Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Five Guys Covent Garden: fast food failure

Not fast. Not cheap. Not that tasty.

BREAKING NEWS: blogger eats burger at trendy new joint.

Forgive the sarcasm, but sometimes my own hobby bores me. But I had to go didn't I? A London food blog without a Five Guys review would be like a burger with no pattie.

God knows why though. Because Five Guys fails at EVERYTHING it attempts to be. Like many of my compatriots, my overwhelming feeling after leaving Five Guys was that I had just been on the receiving end of a lot of broken promises. Not all of those promises were made by Five Guys - many by its fans who had visited it in the US - and some were more hurtful than others. But a promise is a promise.

For a start, there are a lot more than five guys working for them. There were hundreds of minions, all dressed like they were on their way to a baseball game. Five bouncers at the door, five at the registers, five at the chip fryer, five building the burgers and five actually frying them. Then there were five cleaning up and five doing precious little but watching the queue. I make that Thirty-Five Guys.

It feels a lot like a McDonald's - but red is the colour. There's the crappy plastic diner feel, the queues at the registers and terrible, terrible uniforms. In fact, it would sit quite comfortably next to an Aberdeen Angus Steak House.

Like most tourist traps it tries to hide behind smiley staff, promises of provenance and fun text on the walls (the best one being "hand shaped burgers" - I really wish they were hand shaped rather than round). I'd say they have misunderstood the kind of people London burger lovers are, but that's not actually their market. Theirs is tourists, Americophiles and, apparently, people who wear K-Swiss and T-shirts with Rihanna on. The bloggers and burger lovers have hated the place.

The experience is pretty stressful. You queue once to order, and then sort of hover around waiting for the food in the middle of the atrium. As always happens when Brits are forced to loiter, a queue forms. So every now and then an employee has to come and break up the queue as it threatens to go out the door. It's a bonkers system.

The burger

The burger itself wasn't a disappointment - but more because my expectations were pretty low. To be fair, it probably slightly exceeded them. In the flesh they are not half as ugly as most blog pictures imply. It didn't look like it had been run over or delivered to you in an air drop. The meat was nicely cooked - the committee of cooks crowded around the grills evidently voted to take it off the heat at the right time. And the bread and toppings were good and fresh.

But to say all that is skirting around the issue. It didn't really taste of anything. The meat was almost fat-less and therefore flavourless. And it wasn't so much underseasoned as not seasoned at all. The two patties were generous enough, but both were thinner than the huge wedges of gherkin, which were so big that the predominant texture of the burger was crunchy. Burgers shouldn't be crunchy. They should be sloppy, juicy and almost impossible to eat.

With the burger you can get spicy or salty chips. By which they mean spicy chips or just chips. I went for just chips. I'd watched the bagger fill my pot with chips, then pour another scoop of chips straight into the bag. That's a lovely touch, because the best bit of going to McDonald's is fishing out those bonus fries from the bag at the end. Sadly I couldn't eat them all. They desperately needed an extra few minutes in the fryer. Some were soft and limp, which is really unpleasant for skin-on fries.

But the worst bit is the price. At £10.75 for burger and chips it's not cheap. A friend of mine said we shouldn't compare it to our more gourmet burgers because it's fast food. But it invites the comparison by pricing itself wrong. Fast food should be quick, cheap and tasty. Five Guys fails on all counts. It's £1 more than MEATliquor, £2.75 more than Dirty Burger and a whopping £3.25 more than Honest Burger. All of which do considerably better food in better places. The latter of those two do it faster too.

People will pay the price for a bit of Americana. Hell, I paid the price for a bit of Americana. But all I kept thinking while eating it was this could really do with a bit of Big Mac burger sauce. And that's not a good sign is it?

Five Guys Burgers & Fries on Urbanspoon   Square Meal


  1. So i think this is not the right place to hang out with friends when you get bored.

  2. go to the park instead.pretty easy to think about.that's why it's called fastfood