After spending the previous night at the Shake Shack preview I headed to the Five Guys opening day yesterday still a bit full from all the burgers. But I had heard plenty of good things about the Five Guys American operation and with the day off from work I hoped an early visit might help avoid the inevitable queues.
Five Guys has been brought to London by the Carphone Warehouse founder Charles Dunstone who together with Five Guys co-owns the UK Franchise. As well as their first restaurant in Covent Garden (just 320 metres away from Shake Shack) they’re planning on a further five in the London area this year (the first apparently in Reading with one to follow in Angel), with plans for 10 new branches every three months across the UK to come soon after. Since they started expanding in the States they now have over 1,000 branches and are officially the fastest growing restaurant business in America.
I joined the queue for Five Guys at 11.00am (their first day opening time) and was surprised there were only about 25 people in line, admittedly the first guy had been there overnight I think. Thanks to the relative lack of any queue I was inside and had ordered my food in about 20 minutes. Queuing for a burger definitely feels a little odd in London, but I felt like I got the best end of the deal considering the queue only got longer throughout the day with some people waiting in line for two hours!!
Five Guys menu works a little differently than a lot of other similar burger joints; to start with their standard burgers are all double-patty jobs, and they’re massive (with a pretty hefty price tag to match). But if you’re not feeling quite up to it, you can order a ‘little’ burger which is just a single patty and is probably the better option price wise. The other difference is that you have complete control over the toppings, as standard the burgers don’t have any, but you can add as much as you want completely free. I really like this element as it gives you complete free reign of how you want your burger. So with that in mind I ordered a Bacon Cheeseburger with lettuce, pickles ketchup and mustard, with a side of cajun fries and a coke.
Service was very quick, with the burger in hand in just five minutes. If you’re waiting a bit longer they’ve brought over one of their American traditions of having a massive box of peanuts to help yourself to while you wait.
The burger and fries themselves weren’t bad, there was plenty to be pleased with, but my problem was for £8.75 (+ £2.75 for the small fries) I was expecting something much better. On the positive side the bacon was really good – really crispy with a great smokey flavour, the beef had a good strong flavour and lots of nice char and the cajun fries were full of spicy goodness and even the small portion was pretty large.
What wasn’t so good was the burger being overcooked (all burgers are cooked to well done) and the fries were limp and soggy, not a crisp one in sight. And the burger bun was a little sad, it comes wrapped in foil and most of them looked like they’d squashed which didn’t look appealing.
One thing I really did like though was the drinks – I believe they’re the first people in the UK to use a Coke Freestyle machine. Like the free toppings this machine gives you control over your drink. So you start with the usual options (Coke, Fanta, Lemonade, etc) and then with each one you can customise the drink by adding flavourings. There’s so much to choose I think I heard there’s something like 200+ possible combinations. I ended up ordering a Raspberry Diet Coke on a whim, and while I probably won’t get that again, there’s loads more to try. And another benefit is the free refills, so its not bad value for the drink.
So for me, in the so-called Burger Wars, I have to say I’m definitely on the Shake Shack side. Five Guys has a decent offering, but is let down by a few key elements (and price) and its the Shake Shack attention to detail that will win me over every time.
If you want to give Five Guys a try for yourself they’re open 7 days a week on Long Acre from 11.30. And if you want to beat the queues, you can even order your food online to save time.