The Five Guys burger: It kind of lollops squelchily into the mouth, and suddenly youve inhaled 900 calories without them even touching the sides. Photograph: Sophia Evans for the Guardian
Shake Shack on Tottenham Court Road, London, wears its caring credentials quite hard, with walls and tables from reclaimed wood. Theyre keen on provenance, too: namechecking
Jimmys Farm and St John Bakery, plus a deliberate distancing from the kind of cheap, hormone-pumped US beef that has polluted other burger chains. (Is that why Kim Kardashian has such a giant arse? the teen asks. Or is it fake, like Nikki Minajs?) The Jimmys Farm sausages had run out, so I make do with a bog-standard, pimple-coloured hotdog, which they kindly accessorise with the sausages toppings: crisp shallots and an ejaculation of plasticky cheese. A cheeky Nandos, the teen sighs. Why cheeky? I dunno, she replies. Why Harambe?
The burgers are surprisingly tiny and weaselly for the price. The meat is uniformly grey, the buns damp and the taste mostly grill. Ugh, the teen says of the seasonal alpine bacon burger with Appenzeller cheese (7.25, and without a single chip). This is way too meaty and smoky. A moment later: I like it much better now. Shes removed the bacon and smothered the rest in ketchup. Why are the chips crinkle cut? she complains of the fine, golden and fluffy fries. Do they think were at primary school? I try to explain the more surface area/crisper chips theory, but shes having none of it.
Staff are lovely, even though were tricky customers: nobody else is asking questions, nobody else asks for dessert after our meal, instead of on the same tray. And blimey, what a dessert: a frozen custard shake called a concrete because its too hard to suck through a straw. Its a smooth, whipped ice-cream, silky and not-too-sweet, studded with gorgeously spiced, chewy gingerbread from
Bread Ahead and drizzled with salted caramel. Im not big on puds, but this is spectacular. A fiver, though, the teen says, scraping the last vestiges from the paper cup. You could have got five McDonalds for that. Do you think those cats with the tiny legs really have tiny legs, or is it just big fur?
I loathed Five Guys the first time I tried it, and Im determined to approach with the right attitude that of, well, a teenager. So I dont eat anything all day, and have a few drinks first. The Covent Garden branch has all the appeal of the carny: loud, glaring, jangly, screechingly red-and-white, like the blood bandage of a barbers pole. Decor is limited to crates of shelled peanuts, sacks of potatoes and wall-mounted critical hagiographies. Mine (
It looks like it came from Burger King. And then someone sat on it) is strangely absent.
In the open-ish kitchen, the action is frenetic and theres no time for niceties. Food can be customised from a list of free toppings, including jalapeos, grilled onions and green peppers; my encounter with the till person is conducted in a kind of frantic, pointy sign language. We unpeel our burgers and dogs from their sweaty tinfoil wrapping. This is gooood, swoons the teen, falling into a double cheeseburger with lettuce. Gooood foood. And, lordy, it is: a big, gooey, collapsed, meaty dollop, greasy and salty and fine; I find myself slurping rather than chewing. It kind of lollops squelchily into the mouth, and suddenly youve inhaled 900 calories without them even touching the sides. The dog is suave and smoky, its skin popping under the teeth; weve chosen jalapeo and onions on top and, with its pappy, sweet bun, its like a cinema hotdog with delusions of presidency. The skin-on chips, crisp and greaseless and tasting freshly fried, are testament to those sacks of potatoes. Again, staff are way lovelier than they need to be.
Filling up and sobering up, do I think this is good food? No, but its not my call: ask the teen. Yup, yup, yup. Can she send a group Snapchat to her pals and ask them their favourite restaurants? Ugh its not called a group Snapchat. Have you seen Jeremy Corbyns Snaphchat? The results start scrolling in: Frankie And Bennys, Nandos, Pizza Hut, Nandos, Chiquitos, a rogue Wagamama, Subway, for gods sake, Nandos. From this, I conclude a number of things: teenagers have terrible taste in food and theyre interested only in their immediate interests. I read somewhere that teenage brain patterns are similar to those of psychopaths literally unable to understand or empathise beyond the ends of their noses. After living with them, I believe this. And, yeah, should have gone to Nandos.
Shake Shack 5/10 (me); 7/10 (teen) Food 3/10 (me); 9/10 (teen) Atmosphere 4/10 (me); 6/10 (teen) Value for money Burgers from 5.50
Five Guys 5/10 (me); 9/10 (teen) Food 1/10 (me); 7/10 (teen) Atmosphere 5/10 (me); 7/10 (teen) Value for money Burgers from 7.25