POWER TO THE PATTY
The burger is no longer just a lowbrow chow, thanks to a new breed of passionate restaurateurs who are jazzing it up with quality meat, fresher buns and inno vative grilling methods.
Hidden in Wildfire Kitchen + Bar’s kitchen is its secret weapon—an imported INKA grill. Owner Michel Lu claims his is the only burger place to use this double-ventilated charcoal grill oven. Instead of grilling patties on the usual hotplate, “the high heat (up to 500° C) of the INKA grill seals in the juices and caramelises the outside” while its “closed-door grill means smoke is embedded into the meat”. Picture an Australian Blackmore wagyu patty with the smokiness of Japanese binchotan charcoal and American hickory wood, the special mix they use in the oven. “Fat is flavour. It also makes the patty juicier,” says Lu.
Lu, a restaurateur since 1999, knows a lot about burgers. A decade ago he ran a mini burger place called Superfamous at OCBC Centre. When he was at Privé, they created a wagyu burger that was hand-chopped daily singlehandedly by a dedicated staff. Frequent traveler Lu also analyzed Tokyo’s famous Blacows burger.
Determined to whip up a top class burger, he opened Wildfire Kitchen + Bar early this year. The restaurant is just one of several other gourmet burger joints that have sprouted up in the city over the past two years. Making a mean patty is now serious business.
THE BURGER REVOLUTION
The idea of the iconic, cherubic sandwich being more than just fast food chow isn’t that new in Singapore. Five years ago, The Hand Burger ditched microwaved patties for better cuts of meat. Omakase Burger then arrived
with its own formula of upmarket fast food sandwiches, and &MADE gave its competitors a run for their money with its wagyu patties, pillowy buns and the star power of Michelinstarred chef
Bruno Menard behind the grill (he left the position two years ago).
Today’s newer gourmet burger joints have the aforementioned predecessors to thank for pushing top patties. Co-founder Yianni Papoutsis of MEATLiquorSIN thinks the artisanal burger was waiting in the wings. “[Burgers] were the mainstay of restaurant menus, however, they received the least attention from the kitchen, as they were not seen as ‘serious’ food,” says Papoutsis. “However, in recent years, the demand for higher quality burgers has grown, and the industry has responded.”
Soh Wen Ming, co-owner of meatfocused café, Carvers & Co., believes that the gourmet burger’s growing popularity is in line with the changing attitudes of diners in recent years. “I think even rich diners are getting tired of eating at fine dining restaurants. They are looking for more casual meals, and burgers are the epitome of casual, comfort food.”
The couple behind Carvers & Co. remains secretive about the blend that goes into the patty of their signature The General burger. Co-owner Sarah Lin, who’s not trained in culinary school, picked up cooking techniques from working on an organic farm in Southern Italy and under chef Damien D’Silva of Immigrants. The patties are minced fresh daily in their tiny kitchen and not outsourced to a supplier. Only a selected inner circle is privy to the recipe. The General
Burger also has homemade ketchup, a bacon weave (strips of bacon weaved so it sits nicely on the burger), and sharp cheddar for that strong punch.
On the other hand, The Butchers Club Burger, which hails from Hong Kong and opened in Clarke Quay a month ago, prides itself on its dry-aged beef patties. For managing director Jonathan Glover, the combination of 30-day dry-aged rump, brisket and chuck works the best. “The rumps add the most flavour—it’s the number one cut.” Glover imports the meat from Australia, and dry-ages the cuts in their own dry-aging facility slated to open at Tasty Plaza this year. According to him, dry-aged meat has a beefier flavour, with notes of blue cheese and nuts. When you order a burger, the meat is taken out of the dry-ageing cabinet, minced, and goes directly onto the hotplate without any seasoning. Glover also works with a local baker called B.A.O (Bakery Artisan Original) to recreate their soft, pillowy buns.
