David Michaels has spent a lifetime obsessing over the burger. It’s led him to write a definitive book on the subject and all its cultural impact – The World is Your Burger – and, by accident, to found a burger chain. Now he’s opening a Bite Me Burger Co. pop up, ahead of their first permanent store later this year in London.
While interviewing him for a piece on his book, I became the first member of the public to try their burgers a few weeks ahead of opening, as the staff were being trained that day. So I found myself asking Michaels about Bite Me as much as I did the book and his love affair with burgers.
Despite a career in design rather than food, a few years back Michaels took the plunge and set up Bite Me Burger Co. in Australia almost over night, purely in his own pursuit of a decent burger.
‘That was quite interesting. So I was travelling around having some time not working after a major project and got to Australia, and we literally couldn’t find anywhere for a burger. There was only Hungry Jack’s which is Burger King out there, and McDonald’s, and that was it. So on the back of a napkin in a pub one night we laid out the idea for a burger thing and eleven days later we were open. It was a sharing table and there was a queue outside the whole time.’
‘It was out there for three years and partner differences led to it ending. I mean, it was never meant to be a business, just a pop up thing, but we had a few of them in the end, including a 150 seater on Bondi Beach. We had another one in a casino there. It became a well-known brand, though it has been gone for about five years.’
What makes Bite Me Burger Co. different is the style and variety. Michaels is clear that, to survive in the gourmet burger market now, you have to innovate, or at least be slightly different. To that end, the burgers they serve are all sliders, and you mix and match your choice of two, three, four or twelve of them, alongside the usual offering of chips and great milkshakes. They “are the only place doing slider-sized burgers on a mass scale”; sliders are no longer the purview of posh hotel bars.
At Michaels’ suggestion I tried the Classic American Bite, the Beef Encounter and the Bloody Mary while we spoke. The Classic was just that, a medium rare patty with American cheese, ketchup, good old American yellow mustard and pickles, served in a sesame seed bun. Where are the lettuce, tomato and onion you ask? Well Michaels is all for burger accompaniments, but nothing should get in the way of the sauce and burger flavour, and frankly the burger loses nothing from the lack of them. Like all the burgers, it has a great bite and flavour thanks to the quality of the ground meat used. Something Michaels is clear about is the most important part about a good burger: “You have to be able to taste the meat. If you can’t then what’s the point?”
The Bloody Mary was unquestionably a shock and you’ll either love it or, well, not hate it, but it won’t be for you. It really does taste like a burger that’s covered in a Bloody Mary, because that’s almost exactly what it is – and yes the vodka is discernible. Personally I enjoyed it (though there are others on the menu I want to try first before I return to it), but I can imagine that the combination won’t be for everyone.
The star though, and I’m willing to bet it’ll be a big seller, was the Beef Encounter, Bite Me’s homage to the Big Mac. It’s spot on – the sauce, the meat, the pickles, the cheese, everything. It’s what a Big Mac could and should be, and best of all, it brings all those childhood memories of being treated to a McDonald’s flooding back. The chips too are superb. Cooked in rapeseed oil and dusted with pink Himalayan salt, they are light, crispy and full of flavour, nothing like the stodgy cold things that many of even the best burger restaurants serve.
Fear not – if these burgers aren’t for you or you want something more creative (though I’m not sure how you can say a Bloody Mary burger isn’t creative) there are plenty of other choices, from other beef based patties to one made of lamb, duck or chicken. They also have a hot dog. When the permanent store in White City is up and running the plan is to expand the menu to some 18-20 options, and they may include full sized burgers, depending on customer feedback. The menu is developed by Adam Rawson, the Young British Foodies award winner in 2015, who is described as “London’s Hottest Young Chef” by the London Evening Standard. So, whatever they do, you’re guaranteed it’s going to be worth trying.
Importantly both for them and diners, the sliders make delivery easy and a key part of Bite Me’s appeal. “It’s very very important to us”, says Michaels. To this end they’ve designed special boxes to hold and protect the orders made via Deliveroo and for collection. The box for a dozen burgers will be great for parties and groups of friends to share. They also intend to have special edition boxes with themed designs, including LGBT ones, which will support AIDS-related and other LGBT related charities.
I’m excited to see how Bite Me grows. They certainly have ambitious plans to expand and take London by storm, and to be honest there’s no reason they can’t succeed. Their price point is comparable to others in the market and the quality is only outdone by the creativity of the menu.
38 Kingsway, London WC2B 6EY