Grill’d- World Square

Healthier, more sustainable, and possessing social conscience, how does Grill’d stack-up against the heavy hitters of the Sydney burger scene?

Since embarking on this search for Sydney’s best burger joint, we’ve eaten quite a few burgers and I’ve read quite a few lists in the past months (differing opinions of Sydney’s best burger joints). However from all the lists I’ve perused, I haven’t seen Grill’d appear on any burger roll-call.

The first time we tried Grill’d, I think the burger landscape was a lot different from how it is today. Gourmet burgers with premium produce wasn’t easy to find back then, at that time the burgersphere was still dominated by the big 2 American burger chain stores. And I remember Grill’d was a breath of fresh air, burgers which were more unique, made to order, it was clear that thought was placed into the ingredient/flavour pairings, and who didn’t like the concept of dropping a bottle cap into 1 of 3 huge jars to place your support/vote towards a local charity/initiative. But much has changed in the intervening years, and many have caught up and surpassed Grill’d…but by how much?

Back to the present day, and knowing what we know and having tasted so many burgers over the last few months, I think I’m a more astute Burgerite – how would a Grill’d burger compare to our current top-three (Bar Luca, Z-Pickle, and Down N’ Out)?

To be fair, we chose from the Grill’d Specialty burger range (3 Wagyu and 2 Pork Belly options), thinking that if we based the comparison on the premium end of their Grill’d menu, then they’d stand more of a chance to keep-up with the big boys.

I ordered the Bonfire BBQ ($15.90) – Premium wagyu patty with native Davidson plum barbeque sauce, crispy bacon, Dijon mustard, pickle, aged cheddar, Spanish onion & egg mayo.

While my wife ordered the Pork & Pine ($15.90) – Slow cooked marinated pork belly with avocado, charred pineapple, salad & smoky chipotle mayo.

At point of sale, we were both given the option of what bun we’d like, and we both chose the sour dough bun (they lost me at ‘sour dough’, as soon as I heard those words I stopped listening to the other options).

And to make our burgers a meal, we ordered a side of Zucchini fries to share ($8.90) and an apple juice ($4.50). Our total bill amounting to slightly over $45.

On this day, we ate at the World Square Grill’d store.

And after a short wait (proving that burgers are made to order), our food was brought out to us on plates.

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but my pet-hate when consuming burgers is when the bun is soggy when you first pick it up due to the sauce being applied too liberally or it being too runny.  This time the bottom bun wasn’t soggy, but a lot of sauce had already leaked out so that after first contact with the burger my fingers were already sticky with sauce (which got considerably worse as we went along). The big bite test? Full marks, as the stack was tall but still easy enough to get all of the ingredients into one single bite after compressing the bun slightly.  The first element which stood out was the pickle-  it was unique because it was sliced quite thin, but it was a large square probably 1.5 inch by 1.5 inch and one side was all pickle skin (which was quite firm , like apple skin). And all subsequent pickles were consistently the same, it was like they were sheering just the skin off pickles and serving it; when you’d might do the opposite and discard the skin. But that was unusual and gave it a sour element, and a textural change-up. However that was the only unique taste and texture which stood out, unfortunately the BBQ sauce was applied so generously that all I could taste was the BBQ sauce. I couldn’t tell if the beef patty was Wagyu as all beef flavours were masked by the overpowering BBQ sauce, the only difference I noticed was that the meat patty seemed more … Um…. Mushy? Like it was cooked rare? But I think I need to do more reading up on Wagyu beef, to better understand its characteristics and know what I’m sensing for. And unfortunately I couldn’t taste the sour flavour from the sour dough bun, or the cheese, or the mayo, or Spanish onion, as my palate was owned by the BBQ sauce, and so were my hands by the end.

On the other hand (a much cleaner hand), my wife liked her Pork belly burger, the grill’d pineapple the stand-out. And the Zucchini chips were good at first, as it was thickly coated in a crunchy batter that delighted us at first bite! However we had ordered the Zucchini chips thinking that we’d choose a more healthy option, than straight potato fries. But as the batter was coated so thickly and the shreds of Zucchini so thin, it was like just eating batter. So it didn’t feel much healthier as we were probably consuming just as much carbs as potato fries and this feeling settled in our minds as we ate and in the end we didn’t finish them. At the time the meal prompted a discussion about whether or not we should detox for a few weeks, and give the Burger Vs Burger taste test a rest as well, for the sake of our health. Haaha. But I’m one who has a short memory with oaths, I’m sure we’ll be back handling burgers in a fortnight’s time. *Smile*.

