Monday, 25 November 2013

Five Guys, Covent Garden


It was billed as the "burger wars". Two behemoths of US burger culture, Five Guys and Shake Shack, were opening their first London branches within a few days of each other, and for while it seemed it was all any food blogger or restaurant critic was talking about. Would you go for the small-town, mass-market appeal of Five Guys, with their generous portions and limitless toppings? Or the refined, big-city chic Shake Shack, each sandwich a mini work of art and accompanied by an oh-so-clever selection of trendy London craft beers and Paul A Young chocolates? We went, we queued, we ate. At the time, it was Shake Shack that seemed to be winning the battle for hearts and minds but as with so many of these things, once the initial hype died down we all snuck back off to MeatLiquor and Patty & Bun and left them to it. I don't know about you, but I've not returned to Shake Shack and never even made it to Five Guys London in the first place.

So I was in Covent Garden one lunchtime looking for Christmas presents and avoiding the chuggers and I noticed Five Guys, shining pristine bright red and white like a hospital emergency room made out of Lego, totally unmistakable and unmistakably totally deserted. Finally, I thought, here was my chance to try their flagship offering without the prejudice of a three-hour wait clouding the results, and I wandered inside.

The welcome was friendly, the choices to be made fairly simple. I'd been warned the 'normal' burger was enough for a party of six, so stuck to the 'little cheeseburger' with 'little fries' and 'little drink', the ordering of which was faintly emasculating but when it arrived turned out to be plenty big enough. The only thing 'little' about the portion of fries, for example, was the ridiculous tiny cup they filled up to the brim before pouring a good half pound of overfill into the bottom of the brown takeaway bag. As to why, your guess is as good as mine. But they tasted pretty good - thank you "Guy Poskitt farm - UK" where apparently they were from that day.


I noticed something, too, while I was waiting for my Five Guys order to be delivered. Around the room hang quotes and reviews from esteemed Stateside publications like the New York and Los Angeles Times, full of praise for their product, as you might expect from the home of the cheeseburger, but in words that veer worryingly close to hyperbolic cult-like fervour. But where were the UK reviews? Not a single one visible anywhere on the walls, and only one, a blogger, quoted very briefly as part of an electronic slideshow on the back of the tills. Even the most mediocre burger joint can usually find at least a blogger or two to quote on their stationery - are things really that bad, six months after a launch that was reported on the national news, that only one critic in town has anything positive to say?

The burger was, as others will no doubt have told you long before now, a pretty nondescript affair. The beef had no discernible flavour and was cooked through to dry grey. The plastic cheese did its job servicably well, and I didn't hate the heavily seeded bun even though, crumpled and somewhat deflated, it didn't look particularly appetising. But it was all instantly forgettable, and for over £10 for the whole lot including a drink from one of those machines that pretend to offer thousands of different flavours but somehow always leave you with the exact same chemical-infused fizz no matter what you choose, it was too expensive.


"Instantly forgettable". Perhaps that explains it. Barely six months on, it's terribly obvious that, aside from a few timid American tourists, the crowds have turned their backs on Five Guys and (from what I gather) Shake Shack as well. I can't help thinking that these huge operations just sat on their hands for too long, waiting for the right moment to strike, and by the time they'd decided to finally grace us with their presence, safe in the knowledge that they were what London had been waiting for, we'd quietly created a healthy selection of world-class burgers of our own, thankyouverymuch.

Schadenfreude, you say? Well, you can hardly blame us. It's never nice to see a good business failing, never mind two, but the acres of empty, roped-off queuing areas at both Five Guys and Shake Shack just point towards not only a massive over-confidence in your own product but a rather arrogant attitude to the reception they were expecting from a city already hardly struggling for a way to enjoy minced beef and cheese inside a semi-brioche bun. Cheeseburger and fries? Hot dogs? Buffalo wings? Nah, you're alright America, we're good, thanks. What else you got?

5/10

Five Guys Burgers & Fries on Urbanspoon

25 comments:

Lester Kite said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lester Kite said...

ridiculously overpriced for what it is,I like the burgers, fries are dreadful and far too expensive as are the drinks, I found Shake Shack even worse, how on earth did they think they could get away with these prices here? the whole burger/fries/drink should be no more than £6.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review. You've done a public service warning people about venues like this. I did wonder how good this place was but could never be bothered to fight my way through the initial wall to wall queues. Seems vastly over-hyped and very expensive for what it is - I'll stick to Byron, Honest and Meat Liquor, etc thanks!

Andrew said...

I've been three times and loved it every time. I know what I ate wasn't as good as burgers from Patty & Bun, MeatMission et al, but there was something dirty, honest and mass-produced about it. I do however agree that the price is way too high for what it is, although that's probably a good thing; if I could get a meal for McDonalds prices I'd be the size of a house.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the quote that's in the restaurant from your favourite blogger The Londoner "Heaven in a brown paper bag"

Josh said...

There is no real reason to go here seeing as honest burger is 5 minutes away which is cheaper and so much better.

8 quid for a cheeseburger without fries! Someone is laughing at us right now.

Anonymous said...

Five guys is on the same step of the ladder as McDs as far as i'm concerned. It's a drunken chew nothing more and simply not in competition with the best burger joints in town. However, I visited Shake Shack last week and it makes Five Guys look like michelin star food. Paid £26 for two burgers, 2 shakes and 1 cheese fries and on receiving my tray I genuinely thought i was on candid camera - the burger was a joke. A limp, insipid, tiny joke. We ate in disbelief and left.

Lizzie Mabbott said...

I dunno - when I cycle past every evening there's usually at least a bit of a queue outside Shake Shack. I have absolutely no desire to visit.

