - not as meaty as beef, nor as brazen - actually tasted like a baby cow. Mmm... baby cow...

The prosciutto was extraordinarily fatty and rich, and injected that much-needed salt and fat into every bite. Accompanying this meaty morsel was a dark sauce that tasted mostly of drippings, though I could just make out the earthy flavour of truffle hidden in there. Again, the rich oily flavours enhanced the meat's unique taste.

I couldn't at first make out what the caramelised apple was; it seemed to me like parsnip posing as something else. The light sweetness was refreshing. The leeks, sadly, were overdone and slightly tough on the outside - perhaps the outer layers should have been stripped first?

Overall, the meat here was the highlight - great flavour and garnished well to leave a comforting taste on the palate.

Roasted Beetroot with Chive Creme Fraiche.

The beetroot, a beautiful earthy red colour, smacked of quality seasonings and olive oil. The creme fraiche dressing provided a lightness and creamy sour lift that melted into the roasted flavour of the beetroot. Outstanding.

Baked Tahitian Vanilla Creme Brulee.

Look how big that is! Though it was in a shallow dish, this creme brulee was huge! I was a happy creme brulee fiend that night ^_^ (Last year I was obsessed with this dessert, making it batch upon batch until my friends and family were sick of it XD)

The top was browned to perfection by a kitchen torch (I still don't have one! Christmas present anyone?), burn marks and bubbles apparent in abundance. The crisp burnt sugar layer was of variable thickness, sometimes up to a millimetre and down to paper-thin. The flavour was intense, with a great, burnt caramel taste.

After cracking through the veneer, the soft yellowy custard creme was creamy and light - much lighter and less sweet that I am used to. There were subtle hints of vanilla flavour here and there, and the use of real vanilla bean was marked by the tiny black specks throughout. I thought it tasted much more like a custard than a caramel creme proper, and the texture was more of a light goo than a pudding. The combination of the crisp, sharp sugar skin and the soft custard was heavenly.

[As an aside, I read on KevinEats that the Tahitian Vanilla Creme Brulee is a Thomas Keller (The French Laundry) signature creation! Perhaps that dish was Stephen Ward's inspiration for this beautifully executed classic?]

Valrhona Chocolate, Pedro Ximenez Sherry and Hazelnut Trifle.

Hmm.. I am unsure what to make of this one. For sure it was  a top class dish, using very quality ingredients and with just the right amount of pizzaz, but something about the quantities in there put it off-balance for me. It may just be that I am used to my mother's amazing custard/berry/sherry/sponge creations!

The trifle consisted of layers of sherry jelly, ladyfinger, coarse-chopped hazelnuts, chocolate mousse and cream, topped off with shaved chocolate. The jelly had a really strong, almost fruity flavour, and there was far too much of it, overpowering the delicious rich chocolate mousse. The ladyfinger and hazelnut didn't lend enough weight to the dish, almost no nut flavour coming through despite the generous layer. The sponge was also slightly dry, needing a good ratio of cream and jelly on the spoon to even it out.

Great individual flavours in this dish from the jelly and mousse were lost by the lack of balance here, and the hazelnut had yet to make its appearance known.

Italian Nougat.

B was slightly disappointed when the nougat turned out to be of the crunchy variety than the soft and chewy French style she had anticipated. I, however, tucked in with gusto. The nougat was actually very crisp and airy, not too dense at all. I tasted pistachio and marzipan, with a hint of lemon.

Attention to detail runs at a very high standard in this class act restaurant. The waiter's were attentive, if not snappy, all evening, and the presentation was beautiful. To be completely honest, if I was picking a restaurant for an occassion, it wouldn't be here again, though I would most definitely rate it worth a try. It was not that the experience as a whole wasn't special fine dining, it was just not unforgettable. The exquisite opening dishes, executed with flair and precision, were muddled by the mains, and I was sorely let down by the trifle.