Our end verdict, 3.5 Stars from 5 (2 from 3 stars for Food; 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (the youngsters at Grill’d are always friendly); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (they had a pop/R&B playlist going on); and 0.5 from 1 for Value for money (as $45+ is starting to get into the big boy burger pricing territory).

In conclusion, we love what Grill’d stands for, a more healthy take on burgers; a more sustainable approach to doing business and reducing/eliminating their impact on the environment (banning straws and sourcing from responsible producers); and making donating to local charities their ongoing mission! Yeah, their burgers aren’t in the same league as our top 3 burger joints, and unfortunately Grill’d offering when put through the Burger Scorecard only scored a 10 from 20, not high enough to be added to our Burger Vs Burger list (probs many before me also came to this same conclusion).

In the end, can a chain store compete with a bar or a restaurant where the boss and creatives behind the menu are still on the grills? And/or still influence the every-day running of the restaurant and the food that they serve up? I think it’s not the same nor a fair comparison when you’re a guy/gal on the grills 5-6 layers removed from the people who create the menu, and the totality of your interaction with the leaders of your company is probably the odd pump-up email, or monthly e-newsletter. But Grill’d is still a good burger option, it has the right motivations and I’ll still go back now-and-again. Next time I’ll stick to the regular burger options, so my expectation/anticipation can be lowered, so it won’t be horribly shattered again.

Grill’d World Square- Sun 27 January (3.5 Stars)

PH: (02) 9261 4900

Shop 10.58 Ground Level, 58/680 George Street, Sydney NSW

Mon-Thurs 11am – 10pm

Fri 11am – 11pm

Sat 11am – 10pm

Sun 11am – 9.30pm

Bar Luca- Sydney CBD

In the red corner we have our Challenger, Bar Luca! Tossing their hat into the ring for consideration as Sydney’s Best Burger Joint!

We didn’t know what to expect, everyone knows Mary’s, Betty’s, and Burger Project as trending Burger joints, but I’m not sure if everyone knows all about Bar Luca? (I definitely didn’t). Only open on a Saturday evening for weekend trade (closed Saturday day and Sundays) we had to flip our routine around to dine at Bar Luca. *Shock-horror*. And hey! It wasn’t a bad change at all! There is definitely a different vibe in the city as soon as the sun goes down and walking down George street in the evening, it was nice. There was a cool breeze on this otherwise warm summer’s day, and with parts of George street now pedestrianised, it felt like Melbourne with live performers doing their thang on each block. Real nice, can’t wait until the Light Rail is finally up-and-running!

Bar Luca is located on Phillip Street which is closer to the Circular Quay end of the CBD, and it’s a pumping place situated on an otherwise quiet street in the evenings. We rocked up at 8pm, and it was only a short 10 minute wait before a table freed up for us. We had dressed up a little bit nicer, as we were going out to a ‘bar’ in the ‘evening’ but it turns out that Bar Luca is pretty casual; we got the impression from the maitre d’ who was in t-shirt and shorts (and why shouldn’t he, it was a hot summer’s day). And when we were seated and taking in the surrounds, Bar Luca was essentially a typical Sydney pub, interesting how the use of ‘bar’ had conjured up mental-images of sophistication and class, compared to say being named ‘Hotel Luca’ or something equally pubby.  But for us, we felt even more at home knowing that it was just a relaxed venue which happened to be located in the posh end of town.

In terms of our orders, during our brief wait outside the venue we studied their menu and decided on The Blame Canada burger- $17 (of course), as it seems all first-timers end-up ordering their signature burger. For me, I went with the Mr T-ruffle burger- $17 which was essentially the same as the Blame Canada, but I instead had truffle aioli sauce (instead of Maple aioli) and truffle infused mushrooms. And as a share dish we ordered a plate of Potato scallops- $7, for the simple fact that you rarely see a restaurant serve up the humble deep fried potato oval!

The other burger options which caught our eye were the BL Burger, Bar Luca’s own take on the humble BLT; The Lot, a whole heap of stuff stuffed into a burger including a fried egg; the Flame Canada, basically the Blame Canada with jalapeños and a spicier sauce; and there was a chicken   version of the Blame Canada. And many many share dishes to choose from, and for a few extra bucks you can basically shove any side into your burger and customise the heck out of your bun stack.

