Burger Shop by a Rule of Tum: restaurant review
Burger Shop by a Rule of Tum, 32 Aubrey Street, Hereford HR4 OBU (01432 351 764). Meal for two, including drinks and service: £30-£45
Every time I think the burger wars have ended, another front opens. On my recent trip to New York, for example, I had dinner at Salvation Burger, the new venture from cult British chef April Bloomfield and restaurateur Ken Friedman, the team behind the Spotted Pig and the Breslin, among others.
The eponymous Salvation Burger is well named. I suspect it would indeed save you and the rest of your family were you to find yourself in a siege situation. The burger is half a pound of well-aged, rough-chopped meat, and could double as a pouffe in a 70s living room. It comes with caramelised onions, taleggio cheese and a whole bunch of condiments. Everything, including the sesame-crusted brioche bun, is made on site. It is a wonder. It costs – or with the obligatory 20% New York tip.
Oh, stop all that raging and shouting. There’s no reason why a dish with humble beginnings can’t realise noble ambitions. It’s a total showstopper and, for what it’s worth, not even the most expensive in the city. The Minetta Tavern charges (before service) for their black-label burger. There are pricey examples in London, too. The Ivy charges £16.50 and the version at Bar Boulud in Knightsbridge, regarded by many as the capital’s best, is £18 with cheese.
When a food object becomes subject to the caprices of fashion, it’s easy for its basic virtues to be lost. We declare ourselves “so over” them. We roll our eyes theatrically at each new opening. We gasp when some come slapped with a sizeable price tag. (Only in the case of wagyu burgers is this reasonable. Wagyu is prized primarily for its texture, on account of the intra-muscular fat-lacing – the one thing that is lost when you shove it through the mincer. You are paying for a USP which has been violated.) My defence of the Bloomfield burger is that it isn’t merely a burger. It’s a beautiful piece of cookery of many types, and no more outrageous than any other food experience you also wouldn’t be willing to spend your money on.
I feel the same way about the £9.50 charged for the star burger at Burger Shop by a Rule of Tum, the achingly punning name for a humble place down a side street in Hereford. The space is rough-hewn, with bare wood tables and floors, dangling lightbulbs, an open kitchen and the haze that comes from extraction which can’t quite cope, or doesn’t want to. The restaurant smells deeply of rendering beef fat and if that doesn’t appeal to you, why have you read this far? The food is served on plastic trays, in cardboard pots, and comes with a side order of buzz words. It’s all “local” and “proper”. The meat comes from Farmer Tom. Good old Tom. Nope, no idea.
But this flummery is forgivable partly because this is a burger restaurant located in a town which has given its name to a breed of cattle. Bigging up the meat’s provenance makes sense. It’s also forgivable because the burgers are good. Indeed, I’d mark them Very Good, with a gold star and a tick. The beef isn’t overly minced. It’s clearly been aged. There is a char outside and they prefer to serve them medium-rare, which is laudable given that under some local authorities that’s an arrestable offence.
That £9.50 Hereford Hop is topped with long-braised “pulled neck” of beef, cheese, deep-fried pickled onion rings, mustard mayo, ketchup and fresh, crisp leaves of baby gem, there to give the impression that this might be healthy eating. I throw in extra bacon to mitigate all the greenery, and it’s the real thing: a deep dry cure with dense pigginess. The brioche buns hold together for only half the eating time, but that’s OK. By that point you already have half the sauce down your shirt and your forearms. Or is that only me?
As well as the beef options, there’s a pulled lamb burger, leftovers from which go into crisp croquettes so pungent you can practically hear them bleating as you bite in. On the side there’s a fine dipping sauce of salsa verde. This is more attention to detail than is strictly necessary at the £4.50 price. It turns out that tiny florets of cauliflower cheese also make terrific croquettes. From the specials board we try the mackerel burger, a breaded and deep-fried fillet of fresh mackerel, topped with smoked mackerel and one simple masterstroke: batons of pickled rhubarb, the sharpness of which puts all that fishiness in its place.
Non-meat options include a patty made with Bombay potatoes, with an onion bhaji and lime pickle, and a falafel burger with tahini and pickled red cabbage. Not everything is bang on. Their sticky chicken wings look the part. There’s a dark glaze and a serious intensity, but they are slightly bitter and the wings have been overcooked. They fall apart as I eat them. The celeriac coleslaw is fine as far as it goes, which is not quite far enough. It needs acidity and kick so it can play support act to the main event.
Desserts also need work. A brownie is too heavy and dense; the plastic knife bows as I try to slice it. Rice pudding with orange syrup and rhubarb reads nicely but is a little loose. Of their ices, all made on site, the stars are a smoked tea ice cream and a raspberry sorbet. The sticky toffee pudding ice cream is a great idea not quite realised. They need to do more than beat the pudding into the vanilla. If they started serving ice-cream sundaes the job would be done. Still, there’s a good selection of beers, a decent pinot noir at £18 and a prosecco at £20 for those who crave glamour.
Mostly there is the sense of a small committed business trying to make a difference to the life of its town. A couple of doors down they have another space which they call the Bookshop. It’s currently only open for steak nights on Thursdays – more from good old Farmer Tom – and for Sunday lunches, but clearly over time their opening hours will be extended. Taken at face value, it’s a long way from Hereford to New York; from the Salvation Burger to the £9.50 Hereford Hop. But in truth they both represent the same thing: a serious commitment to doing the seemingly simple as well as it can be done.
Jay’s news bites
■ The menu at Annie’s Burger Shack in Nottingham is worryingly long, with more than 30 options before you even get to extras. Rhode Island-native Annie clearly hasn’t found a topping she doesn’t like. The good news is that while the names may be full on – the Elvis? The Lemmy? – the essentials are all there. These are great burgers. She’s recently introduced a US breakfast menu, too (anniesburgershack.com).
■ Rise Bakery, a brilliant social enterprise and part of Providence Row, the homelessness charity, has done great work providing people with skills and training. Now the bakery, located off Brick Lane in east London, has made its terrific brownies available by mail order. Profits will be ploughed back into its training schemes (risebakery.london).
■ The YO! Sushi group has announced it will pay the National Living Wage (or above) to all its employees, regardless of age. The £7.20 per hour minimum, introduced on 1 April, legally only applies to workers aged 25 or over (yosushi.com).
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