Food: 7.5/10
Service: 8/10
Value for Money: 8/10
Ambience: 8.5/10

O'Connell St Bistro
3 O'Connell St
+64 9 377 1884 

Burgerfuel's Wagyu Burger

Almost as soon as I returned from Sydney fresh with the disappointment of not having eaten Plan B's Famous $10 Wagyu Burger while I was there, I was surprised by a full colour page ad of Burgerfuel's new Wagyu burger!

Burgerfuel is a New Zealand originated slightly upmarket burger chain. Motorhead themed, they feature burgers with such names as Bacon Backfire and Studnut Stilton. While pricey (the burgers range from $7.90 for the plain burger up to $11.90 for the Bastard - a phenomenal creation including beetroot, mango, avocado and bacon. Burgerfuel really took off when it hit, as  people were starting to look for tastier alternatives to McDonalds and Burger King, and many had the money to afford it.

The mention of Wagyu beef in a burger brought back memories of the Plan B special on a previous occassion - the coarse-ground 500 day grain fed beef melting in the mouth and luxurious on the palate. I wanted that experience again.

The Burgerfuel Serving Counter.

Tasty Refreshments - L&P and Lemon Lime Bitters.


Doofers are a Burgerfuel trademark creation - a small piece of card that can be folded in to the ultimate burger eating utensil - eat a burger with your hands, but without getting mess and sauces everywhere! Perfect!

Folded Doofer.

Folded Doofer - Side View.

Three MASSIVE Burgers mmm...

Yes, yes, I know it seems a little opulent, but I ordered a standard cheeseburger to go with C and I's Wagyu burgers, just for comparison. As we shall see, my foresight is unfathomable..

Wagyu Burger Autopsy Shot.

The 1/3 pound ground wagyu beef patty is supplemented by melted swiss cheese, caramelised onion, horseradish sour cream, salad and relish, all served on a smaller-than-standard bun.

The beef patty - griddle-cooked to well done and with a noticeable though not crunchy char on the outside has a clean beef taste at first. Though somewhat obscured by the condiments, I can make out tiny traces of the famed Wagyu intramuscular fat, though there is barely any. The grind is uniform, and very fine, though thankfully not too densely packed, leaving a coarse and chewable texture in the mouth. Though the flavour is very slightly reminiscent of the signature nutty Wagyu taste, and the fat imparts a oily mouth coating, I don't get a beef experience that differs from the norm - the flavour, though tasty, is still too much clean chuck beef, and could easily be confused for this were it not for the 'Special 1' stamp on the burger bag.

The horseradish sour cream dressing is a wasabi-tinged creamy dressing and combines well with the sweet and sticky caramelised onions to form a great foil for the grunty beef. I had at first worried that the combined might of the 3 sauces might have overpowered the delicate Wagyu taste - though as there was none of that taste to begin with, and they seem to have left out the relish, the balance was just about right.

Salad, in Burgerful terms, consists of iceberg lettuce, tomato and red onion rings - all are fresh and crispy as always, and impart a little juiciness to the burger.

I love the fact that this burger is served on a 'Lightweight' bun, as the regular Burgerfuel buns are large and much too bready - always offputting the beef/bun ratio that is critical for a good burger. However, it being lightweight does not serve to alleviate it from the usual Burgerfuel bun misery - it is tasteless and vaguely wholemealy, and with a regular medium whole structure that makes it just average for holding the thing together.

1/3 Pounder with Cheese Burger Autopsy Shot.

The 1/3 Pounder with Cheese consists of the 1/3 pound beef patty, melted cheddar, bread & butter pickles, dijon mustard, relish and aioli on the standard sized bun.