Taking in the atmosphere, it was very much a pub/bar/hotel scene; heavy wooden tables, heavy wooden chairs, high stools and sports being played on the large screen TVs. The venue was pretty packed, not like a usual pub where people are free to stand and mingle wherever they pleased, but it was more like a restaurant where people took their seats and kept to their own groups (entry to the venue as an example, you were only allowed entry into the venue when tables became free, rather than a free-for-all at your neighbourhood pub). So it was very civilised, and the whole place was buzzing with people all chatting happily, which was enough to create atmosphere making the music a moot point (more so just for background music than to get people out of their seats and dancing).

After making your orders at the bar, our food was delivered to our table and my first impression was that the burgers were kind of small?

Perhaps the small plate on which it came added to the feeling that you weren’t getting much for your money? As after 2 burgers and one side (no drinks), it already added up to $41, which is a reasonable amount of cash to fork out (at first I thought I’ll be going home hungry again).

But first bite! OMG! I was triumphant in getting all of the burger elements into one big bite and it was so tasty! The first thing which hit the taste buds was how tasty and well-seasoned the beef patty was! It was so flavoursome, not due to spices or the sauce, but it was just the natural taste of good beef, the smoky taste of being flame grilled, seasoned well, and it was just a very thick and substantial meat patty. Mmmmm. Then the next thing you register was the super crispy bacon which had been pan-fried to a brittle crisp (glazed with maple syrup), and it was only in subsequent bites did my taste buds locate the truffle flavours (they were definitely there from the beginning). But the beef patty and the bacon were the two clear standouts, and it was later when your tastebuds got familiar with the smoky beef and the sweet bacon, did the truffle flavour come through, which came from the truffle aioli sauce, and the truffle infused mushrooms. And even later on, I and my tastebuds found the cheese and the shallots in there, so as you can see there were many many elements which contributed to the creation of this memorable bun-stack. And oh yeah! I almost forgot, the milk bun was real nice and soft as well, and held together throughout the meal although there were so many big personalities to restrain within its fluffiness. To be completely unbiased, the only negative comment I had was that as soon as the burger sat for a few minutes, the bacon lost its crispiness; so my advice is to smash out your burger first and worry about the sides at the end.

My wife was equally satisfied with her Blame Canada burger, it was a taller stack than mine so she had some trouble keeping it all together and getting her teeth around the top and bottom buns. In the end she had to raise the white flag  and surrender to the Canucks; admitting that she was so full after her burger, that she didn’t have the stomach space for her share of the potato scallops. The only knock on her meal was the lack of veg/greens, do we blame Canada for this? Or do we blame the kitchen? And considering how I thought that we weren’t getting much food for our money, our burgers initially sitting there all alone looking small on its small little plate? Yeah, I had to admit that I was wrong and looks were deceiving, as in the end I was super full as well and was unable to take it for the team and eat my wife’s portion of her potato scallops (it’s been a while since we weren’t able to finish our meals). **Side note: The scallops were good- nice and crispy and generously covered in chicken salt; although it was the memories which these little babies brought back for me; memories of primary school and waiting for the train at Strathfield station and pulling out coins to buy a single potato scallop at the platform Kiosk for 50c, those Bar Luca Potato scallops brought back all those old repressed memories. Love how food can take you back in time!

potato scallops with chicken salt

Our end verdict! Bar Luca held its own in the ring, exchanging punches with the more well-known heavy hitters in the Burger scene; and at this point in our travels to try all the Trending Burger joints in Syd, Bar Luca has taken the top spot!!!! Dethroning Z-Pickle from its position top of the stack. So the anticipation has now been turned right up! As we look forward to the eventual day when we circle round to Mary’s (people’s usual response when asked “where are the best burgers at?”). This makes for a very very interesting showdown! Is Bar Luca our modern day Rocky Balboa? The relative unknown who is going to stick it to Mary’s? Check-out the Burger Vs Burger scorecard to see how Bar Luca edged-out Z-Pickle for the title of ‘No. 1 Contender’

We score Bar Luca 4.5 Stars from 5 (3 from 3 for food; 0.5 from 0.5 for Service, everyone who we interacted with were real friendly; 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere, who needs blaring music when you have 100+ happy chatting patrons; and 0.5 from 1 for Value for money, it has been the most expensive Burger joint we’ve eaten at thus far). We’ll definitely be singing Bar Luca’s praises to friends until it’s on the tip of everyone’s’ tongues when they think of tasty burgers; and we’ll definitely be coming back, even if it’s only for the final show-down between the top ranking burger joints! In a final Cheese Burger and Chicken Burger Taste Test Tournament! Call it the big CBCBTTT! Haaha.

