High Five, Five Guys!

I don’t know why it surprised me, but cheeseburger is my most used tag on the blog. Examples here, here AND here. I really, really like cheeseburgers and have dived in with both feet to the burger trend that has tidal waved across London in the past two years. I really need to write a post updating my stance on London’s best burger (Lucky Chip? Patty & Bun? The Diner? Byron? Admiral Cod? Kua ‘Aina? Meat Liquor? I’ve tried ’em all… numerous times just to be sure) and actually the world’s best burger (Shake Shack? In-n-Out? Umami?) but I don’t think there is any point in doing this until I’ve sampled the latest burger boys to roll into town (Covent Garden to be precise!) – Shake Shack UK and Five Guys UK. No one seems entirely sure why these competitors chose to open their first ever British/European branches in the same week, American Independence day maybe?, but they are here and surely there is enough hype and hungry mouths to keep both in booming business. It was extra nice to see  neighbourhood branches of Bryon and The Diner tweeting them to welcome them to town.

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I’m excited to sample both, but selected Five Guys to celebrate 4th July at as I have been to Shake Shack a few times in New York (twice both visits in fact) and I adore it, but wanted to try something shiny and new. I’ve also been keen to give it a whirl since Wish Wish Wish Carrie came back with rave reviews after her visit in NYC. My partner in burger crime, the delightful blogging beau What Katie Does , was already camped out in the queue when I arrived hot and bothered after a power walk through a sticky Leicester Square. Luckily, she had already befriended a sunshiney American girl infront of us who, in turn for holding her place, fetched us some cold beers to slurp as we waited. Safe to say, a pretty dreamy start! The snaking queue may look off putting but it was very well managed. Menu’s handed out to drool over, lots of interaction with chatty staff keeping us updated on estimated queue time etc, and at peak-time of 6.30pm we actually only queued for 25 minutes before we were IN…

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Almost every staff member I interacted with was American, which added to the novelty “fresh from the US” experience. It also made me extra-appreciate their cheery, chatty attitude as I’m sure they’d have all preferred to be back home munching 4th July food and watching fireworks. As you queue, you can pick up a carton of shell-on peanuts to take the edge off a grumbling tummy. Five Guys have a close bond with the holy peanut; as they cook the fries in Peanut Oil rather than standard cooking oil. Perhaps not ideal for those with peanut-allergies, but very happy days for a peanut mega fan like me.

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I hadn’t even glimpsed at the menu before the daunting task of selecting WHAT to have! I thought the standard size cheeseburgers were extremely pricey (at nearly £9 for bacon/cheese – my favourite combo) so out of cost cutting alone I opted for a more reasonably priced Little Bacon Cheeseburger and trust me, it was not little! So don’t be put off by the title, this was a totally average size burger and filled the burger shaped hunger hole perfectly. Myself and Katie shared a large fries, which was WAY too large. We barely finished the fries that had falled out of the paper cup fries-holder and into the paper bag… so again, size down when ordering your sides. We were thrilled to discover them stocking Brewdog ale, so both opted for a frosty IPA to wash everything down with. They also stock Brooklyn Beer. Although, the big drink schtick Five Guys have imported with them is Coca-Cola Freestyle which is a machine where you can literally build your own Coca-cola drink! Adding flavours, picking the base cola type (caffeine free for meeee!) and playing cocktail maker with the worlds most iconic drink. At £2.50 a cup you can also have as many free re-fills as you like; meaning you can create some real horror flavour combos just for fun.

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My main LOVE for Five Guys is that all toppings are FREE. How obvious is that? But how stingy most burger places are, charging £1.50 for bacon, at least £1 for bloomin’ BBQ sauce etc. It is such a relief to see this burger revolution whereby you can choose any topping and it’s still the exact same cost. I couldn’t really get over this fact, so put it to the test by opting for All The Way (every topping! – onions, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mayo, mustard) plus extra BBQ sauce AND hot sauce (it was a saucy affair, but I just love a condiment). I regret not chucking some jalapenos in there, but you live and learn and it’s a good excuse to return very, very soon.

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And the food? Oh it was GOOOOOOD. The burger was perfect; exactly the right colour and a taste bud sensation of flavour and exact-right melty American cheese.  I also love a burger wrapped in foil, as it reminds me the brief dalliance my nothing-cool-ever-happens-here northern hometown had with Wendy’s and their square-burgers. Maybe now burgers are cool, Wendy’s can make a glorious return?! Katie is a caring herbivore so chomped through a veggie burger which she also made very happy noises about and said was a brilliant veggie option. We both ummed and ahhhed about ordering the grilled cheese instead of the burger (wild!) which looked and smelt delicious so that’s another must-have for a return trip. I’ll be honest, the fries weren’t anything to shout about. Skin-on and crunchy, but they seemed to go cold and tastless within moments. Granted we were chatting a million miles a minute and not exactly hurrying up with our meal, but they should be able to last a conversation and still be delicious. Five Guys do their own brand of cajun spice fries, so I would have these next time as maybe they will liven the spud up a bit.