I was glad that I bought this, so I could compare the taste of the beef from each. When eaten side-by-side there was a noticeable difference firstly in the texture of the patty. The standard patty was very mealy and uniform, and a mellow grey-brown colour - the hallmarks of a pre-formed, machine-made, and possibly pre-frozen patty (though I'm sure I read somewhere that Burgerfuel patties are always fresh, not frozen). Asides from this textural wasteland, the beef flavour itself was muted, and somewhat underwhelming. This as opposed to the Wagyu patty, which had a coarser grind, was less uniform, a little fattier, and generally more 'fresh' tasting. Though it wouldn't be easy to pick if you blind-tasted the patties on separate occassions, tasting side-by-side made the Wagyu flavour stand out just the tiniest bit.

The Doofer in Action!

Yes, as expected, the Burgerfuel Wagyu burger was a big disappointment. Burgerfuel CEO Josef Roberts was quoted in the NZ Herald as saying he didn't know what grade of beef it was, but it was definitely "100% Wagyu".

And this really brings us to the debate on what can really be considered Wagyu. The meat for Burgerfuel's Wagyu patty is souurced from Australian growers (of which there are only a handful). I suspect they are taking the offcuts and low grade beef ends, as the flavour is not outstanding at all. Firstlight Wagyu growers in New Zealand considers anything below a marble grade of 4 as not making the grade - this is probably the type of meat that goes into these burgers.

Japan is considering getting G1 status for its purebred Wagyu beef, to protect not only the growers and the cattle's sanctity, but also unsuspecting consumers from eating below-the-grade beef that is flamboyantly named as 'Wagyu'. You can read more about the Wagyu trend in this outstanding editorial from The Age here.

Burgerfuel Parnell
187 Parnell Rd
+64 9 377 3345 

Mid-Autumn Festival Family Dinner

Mmmm.. Mid-Autumn Festival. Yet another date on the Chinese Calendar that forms an excuse for awkward family gatherings and extended gorging sessions. With a group of the usual family members and friends we met up for pot-luck dinner at an Aunty's house. Being highly efficient and organised, everyone was delegated a dish to ensure no doubling up and the like. Drinks flowed and merriment ensued.

I knew there was a reason I still went to these things! This is it, photo-essay style:

Chinese Style Roast Duck.

Assorted Mushrooms and Fungus on Baby Bok Choy.

Malaysian Fish Cake Roll with Water Chestnut.

Seafood Fried Noodles.

Assam Chicken.

Chinese Style Roast Pork.

Baked Salmon with Dill.

Curried Cauliflower.

Beef Mie Goreng.

Thai Beef Salad.

Curry Puff in Homemade Short Pastry.

Sure, we were full up to HERE afterwards, but who doesn't have room for dessert right? We had sago pudding with brown sugar sauce and coconut milk. OH this is SO GOOD! Sweet, calorific and heart-attack-inducing, sure, but worth every sticky, creamy bite. (I should have got a photo but I was too greedy and couldn't wait).

What I also didn't manage to snap was the mooncakes! This year we had an unusual offering: Green Pandan Mooncakes! Crazy! From the outside they looked like normal mooncakes, but inside was a bright green coloured pandan and lotus paste. They taste a little like the regular white lotus mooncakes, but less sweet and with a hint of that beautiful leafy pandan taste. So gutted I didn't get a pic but they were gobbled up so fast! Next time I hope I can show you my friend's mother's pandan sponge cake! Bright green and delicious!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Japa Deli, CBD, Auckland

The redevelopment of the corner block down at the bottom of Anzac Avenue has tidied up what used to be one of the less pleasant parts of the CBD. A widened footpath, new palm trees and a building redevelopment has poshed up the street side and the area seems to have been given a new lease on life, the little eateries there - including a curry takeaway and raamen bar - see more traffic than before. We were here to try Japa Deli, one of the new entrants to the block, which had been recommended by a friend.

The shopfront and indeed the interior is stylishly decorated with warm woods, soft lights and brick walls contrasting the shiny espresso machine and cafe counter. The restaurant interior was much the same, with polished floors and dark wood tables with beautiful flowers and candles. Though it was 8 o'clock on a Thursday evening, the place was still half full - mostly couples. Soft jazz, pop and cafe beats played in the background. It seems Momo Interior Design company did a great job laying this place out for an inviting and casual atmosphere.

