Elliot’s Cafe, Borough Market

This post was first published in November 2011.

One of the biggest joys of studying in Elephant and Castle is the fact that every day I get to leave the place, and head out to to areas I actually enjoy going to of my own free will. Monday lunch was one such occasion where I was able to make the most of my university’s location by going elsewhere. On the recommendation of Daniel Young (he of Young and Foodish fame) and his Top 10 Burgers in London list, I made a beeline for Elliot’s Café in the heart of Borough Market. Having big pimped it by the sea the previous evening, I was now craving a top-notch example of steak’s trailer park cousin.

I went to the right place. Elliot’s offers only one burger – a cheeseburger – and I’m beginning to think that a great many establishments should follow their lead and stick to the basics, because this was one exceptional patty. Soft, juicy, and tender – the pedigree of the meat from the neighbouring Ginger Pig was evident – it was served medium-rare and came precisely as advertised. By that I mean it was pink, oh so beautifully pink, and not the gray, slug-like medium-rare that many gastro pub ‘chefs’ sling out.

On top of this perfectly cooked mound of quality cow was an amazingly moreish mystery cheese, which I have since discovered is Comté, a Gruyère relative and one of France’s most revered cheeses. Tucked away under this gooey goodness were perfectly smothered, sticky sweet onions, while the ever-important bun was firm enough not to break apart, yet soft enough to absorb all the juices without getting soggy. Crucially, it tasted great with the beef; a pretty mean feat considering it was – cue reader horror! – from the multi-grain family.

Slivers of house-pickled gherkin (or perhaps a very well-sourced Polish variety?) lay invitingly on the side of plate, waiting to be incorporated into this masterful creation. Matchstick fries were a nice way of distinguishing the spud component from the predictable chip accompaniment: spiked with just the right amount of sea salt and a nice whack of rosemary, they were fiddly to eat but addictively tasty. A bottle of homemade tomato ketchup that looked slightly lonely on the otherwise unadorned table proved the final eye-opener: as with fresh mayo, real ketchup really does belong to a higher class of sauce. Normally, I’m a mustard purist when it comes to beef patties, but I gave this bottle of the red stuff a go and will happily convert when it appears in every restaurant.

Elliot’s also introduced me to beer from Bermondsey’s Kernel brewery. It should, in due course, have its own post. But for now, let’s just say that its pale ale, which oozes juicy mango flavours and evolves into a refreshing, slightly spicy bitter finish, is officially my new favourite beer. To round it all off, the service was superb and the place is just a great concept. The menu might look limited if you’re used to traditional High Street dining, but everything is seasonal and super-fresh, as you would expect from a location literally across the road from Borough Market. At £15 for a gut-busting burger with really good fries and a kick ass craft beer, the place represents stellar value. Though my doctor would disapprove, my bank manager may just encourage me to become a burgertarian.

I had not had a burger this good in a very long time: Meateasy came close on its best nights, but this effort may well have taken the cake and sat on it. Obviously, I still have a fair few burgers to check out before I can be considered a blogosphere authority on the matter – Goodman, Hawksmoor, Lucky Chip, the Admiral Codrington, and now Meat Liquor to name the obvious contenders – but this was an immensely satisfying way of piling on the pounds.

A subsequent visit was, unfortunately, slightly less perfect. The burger was a still-tasty medium, just not the succulent medium-rare I had been gifted on my first visit. Everything else was as good as before – the fries might actually have been better, and I got to have more of that sauce. We also shared an admirable plate of grilled squid with pungent aioli to start the meal, proof that Elliot’s is not just a haven for London’s burger fiends, and on this occasion I supped the Kernel’s equally excellent IPA. Still, I had really hoped that they would get the flesh colouring spot-on again, thereby demonstrating that most sought-after quality in a burger joint: consistency. But even when not cooked to my admittedly demanding standards, it was still one of the best burgers in town. Just probably not the best.

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