Burgers R Us
We find out why there are always queues outside GBK
I have often walked past the Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) on Westfield's Southern Terrace to see queues of people waiting to get in and have wondered why anyone would wait so long to eat a type of food that, let's face it, is really quite simple. What, after all, is so special about the humble beef burger?
On the day that we visited, there was thankfully no queue at all at the entrance and we were led straight to our table by an extremely helpful waiter who did not seem remotely rushed off his feet. Once we had sat down and he explained to us how the restaurant worked, I realised why he had so much time to devote to us: there would be nobody coming to our table to take our orders. Instead, we would have to go up to the bar and place the order ourselves.
Looking down the menu at the “awesome burgers”, you can see immediately what the attraction of GBK is: there is nothing humble about the beef burgers on offer here. There are 28 creations to choose from, ranging from the simple 'Classic' (salad, mayonnaise, relish) to the far more elaborate 'Kiwiburger' (beetroot, egg, pineapple, cheese, salad, mayonnaise, relish). There are also five choices on the vegetarian section of the menu, including 'Veggie and Camembert' (mushroom, aubergine, red pepper, sweet potato, Camembert, mayonnaise, rocket & onion jam), as well as three 'Speciality' varieties. A final section offers three burgers which are “exclusive to GBK from the world famous organic Laverstoke Park Farm”. You cannot fail to be impressed by the choice and variety – and GBK even say they change their menu every spring and autumn so that the ingredients are always in season.
We chose a Pesterella - pesto, mozzarella, salad, mayonnaise, relish - (£7.95), a puy lentil burger from the vegetarian selection - puy lentils, potato, green curry, spring onion, salad, mayonnaise, relish - (£5.95) and a cheese and bacon burger (£4.95).
However, having failed to oil my memory before setting out, I was a bit thrown by the task of having to remember a food and drinks order for three people as well as our table number, whilst standing in a queue to place the order and pay. Eventually arriving at the bar, I was faced with a sign reading 'Service not included. Tips very much appreciated', which was all very well, except that at that moment, I felt like I was the one doing all the work. When the waiter at the bar asked me how I would like the burgers done, I ended up having to rush back over to my table for further instructions and quickly back to the bar again to avoid holding up the queue.
Although the order-at-the-bar system is probably very efficient in terms of restaurant organisation and freeing up the staff, I am not sure it would suit every type of diner. If you were a parent taking two or three children out to lunch, for example, what would you do: abandon the little ones at the table while you stand in the queue or take the whole gang with you to the counter?
Once I had placed and paid for our order, the drinks, including two glasses of wine and an Oreo milkshake, arrived very promptly. The milkshake (£3.65), was served nicely chilled in a huge metal container which looked like a cross between a cup and a pail. As the drink contained what seemed to be a whole packet of crushed up Oreo biscuits, and the metal cup contained enough to fill three tall glasses, the burgers we had ordered already looked in danger of not being eaten.
Inside, GBK had modern and simple décor with wooden tables and tasteful red walls, and continuing with the 'red' theme, the tomato ketchup dispensers on each table added a touch of the 1970s to an otherwise very modern restaurant. As with all the Southern Terrace restaurants, GBK had a large outdoor dining area, and we chose to sit there to make the most of the last few days of non-summer.
When our burgers arrived, the bread buns were packed so full that we didn't quite know how to fit them into our mouths. However, after some not-very-successful manoeuvres with a knife and fork, we finally abandoned our cutlery and went for a more hands-on approach. I'm sure my jaw must have grown by a few centimetres by the time I had finished. The Pesterella was the best of the three and was made with with top quality meat, fresh mozzarella and a generous helping of pesto. This is what makes GBK stand out from your average burger bar and explains the long queues to get in. The puy lentil burger, however, which was supposed to include green curry, was disappointingly bland while the cheese and bacon burger didn't see much action as it was unable to compete with the Oreo drink for stomach space. I wouldn't want to be coveting my neighbour's chattels, but the people on the next table did have far more impressive-looking burgers than us, stacked high with all sorts of ingredients. We had obviously been a little too simplistic in our choices.
The dessert menu was not impressive at all: three types of ice-cream were on offer and that was it. But after the Oreo overdose, there was really no need and coffee was enough to keep us happy. Once we had finished, it felt rather odd to just walk off – as though we were doing a runner – and had to remind ourselves that, yes, we had paid right at the beginning.
The bill came to £36.10 for three burgers, fries to share, three drinks and two coffees – quite a bit more than you would spend at an average burger joint but you are paying for quality here – and alcohol, of course. I might be tempted to pop back to GBK to try some of the other creations on the menu, but I can't say I would be be prepared to queue up for the pleasure.