Burgers.They are the ultimate in fast food. Easy to make, easy to eat, substantial and, at their best, absolutely delicious.
The might of US pop culture and the basic tastiness of meat in a bun means that a good patty must now rank as one of the world’s most popular foods; however, finding a good burger in our own city by the sea isn’t as easy as it should be.
Impediments to the creation of delicious Lankan burgers, that I’ve identified, include:
The local aversion to beef – a major problem given that any hamburger worth the name has gotta have a good chunk of ground cow. People will try and substitute lamb and pork, some will even resort to chicken but a good burger patty just has to be 100% quality beef. Even when beef is provided there isn’t enough of it. A quarter pound (100 grams) is the minimum meat quotient (rarely met in SL).
That raw meat is anathema. Rare- to medium rare, is burger perfection but in Sri Lanka the default setting is well done, then done a bit a more. Mmm leathery…. For a burger with any pretentions to quality you need the options – rare, medium and well done.
Lack of respect for/ interest in condiments. A limp piece of lettuce, a piece of greenish tomato(only if you’re lucky) plus a slathering of undesirable local tomato sauce. On a really good day, even at high-end places, you get a slice of tasteless ‘Happy Cow’ processed cheese.
What you want is a fresh crispy leaf of romaine lettuce, gherkins, some sharp cheddar or blue cheese and maybe just the tiniest dash of ketchup or chipotle mayonnaise. The option of bacon for two meats deliciousness is also imperative.
Unfortunately if you’re looking for burger perfection Colombo remains a sea of darkness but tucked away there exist a few shining lights.
The Sugar Burger – from its days outside the nightclub of the same name has long been the Holy Grail for Colombo’s burger seekers, while the Union Bar and Grill is a bit of an unsung star on the local meat scene. YAMU did a quick versus to see whose patty would come out on top
The Sugar Burger.
The Sugar Burger(Rs 550 ++) comes with lettuce, tomato, cheese and I availed myself of the option of adding bacon. Sadly, I wasn’t asked how I’d like it cooked which, in the high-end burger stakes, is a pretty grievous error.
To compensate it arrived fast and looked good on the plate; substantial, but fairly neat without too much visible grease. The proof though is in the eating and the first bite was a disappointment. The patty was a decent (unspectacular) size but the meat was bordering on overcooked. There was definite toughness in places. The condiments seemed fine but their effect was muted by lashings of a sweet pink sauce. The sauce wasn’t unpalatable but its sweetness killed the taste of anything else. As I continued munching the patty also had trouble staying together disintegrating into sloppiness (a flaw if you seek burger perfection). The end result was sweetish meat in a bun. Not un-tasty and for an off the cart effort excellent, but now that Sugar is a Bistro and Wine-Bar with prices to match this wasn’t sensational.
Union Bar and Grill
Disappointed with my sugar experience the following day (gluttony) I went off to the Union Bar and Grill (UBG) to fill the beef-hole. This is another of those places that’s been around for ages though it’s often overlooked perhaps because its JAIC Hilton setting is pretty bland. For your your fix of meat in the city though UBG has always been a good choice.
At Rs 800++ the burger is pricier than Sugar but I was asked how I’d like it cooked- Medium rare with extra bacon. While I waited a little bit longer than I’d have liked when it arrived it looked pretty spectacular- an enormous patty topped with a fried egg and a glistening rasher of bacon. While the generosity and patty immensity was appreciated at this size things become unwieldy. This is not a burger you can eat, easily, with your hands and eating a burger with a fork and knife is never satisfying. In the end though it’s all about the taste and this was a tasty burger. The meat was indeed medium-rare, soft without too much grease. The egg made it that much richer and there was the salty crunch of bacon with every bite.
All Good, but by no means excellent. In terms of a really good burger the patty was underflavored. Lots of meat but not enough taste (more salt, a charcoal grill?) and could have done with searing on the outside. The cheese added little so overall things were just a little bland – a dash of mustard seemed to help.
So while I’d rate this above the Sugar Burger my quest for CMB burger satisfaction continues.
Photos: Danbee Shin