Stuart Forster tastes burger and beers at Fat Hippo Underground in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
The Fat Hippo Underground restaurant is around the corner from Newcastle’s Theatre Royal. The Burger Lab event was held on 4 September in collaboration with Allendale Brewery and LinesBehind.com.
Disclosure: Stuart was invited to attend the Burger Lab by the Fat Hippo, which has not reviewed or approved this article.
The event showcased beers being brewed and canned exclusively for sale at Fat Hippo restaurants. The beers, Hillbilly Lager and Proper Pale Ale, are served in cans featuring artwork designed by Lines Behind’s founder, graphic designer James Dixon. Proper Pale Ale is an IPA (4% ABV) made with Cascade, Columbus and Citra hops.
Burgers in Newcastle at Fat Hippo
Most attendees were members of the Herd, the Fat Hippo’s members’ club. Members have access to a menu not available to regular punters and log into a portal on the restaurant’s website. They can also collect loyalty points on purchases and access to events. Being at the Burger Lab meant an opportunity the meet Adrian Huggins from the Allendale Brewery and chat with James.
The beers were served with limited edition Hog on the Tyne burger — featuring a sausage, onion ring, baconnaisse, barbecued pork, pickles and cheese in a brioche bun — plus garlic and rosemary mini roast potatoes.
Burger chef Michael Johnson
After munching through the burger and serving of potatoes I sipped a beer and chatted with Michael Johnson, Fat Hippo’s executive chef. He has been working at the burger restaurant for three-and-a-half years.
“With this special I wanted to do something that reflected what you get on bar snacks; onion rings, sausages and gherkins. It was just bringing it all together — hopefully to complement the beer,” he said.
I learnt that the burger was made with Northumbrian beef. Locally made sausage and pork from Yorkshire also went into his creation. The bread buns are sourced from a local baker.
Making a good burger
We got down to the nitty-gritty of what sets a good burger apart from an average one.
“It’s like a science. You have different seasons with the potatoes and cooking the beef to a safe temperature but not overcooking it. It’s the same with the chicken,” explained Michael, who is a classically trained chef.
“The difference between a good burger and a bad burger is the simple things. Like making sure the buns are toasted. We get buns made for us. They’re fine for seven days but we only give them a four-day shelf life as I don’t want to give them a chance of drying out. Four minutes on the griddle and the butter and softness comes out; it’s like a little pillow,” he commented.
Cooked to the second
Timing the cooking of the burgers is also a factor. “We season on the griddle. The beef is 100 per cent chuck, ground to 10 millimetres then pressed to five inches in diameter. We season on one side and time for one minute-forty, then season on the other side and time it for one minute-forty. Then it’s up to 75 degrees for 30 seconds. That’s how it should be,” he added.
One of his key considerations in any new product is that the dish can be reproduced in large volume while still looking like a promotional photo.
Vegan options also feature on the Fat Hippo menu. “We spend a lot of time researching the vegan market…some of the stuff that’s out there is phenomenal. We’re just about to change the vegan patty to Heather Mills’ down in Peterlee; she’s got a new unit there,” said the chef before participating in a photo shoot.
Fat Hippo has casual dining restaurants in the Fat Hippo Underground (2-6 Shakespeare Street; tel. 0191 447 1161) in central Newcastle, Jesmond, Sheffield and Durham. Menus and opening times are available online.
Allendale Brewery was established in 2006 and is based in Northumberland.
The portraits illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography, which is based in North East England and available for commissions. Call 07947 587136 to discuss your requirements.
Stuart Forster is an award-winning travel and food writer based in north-east England. Stuart is available for freelance commissions.
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