Bar Luca- Saturday 12 January (4.5 Stars)

PH: (02) 9247 9700

52 Phillip Street, Sydney NSW

Mon-Tues 11am – 10pm

Wed-Fri 11am – 12midnight

Sat 5pm – 12midnight

Sun Closed 

**Booking is advised.

Yasaka Ramen- Sydney CBD

Only for the first 8 customers: Sydney to Tokyo return for $19.80! While seats are available.

Okay, I’d better stop with the tease of cheap flights to Japan, as $20 tickets are too good to be true. But today we travelled to Japan and back for under $20 each, curtesy of Yasaka Ramen.

It was only a couple of months ago when I first learnt of Yasaka Ramen, although we live on the same street as them. As soon as my wife came home from work that day, I was like “Hey Babe, did you know that there is a highly rated Ramen joint just up the street from us!?” And since that day we’ve gone up there on two occasions intending to dine there, but each time we ended up going elsewhere due to the lines out the door. And honestly at all times of the day there are lines out the door, as we had made it a habit to glance over each time we drive past. But with some pre-planning the day before, we changed up our Saturday habits and organised to beat the crowds by getting there as soon as they opened. So 11.30am on the dot we were there and seated straight away, 2 other groups had the same idea and were already seated and ordered. BTW, I don’t call my wife ‘Babe’, this is me utilising my creative license to ‘embellish a re-telling’…..   

First impressions, “I’ve been transported to Tokyo!”….. Note: I’ve never been to Japan, but I’d imagine it to be much like this! I.e. a small narrow restaurant, open kitchen and a host of polite staff.  As soon as we saw the bar only seating, stools for only 8-10 people set around the open kitchen, we had a lightbulb moment – ‘No wonder there are always lines out the door’, as they can only serve 8 patrons at a time! Thus as we reviewed the menu, the prices for their ramen were on the high side (majority of options were between $16 and $20). But we didn’t begrudge them, as they had 4 chefs and a number of wait staff, while there were 8 of us, an almost 1 to 1 ratio! **Note: later on when more people started to show up, we were a little deflated to hear them climb the stairs to an upstairs dining area.

But no matter, I think having a front row seat to watch the chefs do their thang was a far more satisfying experience, than to be upstairs and have your food miraculously appear. From where we were seated, we were watching our own dishes being created right before our very eyes!

Black Garlic Ramen with squid ink

I ordered the Kakuni ramen i.e. slow cooked pork bone in Tonkotsu Shio [pork bone broth with salt])- $19.80, while my wife had the Black garlic Shoyu [pork bone broth with soy)- $17. On the menu there were over 20 different ramen choices (some with a long, detailed, almost poetic descriptions of its providence and inspiration), and 3 soup bases to choose from. And on the flip side of the menu, there were your non-ramen dishes, if you weren’t in the mood for noodles or wanted something extra to share.

As soon as the chefs receive your order, you can see them kick into action and construct your dish right in front of you! They’re so close, I could literally reach out and take the blow-torch they were using to double cook the BBQ pork (if I wanted to be kicked out of the restaurant). It was a memorable experience, and worth the pre-planning to beat the crowds and score the best seats in the house. We watched our empty bowls removed from a hot water bath where they were floating in to ensure that the bowls were going to be as hot as your freshly cooked food. We watched our ramen lifted out of a large pot where it had been cooking, baskets shaken off to get rid of the excess water before broth and toppings were added. Then the waitress brought out our food coming from around the bar, bowls sitting on small serving plates (the chef could have handed the food to us from over the counter if he wanted to).  

