The Bull & Castle

5-7 Lord Edward Street

Dublin 8

I have a reputation among my Burger Club cohorts as being ‘the one who hates Christmas, which isn’t strictly true. There’s no denying I’m a grumpy-guts, and I certainly hate a lot of things – work nights out, fancy-dress parties, New Year, St Patrick’s Day, watching football in the pub, music festivals, cyclists, Conor McGregor, nightclubs, karaoke, pub singers, buskers, LinkedIn, camping, groups of Spanish teenagers, Jason Manford, people who cheer when the barmaid drops a glass, the Viking Splash Tour, those ‘I can’t find xxx, can you tag him?’ memes that are all over Facebook all of a sudden, – but Christmas? Nah mate. I don’t hate Christmas, I hate the build-up to Christmas. Christmas jumpers, queues everywhere, Slade and Shakin’ Stevens on repeat in every sweltering shop. I actually like Christmas, when it’s Christmas, and that’s the big distinction. Christmas is Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day, and because I’m feeling charitable I’ll give you the two weeks leading up to it as well. Christmas in November, that’s what makes me come over all Charles Whitman, and any shop that has their Christmas decorations up in October (hi Debenhams!) ought to be fired into space.

But you didn’t come here to listen to me complain about Christmas, did you? No you didn’t you little rascal, that was just an added bonus. Don’t worry, here come the burgers. Last week, this appeared on my Facebook newsfeed.

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We’re deep enough into December now (11th December at time of writing) that I can accept it’s Christmas, and frankly this seasonal seductress looked too good to miss out on. I’ve never heard of a Christmas burger, but when I shared the post with my carnivorous colleagues we all agreed it was something we could get on board with, so we dutifully trooped down to the Bull & Castle to tackle this festive feast. Situated opposite Christchurch Cathedral, the Bull & Castle is a stylish restaurant and bar spread over two floors, owned by the butcher’s chain FX Buckley. Given that our Amanda comes from a well-known and long-established family of Dublin butchers (she asked me not to specify which one, and I said “I’ll Troy but I can’t promise anything”), this was a little bit like Biggie and his crew rolling up to have dinner in Tupac’s ‘hood, but thankfully we made it out without having to ice anyone, and if sleeping with the enemy is the worst thing Amanda gets up to over the festive period, well frankly I’ll be surprised.

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The upstairs bar of the Bull & Castle where we had dinner is a really lovely spot, very relaxed, welcoming and stylish, a nice place to hang out with friends for a few quiet drinks, (in this case, a welcome respite from the madness of Christmas shopping), and with its big windows overlooking the cathedral, it’s an excellent spot to watch the world go by. Before we get to the burgers though, let’s get the ugly business out of the way first. The first hour of this visit was a disaster. Anticipating a busy restaurant this close to Christmas, we had booked a table. When we arrived and found no Christmas burger on the menu, we were told the burger wasn’t available downstairs as it’s on the bar menu, and if we wanted it we would have to move upstairs and sit in the bar. We were more than happy to do that, as we’re total scruffs and the bar is a bit more relaxed, but when we got upstairs the bar was really busy and there were no tables. The waitress who took us upstairs promised us the waiting staff there would look after us,  and the waitresses upstairs were doing their best to get us seated, however a waiter then told us they couldn’t hold a table for us, we just had to be ready to jump on one if we saw people leaving. This was annoying, and we spent a good while hovering around the bar, eyeballing other newcomers who were also looking for a table, but we finally got our bums on seats after about 10 minutes. It then took a further 25 minutes for anyone to come and take our order, and when the food came out we weren’t given any cutlery, and finally our order was wrong. Not grossly wrong, but wrong all the same. We were running a little short of patience by this point, however we’re nice people who have all worked in the service industry at some point, so we understand how hectic it can get, especially at this time of year. In fairness the staff rectified everything immediately, and hopefully we just caught them on an off night.

The Burgers

Being owned by FX Buckley I had high hopes for these and they didn’t disappoint. The patty on the Christmas burgers was perfect, juicy, slightly pink in the middle, and with a delicate and delicious chargrilled taste. The most forward flavour was the sausage stuffing, the strong herb flavours were unusual for a burger but not unwelcome. Topping this off was the chestnut mushroom ketchup, another unusual flavour, tart yet earthy, it was very agreeable but there just wasn’t quite enough of it. Added to the standard bacon and cheese, this was a succulent seasonal treat. The burger as a whole was nice and neat, no sloppiness, served on a lightly toasted brioche bun. They were a little on the small side however, and while I’m not an advocate of colossal over-sized burgers that you need to dislocate your jaw to fit into your mouth, these definitely fell on the side of quality over quantity.

The Sides

Handmade chips, big fat chipper-style ones, which was a nice surprise, but they were undercooked and a little hard. The alternative to this was shoestring fries, which were weird skinny crunchy potato sticks (which I christened “deep-fried Kerplunk”) that the table raved about, but I was unconvinced. The onion rings were home-made and delicious, in thick, soft, chewy batter. There were no shakes (dammit Jim, this is a pub not Al’s Diner) but I had a couple of glasses of FX Buckley Golden Ale, which I recommend highly, a really light, sweet ale, not too hoppy, a great accompaniment to a meal (and a good starting point for non-craft beer drinkers to dip their toe in). The selection of craft beers has dwindled in recent years as its moved away from its previous incarnation as a beer hall, but there are still a few on offer and you’ll usually find something interesting among the standards.

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Deep-fried Kerplunk

Value

A whopping €16 for just the burger and chips, making this the most expensive we’ve had by some way. By the time I added a pint I was over €21, even a Coke brought it up to €19. Yikes.

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Conclusions:

A quality burger in nice surroundings. This is not a place that specialises in burgers – after Christmas the only option for the burger-minded will be a solitary bacon cheeseburger (I don’t count halloumi as a burger) – but anything else I’ve ever eaten here has been really good (especially in the restaurant, which is excellent). Being owned by FX Buckley you’re guaranteed high quality meat. This does make it expensive though, and you’ll get a burger of equal quality for cheaper elsewhere, and more variety. This is a burger it’s worth going out of your way for, and remember, it’s only available over Christmas, so if you miss it you’re going to have to wait another twelve months to get one. Or eleven….. or ten…..

Burger – 8/10

Sides – 7/10

Service & Surroundings – 6/10

Overall rating – 7/10

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