(Actually ‘Five Guys named Mo’ by Louis Jordan)
It’s been a couple of months now since I finished my stint in Manchester, and while the British summer has been glorious (and I’ve enjoyed some excellent food) I’ve had a hankering for some ‘dirty’ street food. The sort of thing for which Manchester’s ‘Almost Famous‘ is (almost) famous – or is that notorious?
So, on an afternoon trip to the ‘Bluewater‘ shopping mall in Kent I was delighted to see that ‘Five Guys’ had opened a branch in ‘The Plaza’, one of Bluewater’s several aggregations of food outlets/restaurants.
Bluewater is a prime example of a British shopping mall reinforcing its role as a ‘destination’ – it’s possible to enjoy breakfast, lunch, a restaurant dinner and spend an evening at the cinema while never leaving the mall.
Five Guys was a challenge for me, as it was exactly opposite where we had been shopping, we had to walk past Bluewater’s ‘Village’ – another aggregation of restaurants that features a branch of Carluccio’s that we usually frequent when visiting – and, to be honest, my wife doesn’t share my fondness for burgers.
As previously mentioned, Five Guys sits in ‘The Plaza’, on the lower level, beneath ‘TGI Fridays’, opposite Browns, Thomasina Myers’ Wahaca and a branch of that spicy chicken chain.
Five Guys itself is bright and airy, white tiles with a red checker tiled border. There are indeed five guys front of house with doubtless a small army out back preparing the potatoes – that are piled, in their sacks – to delineate the queuing area. The aforementioned front of house five guys look suitably preppy, with one guy (looking not unlike Rick Moranis) taking time to explain the (suspiciously simple) menu to first timers, myself included.
The menu is indeed suspiciously and deceptively simple, four types of burger (hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger, cheese and bacon burger), available in two sizes (one beef patty or two – with extra patties at £2 a throw), with similarly garnished hot dogs. Two types of fries (plain or Cajun spiced), a few sandwiches, a (very) few beers, and soft drinks. That’s it.
Well, no, that’s not it, because there’s an extensive selection of garnishes available at no extra charge, including grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, pickles, lettuce, tomato, mustard and ketchup – all of these can be added in one simple ‘all the way’ order. Further options are HP Sauce, hot sauce, BBQ Sauce, relish, raw onion, green pepper, BBQ sauce and jalapeños.
Somebody – with more mathematics than me – has calculated that those options give a potential quarter of a million variations.
On to the burger itself, cheese and bacon, two patties, ‘all the way’; cooked and assembled by two or three of the front of house five guys, then wrapped in foil and served in a brown paper bag. This is where it becomes easy to overdo the superlatives… the burgers are pleasingly thick, and juicy, each patty substantial, with good (I nearly wrote healthy – I don’t think so) portions of each topping. Worthy of specific mention is the jalapeño option, which was fresh, crunchy and hot, unlike the flaccid, pickled jalapeños that so many places use – nice attention to detail guys.
The fries, cooked in peanut oil and sourced from a named farm, were plentiful, we couldn’t finish them.
A special mention, also, for the soft drinks dispenser; it’s self-serve with free refills, and offers over a hundred different drinks.
It’s easy to see why Five Guys has caused such a sensation, forty years ago McDonalds caused much the same when they first opened in the UK, in those days McDonalds offered something new to a nation that had grown up with the Wimpy. Five Guys sit nicely alongside Byron (also present at Bluewater), one serves burgers that approach ‘fine dining’ while the other offers dirty, guilty, street food in a clean, unthreatening environment.
I’ll be happy to visit either again in the future, but not too often, it’s ‘guilt food’ for a reason.