But when I was poking at my noodles with my chopsticks, I had hoped for more. And I was panicking at the half way point when I wished that there was just more food as I wanted this experience to last longer. But in the end I was so full, and the portioning was actually just right. When it came down to it, they were actually quite generous with their toppings. At other ramen joints, you get a load of noodles but perhaps 3 thin slices of pork? For my dish, I had 2 huge chunks of pork. They were so tasty, with both intensely salty and sweet flavours, and the meat was soft and filled with melted bone. The noodle were thick and chewy; initially thinking that there wasn’t enough of it, but due to its density it was actually quite filling. And the broth! The broth was thick, salty and filled with collagen. So as you drank the soup with your soup ladle, your lips were left with a layer of oiliness which you know it’s the good stuff! Broth slow cooked for many many hours.

Grilled Kakuni Ramen

My wife’s dish was a thinner soup base, dark liquid due to squid ink (be sure not to wear light colours if you’re going to order this dish), served with thin slices of tender meat. Both dishes had the usual toppings of bamboo shoots, seaweed, and fried garlic and if you wanted chilli flakes or sesame seeds, you can add additional condiments. But don’t be expansive with your hand gestures if you’re sitting at the bar, as you can literally knock over the tubs of condiments down onto the chef’s workstation! It felt like we were sharing the same space!

So as we ate, I was so content feeling like I’d been transported to another country, listening to the kitchen activity and all of their interaction in Japanese. It was like watching ‘Terrace House’ on Netflix while eating dinner (guilty, we eat dinner in front of the TV most nights).

So our end verdict, 4.5 from 5! (2.5 from 3 for food (perhaps some might find the broth too salty); 0.5 from 0.5 for service (as everyone were super polite and efficient); 0.5 from 0.5 for atmosphere (they had Japanese pop playing, but you didn’t need it as you had all the kitchen activity right in front of you); and 1 from 1 for value for money (although it was on the pricier side, it was worth every cent!)).

So I think we’ve found our ‘go to’ Ramen joint! And now that Bondi Junction Yasaka Ramen has opened and there is also the Neutral Bay store, I’m sure there is enough Raman and seats to go around for everyone!

Yasaka Ramen- Saturday 22 December (4.5 stars)

PH: 02 8318 0405

126 Liverpool Street, Sydney CBD (North side of the Street in-between Pitt and Castlereagh St)  

Mon- Sat 11.30am – 10pm

Sun 11.30am – 9pm

**Accepts cash only

8bit Darling Square

I grew-up playing Nintendo (Mario/Duck hunt) and I like burgers, so with this marriage made in heaven surely I’ll dig 8bit? Right?

Located where the old Entertainment centre carpark used to be, 8bit holds sentry at the beginning of Steam Mill lane (a short ally with food and retail shops, which will get busier as more residents move into the Darling Square precinct). But on this Sunday arvo, it was all pretty quiet down this end (large crowds though at Tumbalong park for an Arminian festival.

First impressions, I hate to say this but the store lacked atmosphere? They had music playing, but perhaps it was the lack of diners and you know how new buildings/modern architecture can sometimes feel a bit soulless? Yeah, 8bit unfortunately had that vibe about it (even with the whole gaming décor).

On offer are 7 burgers to choose from (4 beef, 1 chicken and 2 veg options) and 4 hot dogs (most burgers and dogs named after a classic video game). We ordered the After Burner for me (which was a spicy beef burger); my wife opted out from having back-to-back days eating burgers so elected the 8bit dog; and in terms of sides, there were 2 or 3 items which we really wanted but we chose the crispy onion rings, and the milkshakes read so well, so my wife couldn’t resist ordering the peanut butter shake.

Under all that colourful paint and pixel like tiles, 8bit is essentially a fast food burger chain. Your orders are made at the service counters, but instead of waiting in the wings with a number or for your name to be called out; you’re allowed to take your seat either inside or outside as your food is cooked to order. You’ll know when to come back to pick-up your food, as you’re provided with a buzzer which is promised to “Go crazy”. Within 10 minutes the buzzer delivered on its promise, it started to buzz and then started to go crazy! Playing the Super Mario tune, the one which marks the successful completion of a stage when Mario raises the flag from the castle tops (that was real nostalgic).

When we first caught site of our food, the thing which stood out the most about it was the packaging, and then the size of the onion rings! The burger, dog, and onion rings all fitted perfectly within their containers.

