Huge US chain ShakeShack opened in London the day after Five Guys. They’ve taken over a small shop in Covent Garden, with lots of outdoor and indoor seating in the market, and naturally, I had to try it.
I really wanted to like ShakeShack, and it certainly has a lot going for it. As with Five Guys, the chain clearly carries a lot of love with folks who’ve tried it in the States, and the US menu with locally-sourced products and twists (they use 100% Aberdeen Angus beef, and shake biscuits from the St John Bakery) ought to be a recipe for success. Sadly, it isn’t.
I went Wednesday lunchtime with my dining companion (and sister), B, and we queued for around 15 minutes to get served. I went for a single Shackburger (cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and ‘ShackSauce’) and cheese fries, and B (“is it actually possible to get a burger without cheese??”) went with the Cumberland sausage and normal fries.
The burger itself was so painfully average, it barely scores higher than a McDonald’s. The “all burgers are cooked medium” seems a little pointless – the burger is so pitifully thin, it’s hard to do it as anything but well done (you can see mine was heavily charred). The real disappointment here though was the chips. I can’t remember eating any so bad. They come uniformly crinkle-cut (no hand-cut here), had a bizarre white residue all over them, and just really didn’t taste of anything. The closest I can come to describing them is a sort of vague taste of frozen potato waffles. The cheese sauce was pleasant for the first few bites, but just so heavy and calorific that half-way through I began to hate myself. We agreed the best part of the meal was the Cumberland sausage itself (it would hard to get it wrong), but even then the bread was stodgy and unappetising.
I felt fairly uncomfortable and disgusted with myself for the rest of the afternoon, which I find is always a good litmus test for whether a burger’s any good or not. In ShakeShack’s defence, the service was great throughout, and they’re certainly keen on first name use à la Starbucks. I suspect part of ShakeShack’s appeal is their trademark shakes and frozen custards, which I didn’t try, but as this is just a burger blog, I’ve got to conclude with a warning to stay well away.