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I was SO impressed with the eating experience considering it was opening night. I’ve been to Shake Shack near Port Authority in NYC at 3pm on a WORK day, and still had to queue for 30+ minutes once in the door, then faced the horror of absolutely NO seats so having to just hover with your tray, shovelling food in and evil eyeing all the happy folk with the luxury of a stool. It really ruins the experience! This was fully what Katie and I expected when we hit Five Guys. Instead, the staff were really managing the queue plus the restaurant is split level with tons of space both upstairs and downstairs. There were numerous spare seats to choose from, and being the curious types we spotted a narrow little staircase which we braved with our heaving burger-trays and were rewarded with a massive 10-seater booth in a private VIP corner to ourselves for 2 hours of peace, quiet and alone time with our burgers. Bliss!

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The staff also couldn’t have been more welcoming, friendly and lovely. Not a single bead of sweat on any of them, as they bent over backwards to make our experience perfect! I forgot to order mayo for the fries at the counter, so one of the many “floating” staff not only went upstairs to get me some, but also bought it right over to our tables so we could dig in. Table service? Pretty special, I can’t think of many places who would be so accommodating. They really did live up to the name of the Willy Wonka’s of burger making. It was a flawless evening. And the company was pretty swell too, thanks Katie for being such a great burger companion, I can’t believe we spent three hours together and I didn’t talk abou The National?!

I took this photo entirely by chance, but chuckled when I realised I had literally captured Five Guys, in Five Guys…

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Five Guys is at 1 Long Acre, Covent Garden (a short stroll from Leicester Square and Covent Garden Tubes) and is here to stay aka.. it’s not a pop up. Their website is already teasing a Five Guys Reading coming soon, so hopefully for non-London readers there will be Five Guys invasion in your neighboorhood soon. They are very twitter-happy, so maybe pester them with your location requests and hope for the best!

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  1. Andy’s avatar

    you have to promise to give me the heads up if your travels ever take you Toronto so I can give you burger tips!

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    1. Bee’s avatar

      Ha! Well I lived in Toronto and did sample many a burger, although I’m sure the offering has vastly improved. I’ll let you know if I ever journey back but I think it’s unlikely to be anytime soon, as I get a bit obsessed with always travelling somewhere shiny and new!

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      1. Andy’s avatar

        I think the TO patty landscape will have changed significantly since then due to the great burger wars of 2010 (that’s since you were there right?). Many fought and died in the skirmishes, leaving only truly great victors 🙂

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        1. Bee’s avatar

          Oh wow, I wish I could have witnessed and munched my way through the war. I feel like that’s what’s happening in London at the moment. It’s a very (meat juice) saturated market!

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        2. Jess’s avatar

          Is the veggie burger of the beany/vegetabley type, or the fake meat type? You must try Linda Mac 1/4lb mozzarella burgers; they’re so so so good even meaties like them 😀

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          1. Bee’s avatar

            It is vegetabley-veggie burger, actual bits of real recognisable veg too! 1/4lb mozzarella burgers sound heavenly, I need to come over for one sometime please.

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          2. Maxine’s avatar

            I’ve been reading your blog on-and-off for a while now and I don’t think I’ve ever commented. I’m glad you figured out the “little” versus “normal” size thing before you ordered the “normal” size like I did my first time there. And I’ve always ordered the smallest fry/chip size because no matter what size you order, it seems you’re always bound to get half a paper bag full of them. They’re really generous with portions at Five Guys, which is one of the reasons I prefer them over other fast food joints. I’m really fascinated that they imported American employees … how do I get a job there haha?

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            1. Bee’s avatar

              Ah thanks for commenting lovely, always nice to hear from someone I didn’t know was reading my ramblings. I am SO relieved that my natural stingyness saved me from a “normal” burger too; as the “little” was exactly the right amount for me. The prices seem alot more reasonable now I know they are so generous with portions, I can’t wait to go back already. I wonder if the American staff are just there for the launch and to train everyone up? I’d love it if they are there all the time though! I love the accents!

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              1. Maxine’s avatar

                What a pity – I know how hard it is for an American to get a job in England. 😉 A “little” burger and a “little” order of fries amounts to more than you’d get in a regular-sized McDonald’s meal here in the U.S., for less money! And I’m pretty sure the real meat patties (and real toppings) are made to order at Five Guys, so it’s all-around a great deal.

