With the news of Australian celebrity chef Neil Perry opening a burger joint in World Square – every foodie perked up their ears. Justin North’s Charlie & Co has been a massive hit, and so it was about time to see if another celebrity chef could step up to the plate.
It’s well known amongst us that Perry’s Rockpool Bar and Grill David Blackmore’s Full Blood Wagyu Hamburger is one of those iconic Sydney dishes. With bacon, Gruyere cheese and pickle, it’s one golden cheeseburger priced at $24. So it’s no secret that he knows the components of a good burger.
It was said though, that this burger joint would be more reasonably priced; appealing to a different crowd – the smart casuals and the young and trendy, with burgers and hot dogs priced around $10, sides of crispy hot wings and classic chips, malted shakes and a pimped up “design your own” ice cream menu. Perry has said his idea behind The Burger Project was to take diners back to the early days; no brioche buns or fancy aiolis, but back to a good-old fashioned milk-bar “hamburger”. I was lucky enough to be one of the select few to score an invitation to a preview through Gourmet Traveller yesterday evening.
The Burger Project is located upstairs in World Square, above Grill’d (incidentally) and next to Din Tai Fung. There’s seating both inside and out, and will accommodate about 100 people. It’s sparsely-furnished, with most chairs inside bar-style, one communal table for six and the rest in pairs or threes. Behind the registers lies the open kitchen, and you can watch the burger mince being churned out through the front glass windows.
We stepped forward to the counter to make our order and were handed a receipt and brand-spanking-new round buzzer. It’s quite a nice feeling to know we’re the first people to use these buzzers! Our whole order is done within fifteen minutes, which is fairly impressive considering the crowd had all arrived at once for the evening preview.
We had to order everything at once to claim our “invitation freebie” and so decided to start dessert first lest our ice cream melt on us.
The way the ice cream menu works is that there are the base flavours: vanilla, Valrhona chocolate, salted dulce de leche, strawberry, passionfruit and blood orange ($4 single/$6.50 double). You can then add toppings for $1 each, such as ginger nut, Valrhona crunchy pearls, salted dulce de leche sauce, marshmallow, salted peanuts, peanut butter, meringue, coconut, crumble, raspberry compote, etc. The menu provides you with a few suggestions of combinations, such as “rhubarb pie” – vanilla ice cream, rhubarb compote and crumble, and “rocky road” – Valrhona chocolate ice cream, Valrhona chocolate sauce, salted peanuts and marshmallow.
So above is the Valrhona chocolate with salted dulce de leche sauce, and below see the Salted dulce de leche ice cream with Valrhona crunchy pearls.
Creamy, sweet, milky, and fast-melting. The pearls were sugary and crunchy but combined with the coldness of the ice cream there was definitely that fatty sensation you get on your tongue when you eat things like choc-chip ice cream – you know that feeling I’m talking about? Because chocolate doesn’t melt when it’s combined with the cold temperature of ice cream, so when you have something like choc chip ice cream, you end up chewing the chocolate and the milk and butter solids invariably leave a strange texture on your tongue.
Maybe it’s just me. But try it and let me know in the comments below if you feel the same.
Just so I feel a little better about myself.
Would I come here just for this ice cream? Probably not; it wasn’t particularly ground-breaking considering that you’re able to get much more complex flavours from speciality ice cream stores like N2 and Gelato Messina for a dollar or two more, but if you’re here already you may as well. And all the toppings…
My plus one kept chanting “try the chips”, “try the chips”. The house-made chips ($4.90) are thrice cooked (three is always the magic number) and you can choose for them just to be salted, salted and vingered, or have them with chipotle chilli. I love my salt and vinegar as it takes me back to those Samboy chip packet days. There was something so soul-reviving about gorging on crinkle-cut salt and vinegar chips until you developed an ulcer.
If you’re someone who likes French fries or those big, doughy, soft, potato-ey chips, these won’t be for you. These shatter with a satisfying crunch, with pockets of salt and vinegar that are both moreish and have you wincing in the best way at the same time. There are some softer chips among the cup, but I love the crunchy bits that are full of flavour and bite and scrabble around for those.
Now onto the real deal. The burgers. Let’s bring out the Cheese and Bacon ($9.50) first.
The burgers arrive wrapped in greaseproof paper and cue a bout of light-hearted snickering of “peel it back just a little, so I can see more of that beautiful bun”. The burger is described as having grass fed beef (?? Is beef fed on anything other than grass??) , bacon, cheese, onion, pickles, tomato, lettuce and secret sauce. Perhaps a classic cheese and bacon burger in Neil Perry’s eyes, but a classic C&B for me doesn’t have salad…so out it goes.
Brioche? What brioche. It’s a good, soft and wholesome toasted white bread bun that can be easily compacted under your fingers. There’s a lovely smokiness to the bacon which has been thoughtfully cut up into little crispy strips instead of one slice being layered in (which inevitably ends up being pulled out with your first bite down). I was a little disappointed with the cheese – the yellow Jack cheese had a heavily processed, Golden Arches feel and taste about it. I kind of expected at least a good basic cheddar from Perry.
The meat patty is pretty golden though – a gorgeous mixture of chuck and brisket – nice, moist, pink and tender. Probably not for those who don’t like their steak medium, as it is a fairly thick patty.
Onto our second burger. We went for one of the unconventional burgers to compare, selecting the Spicy Pork Belly ($9.90). With Neil Perry’s heavy Asian influence in his cooking (Spice Temple, der) I kind of expected a lot from the burger, said to contain crispy free range pork belly, salted chilli, pickles, pickled slaw and lettuce.
I really liked the composition of this burger. It was definitely one of those burgers you needed to compact down real well to fit into your mouth due to the amount of pickled slaw, but you had to have a bit of everything in each bite to appreciate the flavour combination. While there were big flecks of chilli and chilli seeds throughout the burger (I also spotted some mustard seeds), I surprisingly didn’t find it hot at all but my tolerance has gone up recently with my love of Mexican food. I loved the contrast of the crunchy pickled slaw next to the soft, silky texture of the pork belly. The pork belly was nicely cooked but wasn’t as crispy as I expected from the description, however I was munching through it when I hit the “crunch” of a small bit of crackling and my eyes widened over a mouthful of burger. Nice.
We washed down our meal with two beers, a Coopers Premium ($8.50) and Lord Nelson Three Sheets Pale Ale ($9.50). There’s also four wines available, the ‘”real shakes” where you can make them malted for 50c, house sodas of Passion Pop and Mandarin, slushies (the word on the grapevine is that Perry is bringing out a Negroni slushie), and your usual soft drinks and creaming soda.
The verdict? Oh mannn, those chips have stolen my heart. I would definitely be back even just to get a takeaway of those, but I think I’d also be interested in trying the rest of the burgers on the menu. There’s a Korean-inspired kimchi burger and the vegetarian option sounds mouthwatering with its grilled confit mushrooms. With the burgers so reasonably priced, it’s hard not to be tempted.
The Burger Project
World Square Shopping Centre
644 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000