At Three Buns Restaurant by Potato Head Folk, which opened last year, the kitchen
team opts for dry-aged English grass-fed beef with at least 30 percent fat for the juiciness. They simply grill it on the flat hotplate, leaving it to crust and caramelise on both sides before adding cheese on top, a sprinkle of water and allowing the steam to melt the blanket of cheese over the patty. All the sauces are home-made by executive chef Adam Penney. Their ketchup, for example, is made from fresh tomatoes slow-cooked with a variety of spices, cocoa nibs and gula melaka.
Dressing up these burgers is half the fun and just one of the ways that the restaurants differentiate themselves. The buns at Three Buns are called demi-brioche, which has the flavour of a brioche but is not as sweet. Besides their signature wholemeal bun and sesame bun, they also make baked rice, white chocolate and matcha bun.
At Wildfire, Lu opts for a browner bun speckled with poppy seeds, and uses ‘stealth’ fries (a patented type of fries that remain crispy for longer).
Looking at this gourmet burger landscape, the simple formula of bun plus meat plus condiments means a foundation that chef as artists can put their own spin to.
SPREADING THE LOVE
You can expect more gourmet burger eateries that’d cater to a wider market segment of different tastes and incomes. Lin and Soh are opening a new burger joint called Wolf Burgers at PasarBella@Suntec this month; a new brand that would be a go-between the fast food sandwich and the high end burger. Over at Wildfire Kitchen + Bar, Lu plans to open two or three more outlets across Singapore early next year (they are also expanding their brand overseas—their first franchisee opens this month in Xiamen).
Meanwhile, Three Bun’s Penney is working on local-inspired creations such as a bak-kwa burger to go along with his Krabby Patty (150g blue swimmer crab patty with coriander, chilli, lime, lettuce and salted egg mayonnaise in a rice bun) and chicken rice burger made with seaweed-baked chicken breast, confit chicken leg with Chinese five- spice powder, ginger mayonnaise, and chilli sauce with sirancha.
“You can put so much love behind [the burger] and make it phenomenal,” says Penney. “It’s just a good treat that brings you back to your childhood; to a happy place.” WD
WHERE TO GET YOUR BEST GOURMET BURGER FIX
Carvers & Co.
They do one signature burger, The General, which is 180g of secret blend beef patty, sharp cheddar, bacon weave sandwiched between a slightly buttery bun.
43 East Coast Road. Singapore 428764 Tel: 6348 0448
Try the Dead Hippie burger: two mustard-fried beef patties with secret dead hippie sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and minced white onions.
99 Duxton Road. Singapore 089543 Tel: 6221 5343
Three Buns Restaurant
Go for the Baby Huey, a 150g beef patty soaked in notorious T.O.M sauce with pickles, lettuce, cheese and spice mayonnaise in a demi-brioche bun.
36 Keong Saik Road. Singapore 089143 Tel: 6327 1939
The Butchers Club Burger
The house signature burger is made of 160g dry-aged Black Angus grain-fed beef, Canadian maple-glazed strip bacon, caramelised onion spread, English white cheddar, pickles and tomatoes. Available with duck fat fries.
3A River Valley Road. #01-01 Clarke Quay. Singapore 179020 Tel: 6837 0675
We recommend the “B” burger which is made of dry-aged beef patty topped with caramelised onions, French comte cheese, caper and garlic mayonnaise.
31 Ocean Way. #01-03 Quayside Isle. Singapore 098375 Tel: 6690 7570
Wildfire Kitchen + Bar
Head for the Fullblood wagyu burger made of Blackmore 100% Fullblood wagyu patty, butterhead lettuce, tomatoes, beer-caramelised onions, cheddar cheese and signature sauce.
26 Evans Road. Singapore 259367 Tel: 6734 2080
1 Burgers at Wildfire Kitchen + Bar
2 Carvers & Co.’s The General burger
3 MEATLiquorSIN’s Cheeseburger
4 Da Cheese Master from Three Buns Restaurant
5 Captain Ahab burger from The Butchers Club Burger
6 The Blue Moon burger from &MADE 7 Quirky interiors of Three Buns Restaurant
8 &MADE at Quayside Isle
9 Wildfire Kitchen + Bar’s exterior