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                1. Bee’s avatar

                  Almost as tough as it is for us to get work in America;) I came over on business this year and had to go through THREE tiers of security interviews just to legitimately get in for 2 weeks!

                  One day (probably coinciding with pay day) I’ll fast all day then go to Five Guys and order “normal” everything just to attempt my own Bee Vs Food challenge! I’m going to Shake Shack soon and can’t wait to compare.

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                  1. Maxine’s avatar

                    Wow, I had no idea three tiers were involved to get a work visa (assuming that’s the one)! I’ve always heard that it’s near impossible for Americans to find legitimate work in England unless you were transferred to England by your company and/or the company could prove that they needed you specifically to do the work, rather than a local resident. I’ve given it some thought 🙂 (I studied in Manchester for a year a while back and I haven’t been able to shake the desire to live in England.)

                    Anyway, I can’t wait to see what you think of Shake Shack London. I like the Shake Shack burgers here, but they’ve been kind of hit-or-miss for me, while Five Guys has been pretty consistent. Not to turn this into a behemoth of a comment, but I’m just now remembering that you went to In ‘n Out in California … now THAT was a disappointing burger for me! I’m willing to give it another shot next time I’m over there. If you ever find yourself in Los Angeles again, give Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank a shot (though it’s been about 9 years since I’ve eaten there) … and have you tried Carl’s Jr? It’s a pretty big chain out in the western states, but their Six Dollar Guacamole Burger is probably the best fast food burger I’ve had.

                    I’ll stop now 🙂

                  2. Bee’s avatar

                    I think it works on a similar system for US and UK (having worked for two big international companies!). For me to get a job in the USA, my company (or myself) needs to prove that I have a skill that no other US citizen has, in order to do the job! This sounds extreme and obviously won’t actually be the case; but the type of things you can claim are European sales experience, living/working in the UK, language skills etc. Either way, it makes it incredibly difficult to get a job unless you have a company sponsoring you and taking care of all the legals. I think it’s the same for you coming here, and the process is in place due to the unemployment rate being very high in both US and UK. I don’t think it’s always been this tough!

                    I can’t recommend enough a return to live in England! So I hope you find a way, or at least get to come back on an extended trip.

                    I’m less excited for Shake Shaack as I’ve been 4 times before and actually agree with you entirely. The burgers aren’t ALL that, it’s actually the milkshakes, crinkle fries, frozen custard (which is something we dont get over here anywhere!) and desserts that really float my boat and that I’m most excited about. I’m so sad that you were let down by In-n-out!! I actualy agree though that it’s pretty McD standard, again there it’s the novelty factor of animal style and the kitch branding that sucks me in! I’ve never tried Carl Jr’s al;though I’ve seen the cute little star around on my travels; I am a massive guac fan so thanks for the tip off. Also I should be back in LA soon so will hunt out Bob’s Big Boy! Have you been to an Umami burger? Now THAT is an experience!!

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                    1. Maxine’s avatar

                      No, I haven’t been to Umami, but I’ve heard so much about it! I’m way overdue for a trip to Los Angeles, but that’s definitely on my list for my next trip. (Along with one more go at In ‘n Out :))

                      I’m with you on Shake Shack — the frozen custards and shakes are definitely its forte. I find that the shakes contain enough custard/ice cream for at least 2 people!

                    2. Andy’s avatar

                      I saw the Guardian gave 5Guys 1 out of 5 today. Can’t work out whether that’s based on how good it compares to the US original, or how it stacks up to the competition. In any case, they gave MeatLiquor a great review in the same burger shootout, and I hated MeatLiquor, so YMMV.

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                      1. Bee’s avatar

                        It was SO cutting! I wonder where that level of vicious came from..? And couldn’t agree more, the dead hippie is gross and also I have (cringe) eaten every London burger they reviewed and really disagree with all the comments. Five Guys definitely didn’t deserve a limp ole 1/5. Also that style of burger isn’t really comparable with Byron as they are different styles entirely. Mega EYE ROLL that the fois gras got 5/5.

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                        1. Andy’s avatar

                          So glad we’re on the same page as In-N-Out too! It’s one up from McDs! I don’t get it!

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                          1. Bee’s avatar

                            It’s just an example of incredible branding and marketing and hype I reckon! Also they don’t have many branches so there is that element of rareness? Oh and the novelty of a killer secret menu! Either way, I definitely love the packaging more than the food.

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                            1. Andy’s avatar

                              Totally agree.

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