When my brother moved to London back in 2008, I thought it was neat that the building he lived in had a pub right downstairs. Problem was, that particular pub, the Pimlico Tram, was actually a lousy pub with a not terribly great clientele. But then something marvelous happened: the Pimlico Tram closed, and instead pub owner Martin Hayes refurbished the place and re-opened it as the Cask Pub and Kitchen. And, practically overnight, the lousy pub downstairs became the hip new pub downstairs, with a particularly good selection of British and imported beers, eight hand-pulled handles, and a reasonably good selection of pub grub. And starting that year, they’ve continued a run of excellence, with several awards including multiple winnings of The Publican Magazine Pub of the Year, Great British Pub Awards’ Best Cask Ale Pub in London, and CAMRA’s West London Pub of the Year. Enough so that I can’t even keep track of it. Meanwhile, they’ve been expanding, including more beers on tap, and, more importantly, sister pubs, with several locations of the Craft Beer Co open throughout Greater London (Craft is basically the same concept as Cask, but without the food).
I hadn’t reviewed Cask before, since I generally don’t review pubs unless there’s something particularly notable about them or their food, and, quite frankly, I hadn’t been terribly impressed by Cask’s pub food in the past. However, starting in 2012, Cask significantly re-tooled their menu. On Sunday nights they still do the traditional “Sunday Roast”, but the rest of the week their kitchen transforms into Forty Burgers.
Their timing couldn’t have been better. When I started visiting the UK regularly back in 2007, the burger scene was pretty dire, with a lot of places serving particularly un-inspired, overcooked burgers with questionable toppings, but then the burger revolution that’s been sweeping the US started to occur over in the UK as well. For example, Byron Proper Hamburgers opened up and started serving up some, well, proper hamburgers. And even the steakhouse stalwart Hawksmoor starting serving up their famous (and excellent) kimchi burger. And now even the likes of Shake Shack and Five Guys have London outposts, and there’s a lot of seriously good burger action. So Cask stepped into this scene with Forty Burgers.
First of all, the name “Forty Burgers” makes it sound like they are one of those operations that serves every burger variety known to mankind. They don’t. The name is for the beef blend they use, a combination of 40 day aged rib and 30 day aged rump, which makes for a particularly flavorful patty. The menu itself (shown at right) is pretty simplistic, ranging from a simple burger, to the cheeseburger, up to two notable burgers, the “Tiny” (which is anything but, with two patties, cheese, and bacon) and the Elvis (burger with bacon, fried banana, and peanut butter). Since it’s not something you see every day (especially with the general British eschewance of peanut products), I decided that we had to give the Elvis a try.
Well, as the saying goes, “it does what it says on the tin.” This was indeed a burger, slathered with peanut butter, topped with bacon, and top it all off, a fried banana. A bit of a mess to eat, but you know? It basically worked. There’s a reason that Elvis liked his peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwiches, and this burger did justice to that, with some really good bacon and a nicely fried banana. While peanut and beef is an odd combination, it actually works in a weird sort of combination, much like chicken and satay or lamb and tahini. Overall, this was a surprisingly good, but messy burger. About the only thing I can fault it for is the done-ness, like 95% of the burgers I’ve had in the UK, it was a tad bit overcooked (again, I think this is a bit of a holdover from the Mad Cow scare). Which is a bit of a shame, since this good burger would have been that much better served up medium rare.
But, overall, Forty Burgers is a great addition to both the London burger scene, and to Cask’s menu. I hope it continues to be successful.