The Cake Cabinet.

Though it's pretty late and near the end of the day, there are still sweets left in the glass display at the front. I spy coffee jelly (!!!), baked cheesecake, strawberry cream sponge cake and cream puffs. The cakes are looking a little sad from sitting in the cabinet all day. I hope they nom these overnight and don't leave them there for tomorrow's customers, but I'm sure with their 'A' grade hygiene rating they wouldn't even contemplate such a thing! I'd love to come back and try some of these during the day time - there are special combo deals for coffee + cake or even coffee + hotdog displayed on the cafe menu.

Salmon Hand Roll.

I was pleasantly surprised to see hand rolls on the menu (here called "corn rolls" what?) as you don't often see these in sushi shops in Auckland. I chose the salmon roll ($4), which was quite plain, consisting of a baton of salmon and one slice of avocado, that tried and true combination. The salmon was passable, and the avocado in prime condition - ripe, creamy and flavoursome. The rice, though, was a little stodgy, and the seaweed soft, as opposed to crispy as fresh nori should be, making the whole ensemble clumpy and sticky in the mouth.

Tempura Prawn Roll.

The prawn in this roll was actually panko crumbed as opposed to tempura battered, and reminiscent of the frozen type. However, it was large, and with the lettuce and mayo to complement, was not half bad. Unfortunately, the same story with the rice and nori was repeated here, letting it down.


These fried buckwheat noodles were served steaming and sizzling on a hot plate. The smells wafting from it were so tempting! Pieces of glistening fried pork belly lent a richness that was offset by the tiny sour pieces of pickled ginger.  I can't really say much more about this dish - it was so simple yet deeply satisfying and really brought back memories of streetside stalls in Japan.

Prawn and Pork Okonomiyaki.

Again, I was surprised to see this on the menu as its not something I've eaten in Auckland before. Okonomiyaki is a traditional Osaka dish somewhat like a savoury pancake. Okonomi means "what you like" and "yaki" means grilled or fried, but traditional fillings include cabbage, octopus, prawns and pork. The pancake is then topped with mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce (like a sweet thick worcestershire sauce)  seaweed bonito flakes. This one was filled with small prawns and slices of fried belly pork mmm!! The flavours and textures here were deemed delicious by all. I thought it could have been crispier and the batter was a bit floury in places, but as it's the only place I can get this right now, I can't complain too much.

Karaage Chicken.

I'm a sucker for anything deepfried and so order the karaage chicken set meal which comes with a dish of perfectly golden fried chicken pieces, a small salad, rice and miso soup. The chicken was tender and juicy, it could have been a little crunchier. The relatively tasteless batter was helped by two sauces - natto (fermented soybean paste) and sweet soya sauce. Overall, not bad though.

Teriyaki Chicken.

J had the teriyaki chicken set and again the chicken pieces were very juicy. There seems to be a myriad of ways to cook  teriyaki chicken - this one was simply wok-fried bite-sized pieces of chicken doused in sauce. The sauce was great - sweet but with enough of a salty kick to make it very moreish. A sprinkling of sesame seeds and spring onions added great texture, along with the dollop of creamy mayonnaise for dipping.

Katsu Curry.

This thick, rich curry was delicately sweet in the Japanese style - but also with a deep complex taste of tumeric and cumin. A pleasant surprise was that, in addition to the standard potatoes and onions, the curry was also chock full of soft stewed pork, falling apart from extended simmering. I didn't try the katsu but it looked great - very crispy and golden! Highly recommend this curry!


This small placard on the table enticed us with its Engrishy declaration: "Moisturize your stressed heart as well!" And really, who isn't in need of a good heart-moisturizing?!

