Bar Boulud is pushing the bar for burgers in London just for a bit higher with some innovative creations, epic attention to detail that really shines through in the taste and texture of the meat, and a high level of service to back it up.
Bar Boulud was the location for the latest Yelp BurgerQuest, picked for its appearance on several top 10 lists on London’s burger blogs and the fabled BB burger topped with foie gras and coming in just shy of £20. It’s a posh place (located below the Mandarin Oriental Hotel) with a suitably luxurious décor. It’s burgers are no less fancy with all four offerings being based on a bespoke beef patty. But is it any good? The short answer is yes, yes it is. From the Yankee to the Frenchie and of course the BB, the burgers are very tasty with one of the best patties in London and a solid set of buns to support them.
Overall, we had a pretty great time although, to be honest, we had a bit of a rough start to the night. I’m not going to go into much detail as I think the staff and Mr. Paulo De Tarso were just trying to enforce Bar Boulud’s policies rather than personally attack us, but it did slightly mar the evening. The two things we learned are 1) groups of more than 4 need to book several weeks in advance to have a chance of sitting near let along with each other, and 2) NO PICTURES!
*On that note, my apologies for the limited amount of photos. Since I couldn’t take any, I’ve pulled a few of the better ones off the net – ie none of these are mine and I take no credit whatsoever for them. I will ask Mr. de Tarso to send me some professional shots he’s happy with and update at that time so you can salivate!
Anyways, we eventually got seated and the night properly began. Our waiter was pretty cool and, despite being fairly new, really put in a lot of effort to make sure we had everything we needed and also answer all the questions we threw at him. Mr. de Tarso also spent quite a lot of time with us over the course of the night to discuss his vision for Bar Boulud and also a bit of his personal history. He’s worked with some of the top names in London and is a fairly impressive chef in his own right.
At this point, I need to disclose that we didn’t have a completely typical experience as Mr. de Tarso was kind enough to send some free charcuterie plates (as they say, you really know a chef by how he puts together a plate of meat) and some fresh madelines for dessert. Now I’d love to think it’s because we demonstrated an obvious passion for food and thus inspired Mr. de Tarso to ensure we tried the best Bar Boulud had to offer. But, the smart money is on the fact that we let slip at the start that we were all Yelpers. If the latter is the cause, I attribute it to Alex S’s (Yelp London Community Manager) efforts to really put Yelp out there above its competition. Regardless, there was free food, and it was good.
I’ve dithered a lot (even for me) so let’s get into the details. The charcuterie plate was a selection of cured meats, terrines, and pates along with a pots of mustard and pickled veggies. Served with a number of flatbreads, it’s a veritable feast onto itself. The highlights were a lamb terrine with thick chunks of flavourful meat, a rabbit pate bursting with rich gamey notes, and the spicy chorizo with a soft heat and dazzling highlights of smoked chilli. By my count, there were about 6-7 terrines/pates, 4 different types of cured meats, 2 types of mustards, and a set of pickled veggies. That’s damn good value for money.
I was starting to feel a bit stuffed just after that charcuterie board, so starters were definitely not in order. Since this was BurgerQuest, we all went straight to the burgers with 3 of us ordering the BB burger (Bar Boulud patty topped with foie gras and red wine braised short rib) and the fourth at the table going for the Piggy which was Mr. de Tarso’s recommendation. I’m always intrigued when the chef or manager doesn’t recommend the signature dish, so I’m glad Yinnie decided to go Piggie style.
We learned the beef patties are made to an inhouse recipe which has been carefully tweaked to get the right balance of beefy flavour and juicy fat content. Those of you who are burger fanatics already know that the a higher fat content will give you a more moist patty that oozes juices in the most delightful way. A leaner burger will have better depth in meat taste but often runs dry from overcooking. The other element is the texture with burgers boasting to be 100% fillet or wagyu beef having the consistency of mush which pleases no one (except perhaps a teething toddler). The patty is definitely spot on with some of the best flavour I’ve come across in a London burger and has just enough give to add a bit of texture.
The BB burger is average sized with a fluffy soft white bun, the aforementioned patty, seared foie gras, and red-wine braised short rib. It’s a bit tall and may prove a challenge for those who can’t unhinge their jaw, but each bite is full of tasty meat and soaked bun. I give extra points as the bun actually holds together for the entire burger despite the copious amount of juice running out with each bite. The foie gras was delicious on its own but was lost in the taste of the combined burger. At best, it added a bit more richness to the whole thing but it was a poor value-add. The braised short rib was likewise a bit lost in the overall combination although it did add more textures to the burger which was sorely needed. I could have eaten it as a side dish alone though, absolutely brilliant flavours and tender shredded meat. Overall, a pretty good burger but not quite worth the nearly £20 price tag. At £12-15, I’d be quite happy and perhaps if they took off the foie gras they could do just that.
The Piggy has some succulent pulled pork and a mild tangy BBQ sauce. It may not be the most creative burger (many others have done the same) but it’s done damn well. At £13, it’s quite reasonably priced and would undoubtedly be my pick for my next burger visit at Bar Boulud. We sampled a range of sides with the truffle mash being the stand out for it’s light truffly flavour. The rest were alright but unmemorable.
Finally desserts! We started with the mini-madelines as ordered by Mr. de Tarso which were brilliant. Light and airy with a slight lemony flavour, they are very moreish and incredibly hard to put down. And when you dip them in hot chocolate sauce then you pretty much won’t bother stopping until they are all gone (I know that’s what I did). The chocolate tart was my next favourite with a deep bitter chocolate although the chocolate sauce soaked sponge was a close second (or third rather). Finally, for a bit of freshness, we managed to take down a pineapple soufflé and a mango mouse. Both were light and refreshing and a great option if you feel stuffed from your meal but still want dessert.
Drinks wise, I tried out the bespoke Old Fashioned which was well made but had a bit too much ice and thus diluted quickly. The beer list is extensive in both size and geographic reach which was a pleasant surprise given the upscale French bistro feel of the place.
Overall, an excellent experience and a definite burger win. I only wish we could have taken some photos but perhaps Mr. de Tarso will be kind enough to send some professionally taken ones for us to use. Get over to Bar Boulud (make a reservation first), and try the the Piggy or Frenchie burger for a good time.