Finding Burger Joint in Singapore takes a little effort – the entrance is located behind Gemmill Lane, marked only by the neon sign of a burger. Inside, past velvet curtains, is an unexpected sight for a Singaporean shophouse conversion – wood panel walls and tables, plush banquettes and a vast space with a low ceiling. Nic Heaney, the owner, says that it’s just like in New York, a phrase a lot you’ll be seeing a lot.
Nic has many stories about his labour of love, but one about the ceiling reveals his thinking. At their first meeting, he mortified the interior designer by demanding bog-standard office ceiling tiles. The designer tried to sell him on something more trendy; a lot of Nic’s response is unprintable here. He prevailed. The reason for his stubbornness? Those ceiling tiles are just like in New York.
This is just a small part of how Nic and his wife Bénédicte have moved heaven and earth to reproduce the experience at Burger Joint New York. He got staff from the Big Apple to train the staff here, using the same custom-made grills. What goes into the burgers there, goes into ours too – chilled beef from Nebraska and cheese from Wisconsin. Even the soundtrack, a lilting, bustling throwback to the golden age of jazz, is the same as you know where. (The bacon’s source? Secret.)
The end product, though, bucks Singaporean trends, just like the decor. Where many upscale joints here are all about packing more and more between the buns, the burger here is of puritan simplicity. The toppings available are cheese, bacon and that’s about it.
Most controversially, the beef – which is sliced and minced on an hourly basis – is grilled without seasoning. “The beef is good enough,” says Nic, “to stand on its own.” Some disagree but I concur. The loosely packed meat melts in a rush of fats and juices, nutty, smoky and intensely beefy. If you need salt, there’s salt and pepper at every table but overseasoning this would be like sending in a marching band during a Coltrane gig.
Around this intricate, delicate pillar all else falls in place. Bacon is a proper hit of salt and crispness, moderated by a lingering whiff of caramelised maple syrup. Cheese has been heated with the patty, so it bubbles, dribbles and clings to the meat, its own tang and whiff teased out and transformed by the grill’s heat.
The bun is lightly toasted and dense – a far cry from the greasy brioche so common here and much more effective. It sponges up juices, frames the whole assembly and is a pillowy, filling backdrop, which is all it needs to be. Shoestring fries (direct from the US) are liberally salted and pleasantly crackly.
The owners’ obsessiveness reaches to the drinks as well. Boozy milkshakes are made with Häagen Dazs ice cream, so thick it crawls rather than rushing up the straw, and suffused with a heady dose of Bailey’s.
One big difference from New York is the importance of the bar, which serves a changing array of 18 craft beers. A system of cold room and supercooled pipes keeps the beer at the same frigid temperature from keg through tap to glass. We try the Shiga Kogen, from Nagano – a perky IPA redolent of grapefruit and malt.
Honestly, I think of Burger Joint as an antidote Singapore sorely needs – from the florid, the chic and the overdressed. What goes on here is the best kind of zealotry – a restaurant run around two questions. Is it just like in New York? And is it good?
Whenever the answers are jeopardised – by large orders that overburden the grill or by yeast fouling and clogging the beer pipes – the actions are decisive. The large orders are rejected, the pipes cleaned after every keg and then cleaned again, professionally, twice a month. If there is a good kind of monomania, this is it. The many hands behind Burger Joint show no signs of brooking compromise. Long may it stay this way.
Burger Joint, 115 Amoy Street 01-03 (entrance on Gemmill Lane),
Tel: 6221 8648,
The walk to Fratelli – Trattoria and Pizzeria feels like