We were instructed to shake the tiny can ($10) thoroughly before opening, which we did with caution - it looked like a soda! Instead, what came out was a fizzy, peach-flavoured sake jelly! The texture is hard to describe - its something like a not-quite-set jelly, or one that has been made with a higher water ratio - neither solid nor liquid and perfect for drinking! The fizz made it taste like champagne, and the peach flavours rounded off to a light summery finish on the tongue!

Though the menu was not long, I will definitely be back here to try what we missed. Pleasant service, a range of authentic Japanese dishes - and not to mention the great company - made for a relaxing evening out.


Food: 5.5/10
Service: 6.5/10
Value for Money: 7/10
Ambience: 7.5/10

Japa Deli
1-5 Anzac Ave
+64 9 303 3924

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kobe Jones $25 All You Can Eat Sushi Lunch, Darling Harbour, Sydney

All you can eat? ALL you can eat?? ALL you can EAT?!?! Sushi? $25??! You couldn't drag me away with wild horses!

Again, another opportunistic read over at NotQuiteNigella informed me of the existence of this super special uber limited time only umami fest at Kobe Jones, Darling Harbour. I'd often stumbled past this harbourside icon when browsing the eateries along King Street Wharf and wanted to give it a try - only the prices put me off. Well-heeled it-girls and business lunchers make up the majority of the clientele on a bustling Monday lunchtime - there's hardly a seat left in the place. Not being one to miss out, I made reservations, especially as the lunch dining session is only 12 - 2:30.

Sushi Platter.
Clockwise from top - Kingfish Nigiri, Salmon Nigiri, Tuna Nigiri, Prawn Tempura Roll, Salmon and Cucumber Roll, Crab and Eel Roll, Spider Roll, Volcano Roll (centre).

On that note, I'll have to first apologise for the lack of photos. We were seated at 1:30, as it was the only time B could get away from the office, so I was too busy stuffing my face to pose the food. The sushi is served platter style, with the day's variety in quantities according to how many diners there are. The selection varies from day to day, though there is always fresh Nigiri and Kobe Jones' famous Volcano Roll.

The Nigiri was merely passable, all of the fish slightly too dry and slightly too warm for my taste. It definitely could have been fresher and the rice ratio for each portion was a little too much.

Recommendation goes to the Tempura Prawn, which was crispy, warm and very fresh. The roll was fleshed out with a little crab salad as well, which created a nice creamy dressing for the prawn. However, the tempura crumbs sprinkled on top were a little stale.

Salmon in the Roll was a lot fresher than its Nigiri counterpart and married well with the crunchy cucumber sticks.

The Crab and Eel Roll contained crab salad and teriyaki eel pieces. The eel was warm and melt-in-the-mouth tender, with the sweet teriyaki sauce offset well by the salad dressing again.

Soft-Shell Crab in the Spider Roll was average, neither good nor bad. It was warm, but not particularly crunchy, and it lacked in the flavour department. Spices in the batter would have gone a long way here.

Volcano Roll.

The Volcano Roll consists of three pieces of crab-salad (are we beginning to see a trend here?) and avocado roll with baked scallops in cream sauce on top. The sauce is very creamy, thick and a little sour, almost like a bearnaise, and is topped off by crunchy spring onion slices. The combined textures of the sushi roll, the sweet, tender scallops, and the thick creamy sauce create a very comforting feeling in the mouth - almost like a homemade mac and cheese. We ended up ordering three more plates of this - aren't we pigs!

All up it was a very satisfying lunch. The Volcano Roll really hit the spot with its comfort-food mix of flavours and textures. I felt like I needed a nap afterwards! I was a little surprised that the sushi wasn't of better quality, especially after hearing how Kobe Jones made its name as a sushi icon when it first burst on to the Sydney eating scene. As one of the chic King Street Wharf bunch, it quickly gained popularity and, judging by the crowd today, that $25 deal still draws them in.