(The new Jazzy Jeff from Patty & Bun is very good.)

dudara said...

I visit Five Guys regularly when I'm in the US, and I really do like their burgers which are quite juicy. I usually get mine in a lettuce wrap, so I can't comment on how the bun compares to the UK version. I wonder how their offering has translated to London. I suppose that finding out gives me an excuse to visit London.

SteveF said...

I work nearby and it's generally still pretty busy at lunch, though not quite as much as it once was.

I've not actually tried it (either here or in the US) but I'm guessing it's reasonably equivalent to In n Out in terms of quality (happy to be told otherwise). I love In n Out - the burgers (especially animal style) are tasty but it's the overall package that I like the and I have a general nostalgia fuelled love of the place. I suspect that if you objectively tasted them side by side with a Dead Hippie, they wouldn't stack up so well. The same may apply with 5 Guys - transplanted out of the location where it works so well as a package, it just seems underwhelming. Especially at a high price point.

Anonymous said...

Five Guys opened up a few years ago here in Arizona, and they are by far the worst burgers I'veever ate. I couldn't even finish mine. The chain has serious consistency issues.

Anonymous said...

Five Guys opened up a few years ago here in Arizona, and they are by far the worst burgers I'veever ate. I couldn't even finish mine. The chain has serious consistency issues.

sarah said...

I have also tried their burgers in the US and was pleasantly surprised having read the scathing reviews of the UK product. Also haven't tried it over here.. but now am curious to investigate the differences.

Anonymous said...

MeatLiquour has gone downhill a lot too in my opinion.

Lucky Chip is consistently the best in London IME tho I've not been to Patty & Bun.

Agree about these places tho, Five Guys is not that far ahead of Burger King in my view, clammy, mushy burger.

And it's a rip-off.

nationwide said...

I don't disagree with anything in the review, but there is an inherent assumption I'd like to comment on. The two operations are entirely different. Five Guys started in DC as a family run business which, due to its success, became an enormous franchise operation with something like 3000 outlets across the US before being brought over here by, I think, the Carphone Warehouse guy. It's not the most impeccable gourmet pedigree out there.
Shake Shack is a different ball game. Although it's the little brother of Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group and technically run separately, they are pernickety to the point of paranoia about quality and tailoring the product to local demand.
They're only burgers, I agree, but I've yet to have a bad Shake Shack meal yet. Ordinary, possibly, but not bad.

Oldsoul_NotQuite said...

I'll just add what everyone else has said: the issue here is pricing (for both SS and 5 Guys). A US$6 burger in NYC is now £6 in London. Reduce the prices 30% and it would be a nice convenient snack before/ after the opera/ theatre etc. A few steps away from 5 Guys is the excellent Chinese hand pulled noodle place, where for £8 a plate of noodle goodness and a coke will fill you up.

Dan said...

Great review, Chris. I've not eaten at Five Guys. To be honest, my Shake Shack experience kind of put me off even bothering. Marginally better than Burger King (which is saying something!) but more than twice the price. Think I'll stick with MeatMarket around the corner.

PaulWilkinson said...

Burgers are nothing special, but I did think the milkshake at Shake Shack was pretty damn good, and the crinkly fries were new for me!

Claire Jasmine Taylor said...

​I love this Lizzie. It's like you've been kind of reading my mind. So I work a couple of roads away from Five Guys and watched it going up, watched it open on 4th July, watched the queues. Oh the long queues. Then around a month later on a warm summers day at 2.30 well after "lunch hour" I went with my colleague and spent £10.75 on my small cheeseburger, fries - as you say more in the bag than the tiny paper cup, and finally chose my drink from the 250 variations on the machine. It was nice. I enjoyed it. At the time I may have even been heard saying it was "great" (hype hype) but I do also recall saying "it's not better than Byron". 5 months later my colleague is trying to get me to go back. I keep saying "I'm not in a hurry to go back there". I've done it. Why? It was not all it was cracked up to be even with the "all the toppings" claim. I thought I'd want to visit Shake Shack just "because" but now I really can't be arsed. So anyway as I was saying. I LOVE this because I'm going to show it to said work colleague and make him see it's just a facade. He really doesn't want to go back to five guys. He just wants to visit the venue. But there are so many better venues to try (I still haven't been to honest burger for example!). Great post x

Claire Jasmine Taylor said...

Oops Lizzie I called you! I clearly read too many blogs Chris (soweeee)

Anonymous said...

Haven't tried Five Guys, but Shake Shack was supremely underwhelming for all the hype.

Rachel said...

Honestly as Brit in America I thought the original Five Guys was overrated anyway. I went in their once, but then never bothered again, the In-N-Out around the block was superior and actually had a few nice unique selling points. I won't be bothering to have a Five Guys in Covent Garden, not when there is a Diner close by. As for Shake Shack, I was excited about trying it as I'd never had one before. The fries were artificial but good, but the burger was so so. I enjoyed it, but only because I'd had a fair bit to drink on a night out at that point, I think!

Cherie City said...

You're right, Shake Shack and Five Guys should have opened in London much earlier, as it's hard to be excited by them now when we have Honest Burgers, Patty & Bun, Lucky Chip etc.

I haven't tried Five Guys yet, but my last Shake Shack burger in London was drenched in grease and the bun tasted soapy. Nothing like the first one I'd been raving about in NYC.

Past Participle said...

I haven't been to Five Guys yet, but for me the Shroomburger at Shake Shack was phenomenal. So much tastier than the meat burgers!

Past Participle said...

For me, its all about the Shroomburger at Shake Shack. So much tastier than the meat burgers!