It reminded me of genetically modified food though, like square watermelons so they can be easily stacked and transported. I wonder what came first for 8bit? Custom made cardboard packaging to fit the dimensions of the food? Or the food is meticulously constructed to fit within the confines of the packaging? But either way, respect to the kitchen! As I’m sure it takes some patience and precision to get the right sized onion ring to fit o-so-perfectly within the tub every time, and the burger at the perfect height to slide snugly within its mini open top box.

However I was a bit let down by my burger, the After Burner was meant to have a hot kick to it with chilli sauce, Jalapeños, and mustard sauce. However I kept taking bites and more bites hoping I’d taste the heat soon. But I got to the end of my burger with no chilli hit. After a few bites it did cross my mind that they might of given me the wrong burger (it did taste a lot like a standard Cheese burger), but we eat out quite a bit and we’ve never been given the wrong things before. Comparing what I had eaten with the description of the Cheese burger, yeah I’m pretty certain that they gave me the Cheese burger instead. And to add to the annoyance, is that the Cheese burger was $1 less than the After Burner. *headshake*. So comparing what I had today, to other burgers I’ve had in the past, unfortunately the closest comparisons which come to mind are Quarter pounders and Whoppers. I’d actually place the 8bit burger in-between the two, definitely fresher than Quarter pounds, but I think Hungry Jacks actually have the more flavourful beef patty.  

My wife’s hot dog was okay, but nothing to write home about either. The milkshake was very peanut-ty, which was a good thing. While the Crispy onion rings lived up to its name and was the stand-out! The rings were huge, perfectly covered in beer-batter and super crispy, I mean super crispy! However there were only 5 rings in total (which works out to being $1.10 per ring). And the seasoning was added after all 5 rings were placed one-on-top of the other (like a packet of lifesaver mints). Thus the first 2 rings had a good dusting of tasty salt, but the 3 below that didn’t have any seasoning at all, thus quite bland without it.

Don’t get me wrong, the meal wasn’t bad, but it didn’t wow us either. I completely understand that everything is expensive these days, so $34.50 for lunch for 2 people is expected. However we essentially had a “Fast food” meal. I’d place 8bit perhaps a notch above conventional multi-chained burger joints, but definitely a notch below the genuine trending Burger joints out there. So after eating at 3 burger places, 8bit has the lowest scoring burger in our Burger Vs Burger battle thus far (I guess someone has to be last in every race, but if they served up the right burger, considering it has ‘After burners’,  would that of given them some added boost to keep up with the big boys?).

The score:  3 stars from 5 (2 from 3 for food; 0.5 from 0.5 for service, 0 from 0.5 for atmosphere; and 0.5 from 1 for Value for money). I’m still tossing up whether or not to go back, to properly try the spicier cheese burger. But there are just so many more burger places out there to try, where I and others can spend our hard-earned cash at.

8bit- Sunday 16 December (3 stars)

PH: (02) 9057 6022

Darling Square, 2 Hay Street, Haymarket Sydney 

Sun-Thurs 11am – 10pm

Fri-Sat 11am – 10.30pm


If you’re ever feeling ‘Down & Out’……

DOWN N’ OUT burgers will always be there for you (as long as it’s in-between 12 noon and 9pm Mon-Sat) to put a smile back on your greasy face! Even more so, now that they have permanent digs on Liverpool St!!!!!

Although DOWN N’ OUT (the pop-up) has been a local establishment of ours for a couple of years, we’ve never tried it before!? I’m thinking sub-consciously we didn’t want to put ourselves out there i.e. try and then fall in love with their burgers, but then poof-they’re gone! Just like falling for an International post-graduate student…. Devastating yeah? But now with their permanent residency just a couple of shops down from their previous temporary digs at Sir John Young’s (and up a flight of narrow stairs),  we were finally ready to open ourselves up to potentially fall hard for DOWN N’ OUT.

First impressions after we climbed the stairs, was that their permanent space was real cool, where all the cool cats hang! This vibe was created by the music that they were playing (while we were there, the speakers were pumping out a Reggae album like Sean Paul but less commercial); and the guys who were sitting within ear shot were chatting about DJ friends of theirs. Very cool, very cool!

We chose a seat next to the windows which were open, letting in a nice breeze into the some-what warm/humid space (but this added to the Caribbean state of mind which I was lapsing into).

Ordering and payment of your food is made at the counters, and when your meals are ready, the friendly staff will bring it out to you on trays, burgers/fries sitting in their own cardboard trays on a funky comic-inspired tray liner.

