On a recent weekend away to celebrate my birthday, the other half and I were scouring Birmingham for a suitable dinner venue – easier said than done. Wanting to keep spending money on the down low, yet find somewhere that had suitable swank factor for a birthday meal out is never an easy ask, especially if you don’t know all of the options available. The venue also had to be man friendly, which instantly eliminated the Italian restaurants that I usually like to haunt. We settled on popular burger chain Gourmet Burger Kitchen, a restaurant I had seen out a lot and heard about but one which I had never actually been to, so we decided to roll up our sleeves and get stuck in.
GBK had a fantastically relaxed vibe whilst still holding strips of modern stylishness in its meaty fingertips as it mixed the dull grey metal table tops and chunky natural wooden flooring with quirky light bulb spot lights. The cashier and kitchen areas crossed the back of the restaurant, which was rather small in size, while booths and smaller tables scattered the circumference of the square room. Long bench style tables occupied the centre, with different parties all sitting together. Decorated in muted beiges, it was the actual furniture that gave GBK its cowboy-like style that seemed very organic and home grown, perhaps in a bid to reflect the menu. It also wasn’t like a typical restaurant with the fact that you had to make your order at the cashier station rather than via a waiter.
Dark grey metal buckets on each table held swatches of paper napkins and silver cutlery, while fun plastic tomatoes signalled that we also had ketchup within reach. A tall wooden display unit near the cashiers till uniquely held a large tub of monkey nuts, for you to just grab a random handful of if you wanted, again adding to the casual nonchalance of the place. You could also pick up carafes of still water and glasses or salt and pepper shakers, depending on what you needed to accompany your meal. We were ideally seated in a rounded circle corner booth, tucked nicely out of the way. It appeared to be designed for four people so we had plenty of space which was nice and we could also sit next to each other which I liked.
As the venue name suggests, we were here for only one thing – burgers (one of the hubby’s favourite foods). Although GBK also offered a couple of salads, I wouldn’t really go here if you wanted a wide variety of meals, starters or desserts – the menu is incredibly focused and narrow, giving its entire attention to the quality and creative burger business. You could choose between beef or chicken for the meat of your meal, although you could also have a veggie burger if you wanted. Once you had that narrowed down, the problems began as there were so many choices for what combination of fillings you wanted with your burger. With simplistic cheese and bacon partnerships for the less adventurous, or the beetroot and pineapple filled charity burger for those who wanted something more exotic, there really was something for every burger lover available.
I decided to have the Camemburger to satisfy my love of camembert and brie as this bad boy contained gooey and oozingly melted camembert over my 100% West Country beef burger. Also atop my medium cooked pattie was a crunchy hash brown with delicious potato chunks, while in the sauce stakes, I was rocking an onion chutney and a truffle mayo as well as the typical relish, all housed in a shiny brioche bun. Scorning skinny fries as purely inadequate, I opted instead to have my burger with the new chunky skin on fries – I love a thick chip and it is something I don’t treat myself to often.
My partner Dan also went for an adventurous option, selecting the special Blazing Sombrero – again a beef burger in a brioche bun, although he had his cooked well done, smothered in smoked cheddar cheese, chorizo relish and tortilla chips for added bite. He also wanted chips for his side, but he selected the skinny fries that just looked pitifully small and puny in my opinion, although he enjoyed them.
You can’t dispute the quality of the meat – the burger was beautiful to eat, so tender and juicy and a great base to the stack of flavours that came with our menu choices. But I must say I am in two minds about the meal. Although this is probably going to make me sound incredibly greedy, I honestly don’t think the burger was big enough, or maybe we made the mistake of only ordering one side each, as the sides also came up small in white bowls. Although the flavours were great, I couldn’t help but feel it was lacking in that final pow factor. My cheese had really melted down, so much so that it was next to nothing on the actual burger, and I could only really taste it when I munched along the outer edges of my bun as here it had collected nicely. I really loved the onion chutney as it was sticky and sweet and goes so well with meat, however I couldn’t decipher the truffle mayo anywhere so it must have been a super thin layer. The relish I think probably got combined with the chutney which I don’t really mind so much. The hash brown with the burger was wonderful, I really loved that imaginative combination as the outer crunch of the hash brown was so tasty with the soft meat and the fluffy inner potato was lovely, especially again with the chutney. I also really liked the brioche bun as it offered something different from the usual rolls and baps you can pick up in the supermarket. It had a glossy, high shine sheen yet was soft and squidgy so that really hit the spot for me.
The chips were yummy as well and were cooked perfectly, with an ideal amount of crisp bite on the skin, yet still soft and light instead. Needless to say, the bowl didn’t last long! I had a glass of white wine with my meal, a sauvignon blanc that was really fruity and soft, so that was delicious although the stem-less glass it arrived in completely baffled me for the majority of the meal! It just felt wrong!
Having a serious sweet tooth, and also because of the small portion sizes, I definitely wanted dessert although I would say that GBK don’t really do afters. There is a choice of three ice creams that come in ready-made individual tubs, a bit like the ones that you get in theatres and definitely something you could easily buy in the supermarket – even the waitress seemed surprised when we asked about dessert, as if it wasn’t really the done thing. I choose a Greek yoghurt and honey ice cream to try which was really light, refreshing and tasty, but again, not really enough of it. If I go out for a meal, I want to indulge and to really get stuck in to my food and I’m not entirely certain I was able to do this at GBK because of the portion sizes.
The prices were reasonable and the food was tasty so in that respect I have no complaints. I liked the mix of flavours and combinations that were on offer and I definitely struggled to make my final burger selection, as well as my side choice as I was also tempted by the sweet potato fries. The meat was obviously good quality and oozed flavour and I thoroughly enjoyed the burger despite not being able to fully taste all of the components as I expected to. I think my main bugbear was the portion sizes and I think if I were to go again, I would definitely get another side or two which we could have then shared – but then this of course all tallies up on your bill. A tasty meal out, but also one that left me umming and ahhing about returning.
I didn’t neglect my sweet spot however as I spied Italian restaurant Carluccio’s patisserie window, the cakes quite simply calling my name in their nectar sweet voices. I soon guiltily splurged on a large chocolate dusted meringue and an apricot tart which I devoured once we returned to our hotel room. The meringue was divine with the hard outer shell encasing a soft, chewy, marshmallow like centre that paired with the powdery bite of the outside was pure heaven to eat. The apricot tart was equally delicious with a flexible shortcrust style base and custardy cake like middle holding caramel tasting apricot halves like victory trophies atop the tart. A fabulous finish!