Sydney's obsession with burgers isn't just a fad. It's a lifestyle. The crowds that plagued Burger Project when they first opened in late October are just as strong five months later. They've changed a few things since then. The thick buns that were chastised as being too dry by punters has been swapped out for a softer and sweeter version. What hasn't changed is Neil Perry's presence - you'll still see him working in-store in a standard issue Burger Project t-shirt. He's clearing tables and wiping them down with a Chux cloth on the day we visit. Neil might have a three-hatted restaurant in Rockpool, but he's chirpy with enthusiasm as he buses each table.
Outdoor seating at Burger Project
Mingling with the common people might be seen as a marketing gimmick, but there's more to Burger Project than just a celebrity chef head. There's a commendable ethos behind Burger Project, one that doesn't just use Cape Grim free range beef, but orders in specific cuts and then minces them onsite.
That kind of attention to details makes their burger pricing even more impressive. The classic burger starts at $8.90. A double will set you back $13.90.
The Friday lunchtime queue runs 30-deep during peak hour. Order at the counter and you'll be given a buzzer that will light up when your order is ready. The system isn't without issues. When our group lunched here, five of our buzzers (on individual orders) refused to light up. After 35 minutes, we showed our time-stamped dockets to a server who immediately fast-tracked through the missing orders with profuse apologies.
For the most part, though, burgers generally take no more than 15 minutes to be ready for pick-up. Plastic cutlery, serviettes and sauces are all self-serve. Plonk your plastic tray at the first available table. The dining room is bigger than it first appears, a hidden alcove filled with small round tables and a long counter that suits couples or solitary diners.
Cheese and bacon burger $10.90
Prices have crept up a little since they first opened. The cheese and bacon burger used to be $9.50 - now it's $10.90 - but it's still a reasonable sized burger, jammed with a grass fed beef patty, bacon, melted cheese, pickles, salad and what they call "secret sauce".
Magic mushroom burger $10.50
On the flip side, the magic mushroom burger has dropped in price. Its price at opening was $12.50 before gradually making two price drops. The veggie-friendly grilled confit mushroom now sells for $10.50.
Add a salted caramel thickshake and fries and you're guaranteed a belly-busting meal.
Aussie burger $10.90
The hot dogs have gone and so have some of their more esoteric burgers, like the Korean burger with kimchi and the crispy spicy pork belly burger. There's a more streamlined production of beef burgers now with riffs like the American cheese burger (with rose mayonnaise) and the Aussie burger with beetroot.
Cheese burger $10.90
The classic cheese burger defies usual convention with the inclusion of fresh tomato and lettuce. The beef patties across all burgers are on the thinner side that lends itself to a medium-well cooked state. There's a slightly greasy char to their surface that reminds me of the burgers from your old skool takeaway.
Chips with chipotle chilli $2.90
I'm guessing the relentless crowds are the reason behind the chips no longer advertised as thrice-cooked either - the originals were crunchy spears of carb-laden satisfaction. The current offering isn't a bad replacement on the crunch factor dusted either with salt or chipotle chilli powder. The deletion of the salt and vinegar option is an interesting affirmation of the general Aussie distaste for soggy chips, unlike our Antipodean cousins in England.
Spicy chicken in a bowl $10.50
The only non-beef meat option at the moment is the spicy chicken burger. You can get it in a bowl for the same price, the buns replaced with lettuce leaves. The free range chicken thigh is assembled with coleslaw, pickles and a smear of jalapeno paste across the top.
The Bacon Project $13.90
The newest addition to the menu is The Bacon Project piled high with bar fridge smoked bacon. If you haven't seen how to convert an old fridge or freezer into a cold smoker, here's how.
Smoked bacon in the bacon project burger
It's a pretty impressive sight, slabs of porky goodness draped over a burger patty with melted cheese. The bacon isn't thin and crispy but more on the juicy side, with a smoky sweetness that hums as a gentle backnote.
The Burger Project might only be five month old but it continues to evolve, and judging by its persistent crowds, Sydneysiders are happy to go along for the ride.
World Square Shop 11.06 (next to Din Tai Fung)
644 George Street, Sydney
No telephone number nor reservations
Open 7 days 11am-9pm
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Burgers - Mary's, Newtown
Burgers - Mister Gee Burger Truck, currently at Haberfield
Burgers - Pub Life Kitchen at the Lord Wolseley Hotel, Ultimo
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3/15/2015 01:22:00 am