Cheese burger, Chicken burger and Tiger fries

Side note: I’m on a mission to compare a bunch of premium/trending burger joints, planning to only try burgers straight off the everyday menu without any customisations, thus able to compare different B-joints at a similar starting point. So on this visit I ordered a stock-standard Cheese burger (while I looked longingly at all the extras which you could shove into your burger to make it a huge tower of yum!); my wife opted for the Chicken burger in its default guise as well; and we had the Tiger fries to share.

The ‘Big bite’ test, that was full points, it was easy to wrap my teeth around both bottom and top buns, but after the first bite my fillings and cheese sauce was already starting to leak out the back-side (needing to use my palm as a back-stop to keep everything together). But that was my fault! The Cheese burger came wrapped in paper, to keep your hands clean, but I knowingly unwrapped it. Call me silly! Maybe? The burger followed the traditional cheese burger recipe, i.e. light bun, meat patty, raw onions, thin sliced pickles and cheese. Where this burger differed, was that they used a cheese sauce rather than a slice of cheese (I think the TexMex guys call the sauce Queso), applied in generous measures. Very generous measures! However the burger lacked an explosive flavour, I know, it’s a cheese burger after all, but the flavours did remain in a low gear from start to finish. A number of options you can add to your burgers were (this list is not exhaustive) hash brown ($2), onion rings ($2), bacon ($3), or deep fried cheese patty ($5). And for that added kick, Jalapenos ($1) or Peri Peri sauce ($1), which I’m definitely going to add next time.

The Chicken burger was also solid, with a fried battered chicken fillet, lettuce and DOWN N’ OUT’s own burger sauce. And the Tiger fries were your thin cut fries like Macca’s, but here they’re completely coated in caramelised onions, burger sauce and cheese sauce!!!! Which you had to eat with a fork, it was very delicious!

In the end, I smashed the burger in record time, both hands absolutely covered in cheese sauce (but nothing which 2 serviettes and some spit couldn’t resolve). N’ after I had my fair share of the fries, I definitely had a big grin on my greasy face.

End verdict, 4 from 5 stars. (2.5 from 3 for food, 0.5 of 0.5 for service, 0.5 from 0.5 for atmosphere, and 0.5 from 1 for value for money), a solid score. Check out the burger score card for a more detailed break-down of the Burger Vs Burger running tally.

Would we be back? For sure! Next time I’m coming back for the Cheese burger again but shoving as many extras into my burger tower! And there is a weekly specials burger to try, which keeps fans coming back again N’ again. Oh yeah, they also have an impressive selection of craft beers ranging from $10 to $16. So if you’re ever feeling ‘Down and out’, you’ll know where to go to put a smile back on your face (just as long as you’re not feeling down and out because of being short of cash).

DOWN N’ OUT- Saturday 15 December (4 stars)

PH: (02) 9261 8921

77/A Liverpool Street, Sydney

Mon-Thurs 12noon – 9pm

Fri-Sat 12noon – 10pm

Sun- Closed

Ze Pickle- Surry Hills

How good is our city?! The diversity and variety on offer, truly staggering! As soon as we crossed Elizabeth Street into Surry Hills, the cultural make-up changed and so did the dining venues. Ze Pickle was a breath of fresh air from what we’re used to, living/working here down in South CBD/Chinatown. Walking through the unassuming doorway/tinted glass frontage, you’re first welcomed by the thumping bass of early 00s-current hip hop music, from the vibe of the place alone you’d know you’re in for an experience!

We were quickly seen to a table, an industrial-looking metal table situated on polished concrete floors, surrounded by low low stools (so low that if you’re tall, your knees will be situated higher than your butt). The coolness of the restaurant continued on, even to the menus, where car license plates were the covers, opening you to a world of burger options (each with detailed descriptions of what you’d expect to be served in your bread stack).

Dining with a Groupon voucher (choice of any two burgers to the value of $19; “Ze chips” (fries) to share; and any 2 glasses of soft drinks to the value of $5), we opted for the Pablo Escoburger- a Mexican flavoured burger with a pressed Wagyu beef patty; a Buffalo Blue chicken burger- crunchy chicken fillet smeared in blue cheese; Ze fries- we chose sweet potato over the normal spud offering; and for an extra $1 each, we upgraded our regular soft drinks to the Bubble gum lemonade (a big glass which was large enough to be shared).

