Since we started Burger Club way back in the frozen winter of 2016, Jo’Burger has been top of the list of places I want to visit. When I first moved to Dublin back in 2011, I left behind a newly-opened branch of Handmade Burger Company in Aberdeen – a chain restaurant yes, but one I’d taken a real shine to – freshly made 7oz burgers, bold, unusual toppings, huge thick sourdough buns – it raised the bar for burgers, at least in Aberdeen. I’m sure the rest of the world had been introduced to this next step in the evolution of burgers, but up there in the north east of Scotland we’re about five years behind the rest of the world. (Water cooler topics for 2017: Felix Baumgartner’s space jump; what’s on your Lovefilm list? and OMG did you see the last episode of Gossip Girl?). Jo’Burger was the substitute I found in Dublin, and I was immediately taken with it, for all the same reasons I loved Handmade, and with a few extra things too – jam-jars full of lemonade, craft beers and menus that made fun of Jessie J what’s not to like? I ate there a lot when I first moved here. But then something unexpected happened. I became a vegetarian. Yes you read that right; me, Ryan, founder member of that annoying burger blog that sometimes pops up on your Facebook feed, abstained from all meat for almost four years. (Word to the wise, some of the Quorn range is delicious, but that does not include the burgers – little hard, dry discs for which the word “cardboardy” is just waiting to be invented). I only fell off the wagon (the meat wagon?) as recently as the tail end of 2016, going from vegetarian to burger blogger in a little over a month – the biggest heel turn since Hulk Hogan joined the nWo.
So it’s almost five years since I last ate at Jo’Burger. In that time, not only has Jo’Burger expanded to include a new premises in Smithfield, the site of this week’s review, but I’ve also become, if you’ll allow me to blow my own trumpet slightly, something of a burger buff. A connoisseur if you will. I’ve eaten a lot of burgers over the past 6 months (if you want proof I can post screenshots from my weight tracker app, which is basically an ascending line steeper than the price of a Temple Bar pint). These days, certainly more so than in 2012, I think I know a thing or two about what makes a good burger (although comments on previous blogs would suggest otherwise). So from 2012 as a hungry diner to 2017 as…. well still a hungry diner, but one who takes notes and has thesaurus.com on his Bookmarks bar because you can only use the word ‘delicious’ so many times before it starts to lost all meaning, would my old favourite still stand up or were those delicious burgers just a delicious memory?
Although in a nice spot, this newest branch of Jo’Burger is also very out of sight, tucked away off the square opposite the old Jameson distillery – I walk through Smithfield frequently and I wasn’t even aware that this existed until a few weeks ago. It’s a nice place though; cool, uncluttered and unpretentious. We visited on a quiet Sunday evening and were warmly greeted by our excellent waitress, who could not have been more welcoming and helpful. Our first impressions of the menu were that wow, there is a lot to choose from. 5 different types of meat (and two veggie options), 20 different topping combinations, or a build-your-own option. The toppings are also all a lot more divergent than your average burger joint – forget your usual boring bacon cheeseburger here (talking to you Amanda), because we just went over the rainbow and we’re not in Kansas anymore – this is a Technicolor dreamworld full of caramelised chilli banana, bush peach curry sauce and harissa mint aoili (oh my!). It’s pretty cool that you can completely customise your burger any way you want it, although fuck this up at your peril – there are a lot of strong flavours and they won’t all go together. After much deliberation, including having to send our waitress away to give us more time to ponder, Kirsty opted for a ‘Naledi’ (brie & pear ginger relish), Rory went with a ‘Jabaulani’ (egg, bacon & relish), while I decided on ‘Chiawelo’ (fresh mango salsa & rocket). We also ordered a portion of fries and a portion of sweet potato fries to share.
The burgers looked seriously impressive when they arrived, it seemed pretty certain that none of us would be leaving hungry. Each burger is a double patty (which I think is new since I was last in), and they come served in a massive sourdough bun, which is an absoutely delight – firm and crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle, and perfect for holding their shape against even the runniest of toppings. Rory’s bacon and egg burger in particular was especially runny but the bread stood up to all of it. Rory really enjoyed his burger, and although he didn’t break too far from the norm he felt everything in it went really well, the smoked Applewood cheese in particular brought it all together. Kirsty was also very enamoured with the brie and pear ginger relish burger, which I have to agree was fabulous – I wasn’t sure such a sweet relish would go with a burger but it absolutely did.
Mine however? Well, if I had to, like absolutely, gun-to-my-head had to describe this meal using only Meatloaf song titles, it would be ‘Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad‘. Apart from the excellent bun, the rest of mine was pretty humdrum. The thin twin patties were so overcooked they were dry, dry, dry, and unforgivably chewy. The mango salsa was made of fresh mango which somehow didn’t actually taste of mango, in fact it didn’t taste of anything, and really only added a little moisture (and there wasn’t enough of it). What I did get in abundance was rocket, so much rocket. The burger was far too big to pick up and bite, so I opened it up and took some of the rocket out and it filled half of my plate. I ended up with a burger and a rocket side salad. Please take note, no-one ever needs that much rocket. The whole thing was pretty unsatisfying – filling, sure, but unsatisfying.
As for the sides, the regular fries were excellent, fried in their jackets, deliciously crispy and salty, but the sweet potato fries weren’t anything I’d order again. They were squishy and sort of wet and generally just a bit sad. The lime & ginger lemonade, which I think was home-made was very nice – but at €3.95 it was on the pricey side and this seemed to be the only soft drink on offer.
At €20 for a burger, chips and a soft drink Jo’Burger is positioned at the high end of the price scale, and the menu arguably justifies it – all those gourmet toppings, unusual flavours, and so many fresh, Irish ingredients. While I applaud them for this approach, the fact is that what ended up on my plate just wasn’t all that good, and at that price it should have been. I’m disappointed that I was so disappointed with Jo’Burger, because I was really looking forward to it. Sorry Jo’Burger – I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you. Maybe see you in another five years.
Burgers – 6/10
Sides – 6/10
Service & Surroundings – 8/10
Value – 5/10
Overall rating: 6.5/10