I was disconcerted by the poor service we received on this occasion. It took 20 minutes for a waitress to take our order after we had been seated and a further 20 for our food to be served. I understand that the lunchtime rush had to be catered to, but the restaurant was clearing as we received our first platter and we had to hurry to order after that before the 2.30 last-order call. Still, a restaurant of this standard and experience should be able to cope with a Monday lunch setting with a little more finesse.


Food: 6.5/10
Service: 4/10
Value for Money: 7.5/10
Ambience: 6/10

Kobe Jones
29 Lime Street
King Street Wharf
+61 2 9299 5290 

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

McDonalds' Grand Angus Burger

So I was really REALLY excited when I saw on NotQuiteNigella that McDonalds was putting out these two new Angus Beef burgers. I was so excited, in fact, that I started raving to my friends almost immediately, and force-showing them what little evidence I could find online. The tension was only heightened when I saw a squashed Mighty Angus box on the ground. You see, NQN had mentioned only the Australian release date, so I was unsure if (or when) New Zealand would get them, so far behind the rest of the world are we. There was no fanfare when these dropped in Auckland, and naturally my friends thought I was bonkers. They even proposed that I had DREAMT about the box I saw as I was fantasising so much..

As it ends up, I didn't have a chance to try until I was in Sydney, where I first heard about it anyway. Here's my take on the Grand Angus burger, and a comparison with the Deluxe Cheeseburger (a regular cheeseburger with lettuce).

Grand Angus Burger and Deluxe Cheeseburger side-by-side.

Open Casket shots.

As you can see, the Grand Angus completely dwarfs the humble cheeseburger. That 'sourdough' bun is HUGE and there's salad poking out everywhere.

The autopsy shot.

This is where things really get interesting. As NQN explains, the Angus Patty (100% prime angus beef, apparently) is a 3-to-a-pound patty, approximately 150 grams. The Cheeseburger Patty, on the other hand is a 10-to-a-pound patty, or about 45 grams. The Angus Patty is, then, justifiably ENORMOUS. It really is about 3 times the thickness and about 1 and a half times the top-down area.

Grand Angus autopsy shot.

The Grand Angus also contains two slices of McDonalds classic cheese, red onion rings, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and the usual sauces - mayo, tomato sauce and mustard, packed into a sourdough bun. Now, this bun isn't really a sourdough as such... more like a slightly denser version of The Boss burger's kaiser bun. It has some pretty track marks over the top, but otherwise tastes pretty bland, and just does an adequate job of holding all the fillings in the burger.

The patty is a real let down. I expected a really beefy flavour with perhaps a bit more ground beef texture. What I got was a big version of the cheeseburger patty. To be fair, when I separated bits of the patty from each burger and tried the patty on its own, I could detect a whiff of something other than standard McDonalds cardboard in the Angus Patty, so it may well be a decent (not really) patty on its own. However, when chucked in with the overwhelmingly rich stickiness of the McDonalds cheese, and then with the salad and sauces on top, it really was indistinguishable from any other McDonalds burger. The fat juicy piece of tomato was the real highlight of this burger for me :D

Deluxe Cheeseburger autopsy shot.

Not much to say here, except that it was cheaper ($1.95 AUD) than a regular Cheesebuger ($2.10 AUD) and you get a bit of munched up lettuce, a bit of mayo, and I think they take out the tomato sauce, so there wasn't that zingy bite anywhere. Thumbs down boring.

So there you have it. I rate the Grand Angus burger a failure on all accounts. Unless you're looking for something to make you feel sick late at night, don't go for it. In fact, if you were looking for just that, I'd go for 4 regular Cheeseburgers instead, it'd probably taste better going down. To really get a rounded view on the Angus hype, I might have to go back and try the Mighty Angus burger - bacon, cheese, mayo, onion and caramelised onion relish - and see if all that lack of greens makes the difference.. Tempting?