As we waited for our food, we took in the surroundings- a funky modern setting which had an industrial vibe (bare brick wall and polished concrete floors); an artsy bar with light play and light art; and a padded wall paying homage to a versatile organic/fabric/relaxant (it’ll make sense when you see it). So young hipsters would feel right at home, with the thumping hip hop music tracks  (we were border-line being out of place ourselves, although when I was 20 I used to be a Hip Hop DJ, but that was over 15 years ago). Thus looking around at the rest of the clientele this arvo, we had to raise our collective eyebrows at the rest of the other diners, as it did look a little out-of-place for the vibe. Aside from one non-Asian couple, everyone else eating that lunch hour were Asian! So were we! Remember, we had come here on a Groupon voucher! There was an adult family (adult children accompanied by their middle-aged parents) who had to be also on an offer/voucher; a couple in their 50-60s (again me  think voucher/offer); and the later arriving couple who were seated next to us, the first interaction they had with the waitress was to inform her that they were dining with a 30% off Dimmi offer (although we were on a 50% off Groupon voucher……. Suckeers!).

But we soon forgot this anomaly when first our B-gum sodas arrived (first sip you could really taste the difference, the bubble gum flavour reminded you of a bag of skittles), followed closely by our large plate of steaming hot sweet potato fries, which came with a complex flavoursome mayo dipping sauce, and the chippies were best eaten while hot and crunchy (going cold and soggy quite quickly).

Our burgers were towering things (please see exhibit B), capped off by a pickle skewered on top of each burger (their signature) hence the name of the store, and the initial stand-out which attracted me to this place after reading reviews. They say, the test of a good burger is when each bite of your burger you’re able to get all of the ingredients of your burger into a single mouthful i.e. burger stack not too tall, and meat patties not too small and skewed to one side or just in the middle of your burger.   So I limbered up my jaw joints and took the biggest bite I could physically manage, and it was a good burger! I managed to get my teeth around both top and bottom buns, slaw coated in their signature ZP sauce (picture a spicy tomato/BBQ sauce hybrid) didn’t escape my bite, a good bit of chicken in its crunchy outer batter was also torn free, melted cheese was in there somewhere, and the beautiful flavour of the blue cheese was also tasted in my first bite. Yum! Unfortunately for my wife (thankfully she doesn’t have a mouth as large as mine), she had less luck on her first bite as things were already shooting out the other end of her burger. The stand-out for her Escoburger, was the Wagyu beef patty, it was like cheese had been mixed into the mince before cooking, so that when served up the melted cheese acted as a binder among the already tasty meat. Mmmm. And after smashing our burgers in record time, fingers sticky with sauce (that wasn’t a bad thing) we worked on finishing our large plate of fries and our soft drinks (although we each left behind around half a glass).

As we were seated near the cash register, as each group came out to pay we were reminded of the clientele make-up again. Our hunch was confirmed, when each diner pulled out their phones at time of payment to redeem their vouchers/offers, and surprise surprise, the  only non-Asian couple, they did not have a voucher. The cashier even asked them if they had a voucher to redeem, and there was a definite shake of the head for no. BTW Zomato had a 20% off if you booked in advance; Dimmi had a 30% discount offer; when Groupon had two combos, each slicing 50% off the regular menu price. Although, Ze Pickle themselves had a special, burger combo (which included fries) for $15, which is around a 40% discount. All of these deals were great for us the customer, but I’m not sure if that is a sustainable business model for them in the long run as in the time we were there we didn’t see more than a total of $80 being handed over.

Our end verdict, 4.0 stars (Napkin test also 4 stars). The burgers were the best we had in recent times (better than Grill’d, Burger Edge, Burger Project or Duck In Duck Out), they were full of flavour, everything from the food to the store décor had character and a twist to it, but the important question…..would we ever come back again? Probably not, if we had to pay full price (as it’s hard to pay for something which you know that you had once gotten the exact same thing for much less). But if it was with another deal…maybe? 50/50? The burgers were good, but there is so much more out there to be tried! Sydney is good, we’re so spoiled for choice. GILTY (God I Love This citY)!

Ze Pickle- Saturday 6 October 

PH: (02) 8937 0404

17 -51 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills NSW

 Mon-Sun 12 noon – 10pm