Restaurant Review; A Tale of two burgers, Purley

this article first appeared in the Croydon Citizen:

In the 13 years I’ve lived in the borough, I’ve always been surprised that despite the significant wealth within walking distance of Purley town centre, eating and drinking options were limited.

This began to change a few years ago. Now there’s good options for steak at Beunos Aires, an excellent Turkish / Eastern Med restaurant and a few others that I’m sure someone more qualified than this author will review in the future.

Purley also has is two excellent burger restaurants, which are so different to each other as to almost negate direct competition and instead qualify for a compare / contrast article. (Says the author justifying his editorial suggestion)

Blacks burgers was originally born out of a restaurant that used to be based in Wallington, that moved and decided that it wanted to be a burger joint. (There’s also a branch in Epsom) It’s a big space on the highstreet. Airy and light; very much a family friendly fast food vibe going on. Comfortable chairs, tables for 2 / 4 / 6. Plenty of high chairs for young kids, colouring pencils etc, with a warm and genuinely friendly welcome from the staff. It’s what Wimpy could have been if they’d managed to make it into the 21 Century and had the enthusiasm and charm of the Black’s front of house team. Fundamentally British ethos and atmosphere serving American fast food.

The classic British fast food environment is mixed with a menu and aspiration of a regular watcher of US TV food shows, “Diners, Driveins and Dives” or “Man vs Food”. The menu is the sort of thing you’re more likely to see in the U.S. than this side of the pond: All sorts of additions to the basic burger, some of which you’d never think of if you were doing your own burgers at home. They also have a GIANT burger called the beast which has to be pre ordered and paid and to my cynical eyes has all the hallmarks of a PR stunt.

The thing is that under the funky toppings, Blacks does serve a tasty burger. Beefy, salty goodness, with a lower fat / grease content than is currently fashionable in Central London market leaders such as Meat Liquor or Dirty Burger. It’s also a pretty hefty patty or you can order bigger for not much extra. I’m not saying it’s healthy and if you order medium rare there’s a lovely juicy bite, but as a bearded chap, I’m delighted to find a burger where I don’t need to shower afterwards. The buns are great too, as they hold the juices of the burger without falling apart or being ever so trendy brioche. Top stuff.

The sides are also great, really crispy / fluffy fries, and dry crunchy onion rings. There’s a perfectly sized kids portion and possibly best of all a great range of freshly made up ice cream milkshakes, with trad flavours and funky mixes like Oreo or Nutella.

I’ve been 5 times with my kids and we’ve always had a great time. In and out in 45 mins, well looked after by the front of house team and well fed from the kitchen. It’s a great addition to the area’s eating options.

Dexter burger is different. It’s straight outta Shoreditch, somewhere I know well after 6 years working on Folgate Steeet E1. A small shopfront has about space for 20 or so and there’s a bar with 4 stools. Exposed brick and wood beams abound. The light fitings and furniture feels like recycled industrial. It feels trendy, an impression continued by great local Cronx craft beer, including its outstanding single hop series’s further Shoreditch points are scored by the frozen margaritas.

There’s a much shorter menu here as the focus is on the beef itself – the name of the restaurant is shared with a rare breed beef cow that makes great steaks. Grass fed rare breed etc etc. the burgers are great, very much on trend with a high fat content and its served medium rare, on the rare side, so you really taste the beef.

Sides / condiments were outstanding and showed talent in the kitchen. Truffled Parmesan chips were properly tasty; the funky taste of truffle really did go with the deep beef flavour of the burger. What also worked was the bearnaise sauce on the burger. It was proper stuff as well, with a tang of acid and tarragon. The sauce did a funny thing. It made a mouthful taste less of “burger” and more “steak”; the bearnaise touching my tastebuds and memory of steak frites with bearnaise. Yum.

If I’m honest I wanted a bigger burger. It was really tasty, and the fries were great, but I’m a greedy 6ft 1 14 and a half strong bloke. My wife also had a hot dog special the size of my forearm that took her twice as long to eat as my burger. The sausage and bun was outstanding, the BBQ sauce was well flavoured but too sweet for me – although I should point out it tasted as the chef wanted it to. It is meant to be sweet, a well known style in U.S. BBQ.

Just like Blacks the service is friendly and personal and you’re in and out in less than an hour. The milkshakes are also awesome. My boy couldn’t stop drinking his strawberry shake, to the point he had to have it taken off him.

Purley is lucky to have two great burger joints. I use both for different reasons. If I was just with Mrs B, we’d go to Dexter, drink cocktails and craft beer and enjoy great burgers in a slightly trendy atmosphere. If our kids are with us, or we’re meeting mates and their kids, it’s Blacks every time for equally great burgers in a more relaxed comfortable setting.

This isn’t to say that Blacks full of kids all the time, or Dexter wasn’t really great with our kids, it’s just the way we’ve worked it out. You might do the opposite, but whichever place you go, you’ll have a great meal.


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