Lagging as it does 2-3 years behind Soho, Cambridge has started to accrete gussied-up burger joints at some speed. I went to two last weekend. I wasn’t even trying to have dinner. It just kind of happened. In fact, you’re probably in one now – slices of structurally-unsound brioche passing through you like crumbly, stylized, cosmic rays.
@RMH40 Cambridge needs to start thinking about slingshotting around the burger bar event horizon and accelerating away before it’s too late.
— Giles Lewis (@gileswl) February 23, 2015
Here’s a quick look at two new-ish ones. Butch Annie’s, which opened a week or two ago in the dead centre of town, and the latest incarnation of The Alex(andra Arms) out Mill Rd way. Spoilers: they’re both reasonably credible alternatives to Byron.
Extra spoilers: STOP WITH THE FUCKING BRIOCHE.
Butch Annies, Market st
Butch Annie’s opened astoundingly quickly after Cafe Carrington folded. That’s a passing nobody will mourn, but the haste kind of shows. The decor and fittings are a bit “Challenge Anneka retrofits a burger bar”, but hey, shipping is a feature and it’s not actually unpleasant. Booze is basically everything from Freedom, which means you get their excellent Dunkel. Good start.
What made Butch Annie’s a bit special, though, and why I probably will come back rather than head straight to Byron next time, is the Iberico pork burgers. Well, that and the willingness to cover basically anything in Béarnaise sauce.
Let’s ignore the Iberico they’ve inexplicably covered in pineapple, and talk about the “Topsy Turvey”. It’s a bacon cheeseburger, but the burger is pork, and the beef is the bacon. The patty is succulent Iberico with – I think – a little ginger. The “beef bacon” is Hereford rib they’ve cured for six months, and sliced thinly. It’s great, if a little chewy and they really need to be serving it as a beefy BLT, probably with some feisty pickle.
The pork flavour does fight through the ginger, but there’s a lot going on here, and I’m not wholly sure it balances. The nutty sweetness just doesn’t need that much extra help. They should trust it a bit more – it’s a great idea.
They should also bring you a plate and some cutlery. Look, I know the cool kids are doing it, but that doesn’t make crumpled paper and sticky fingers a great dining experience. SmokeWorks and Meat Liquor at least leave the tray behind. Possibly that was an omission here. They are, after all, just starting out. But eating straight off the table feels a bit much if you’re paying more than you would at Burger King. Chill out, guys – buy some tableware, maybe ditch the braces, and generally feel a little less try-hard. You make a good burger; put it front and centre.
Oh, and put it inside something other than brioche. This madness has to end. Yes, it looks cool. The glaze is funky. But it’s rarely not over sweet, and has the structural integrity of a jenga set on a treadmill. I’ve never had a brioche burger that wasn’t at least slightly disappointing, and that didn’t take all of five minutes to leave you eating a plate (if you get one) of mince with your fingers. If we’re too chic for quality bread rolls, then so be it. Go get some focaccia or something. But please, no more sugared breadcrumbs in a losing fight with entropy.
Sides at Butch Annie’s are decent, but the fries need work. It’s great than you can get them doused with za’atar, but they were a little over cooked. The spiced yogurt dressing was great, though, as was the “onion popcorn”. Little onion chunks in a gram flour batter, like a gorgeous fusion of onion bhajis and chip shop scraps.
Butch Annie’s gets a thumbs up, not least because they’re just starting out, and there’s time to iron out the wrinkles. Yes, it’s another posed, new wave burger bar. No, there’s not masses to choose between them. But this one has an interesting menu and shows plenty of promise.
The prices are fairly sensible, too.
The Alex, Gwydir st.
This isn’t really a review, but it does explain why I wouldn’t go in for a while.
The Alex is currently advertising “Burgers, brews, banter”, which is two out of three ways of telling me to fuck off. You can still get the alliteration by calling it “beer”, you know, and then you don’t sound like a tosser fresh off your gap-yah. But that’s a fairly minor slip.
“Banter”, however, is the de-facto trade name for that heady broth of sexism, racism, homophobia, aggression, and all-round othering that hegemonic masculinity deploys to police its sclerotic identities. It’s a dog-whistle to The Lads that nobody’s going to call them out on their rape jokes, and personally, I’d rather have cheese on my burger.
Like Syrens with the tits mermaid, or Flesh and Buns’ alarming hentoilet, you’ve got two choices when faced with this kind of branding. Three choices if you lap it up, but I’m a different kind of terrible person. You can call it as toxic and steer well clear, or you can slip Hanlons Razor into your pocket and go have a quick look to see how much they mean it.
The Alex does not appear to mean it. It’s just a bit of sloppy copy. The menu’s full of nudge-nudge-wink-wink bullshit, but it remains a perfectly pleasant little community pub, and I’m loving the addition of butcher’s tiles round the walls. They’ve even cleaned the gents as part of the refurb. The burger’s pretty decent, too, despite the fucking brioche. I had one with pickled chilli and an utterly redundant but very tasty dollop of pulled pork. The patties are stout and fresh, and the sides are tasty.
Sorry. I think I’ve got burger fatigue at this point, and you’re not getting much more than that. It’s a big, solid, burger with a hint of onion, served medium-rare and juicy. The sauces are balanced, and the fries are perfectly acceptable. The toppings are over the top (over-the-toppings?) in a fun kind of way, and their pickles are almost as good as the Smokeworks. If you’re drinking round Mill Rd, I’d seriously consider eating here if you fancy something quick.
Still, though – “banter”. Fucking hell.
(update: I nipped into the Alex again about a week later, and they had indeed stopped the brioche madness, although the bun was still a bit fragile)