[Added 7 March 2016: So many great burger places have opened in the past year—this list is well outdated!]
Eating in France was a revelation for us, not least because we tasted for the first time what we considered to be real American burgers, beautifully cooked and with the patty still pink inside. You didn't have to ask for them medium-rare, because that was just how they were, every time. The restaurants even used that lurid orange processed cheese, though occasionally someone would slip in a slice of camembert or something as well. We have not tried burgers in America yet, but that was how we imagined they would be.
The best such burger we have tasted to date, though, was actually in Hong Kong earlier this month, when we visited an independent burger joint called BurgeRoom. Look at what a piece of art that bun is, and how juicy the filling. We also approved of the excellent service in slicing the burger in half for easy eating, with a skewer in each portion to hold the pieces together. This is currently our benchmark for the perfect American burger. And yes, even the fries were good.
|Bacon Cheese Burger at BurgeRoom.|
We have yet to find that perfect American burger in Auckland, but that didn't stop us from trying to recreate it ourselves at home. Sadly, though we managed to produce some pretty tasty burgers, we could not find the same sort of cheese, and there was always just something that was not quite right. It is hard to articulate what the difference is, but our burgers were not American burgers.
If you are happy to settle for a burger with a medium-rare patty, skilfully and freshly cooked, then it turns out there are at least a few places in Auckland where you can get this. You only have to ask... Below are the eateries where we have successfully ordered a medium-rare burger, in the order of how we rate them. None are in the same category as that BurgeRoom burger, our idealised American burger, but there is no reason why you can't enjoy them anyway.
1) Vinyl Coffee Shop
Top on our list is the cheeseburger from Vinyl Coffee Shop. Don't forget you need to ask for it to be cooked medium-rare. Since we last reviewed the place two years ago, this tiny cafe has upgraded their menu, but the burger is still going strong. It is now made from beef rather than lamb, which is definitely closer to our expectations of a classic burger, though the rocket leaves used do push it towards a more gourmet direction. We like the fact that the staff manage to keep the standard consistently high, while throwing in minor variations. The last time we ordered the cheeseburger (before we discovered you could have it medium-rare), it was filled with fancy lettuce with frilled edges, for instance.
|Cheeseburger from Vinyl Coffee Shop.|
|A closer look at the filling.|
|Vegetarian O.J. Burger, with onion rings and avocado.|
Vinyl Coffee Shop
218 Dominion Road, Mount Eden
(09) 623 3821
Mondays to Fridays 7:30am - 3pm
Saturdays to Sundays 9am - 3pm
2) Late Night Diner
It's an exciting time for Ponsonby, with new eateries popping up left, right and centre. Not just the same kinds of places either, but novelties for Auckland, like the collection of little restaurants in Ponsonby Central, where some businesses started life as food trucks and market stalls. You can have an Argentinian asado at El Sizzling Chorizo (Simon Farrell-Green has a nice write-up of its previous incarnation as a foodcart on Waiheke Island), for instance, and we are also keen to try Foxtrot Parlour's doughnuts, which you can inject with filling yourself, though we've heard their brunch and lunch options are excellent as well.
But I digress. One of the new places to eat in Ponsonby is the Late Night Diner. This little spot has three booths and some bar seating, with interior windows looking into the Ponsonby Social Club next door (it's owned by the same people). You might have trouble finding a seat depending on when you turn up, but it sure has an attractive menu. Where else would you go to get rabbit pot pie, crispy skinned fish on popcorn grits, hard shakes (milkshake with a shot of cigar infused bourbon or fernet branca, perhaps), or Oreo doughboys?
Our objective, of course, was none of those things. We were here for the late night cheese and bacon burger with fries ($15), cooked medium-rare. It was a bit difficult to see what we were eating because of the dim lighting (we used the flash for the photos below), but this is not a beauty contest.
|Cheese and bacon burger from the Late Night Diner.|
|The patty was more medium than medium-rare.|
Late Night Diner
152 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby
(09) 361 2320
Mondays to Wednesdays 5pm - late
Thursdays to Sundays 5pm - 2am
3) The Flaming Onion
We weren't really looking for a takeaway burger, but with all the hype around The Flaming Onion (the Herald's Viva magazine picked it as Best Burger late last year, alluding to chef Alistair Bingle's background at the Engine Room and Euro) and with their own website saying "Don't be afraid to ask for it medium rare", we decided to give it a go.
Like the popular Big J's in Mount Wellington, The Flaming Onion has a burger special every week. Unlike most other takeaways, though, they also offer hand cut agria chips, and use free range eggs, homemade sauces and good quality ingredients in general.
We ordered the beef and cheese burger, as it sounded most like what we were looking for. Despite the beef patty being thinner than at the eateries we have already mentioned, it was still pink and moist inside. The bun was too fancy for us though. The rosemary in the foccacia bap added an unexpected flavour to the burger (that was our chief complaint with Murder Burger too), and where were the sesame seeds? Although they have taken liberties with the bread, and it was overall not as exciting as Vinyl's burger, it certainly was not bad, and represented good value at $10.
|Beef and cheese burger from the Flaming Onion.|
The Flaming Onion
1 Lydia Avenue, Northcote
(09) 419 0325
Tuesdays to Wednesdays 4 - 8:30pm
Thursdays 4 - 9pm
Fridays 12 - 9pm
Saturdays 1 - 9pm
Sundays 4 - 8:30pm