By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
With an already strong independent restaurant scene, it’s no secret that Brighton has witnessed a boom in popularity of the American-inspired gourmet burger trend in recent years. What with the local-favourite Burger Brothers close to the North Laines, gaining rapturous rave reviews from visitors, as well as the opening of MEATliquor, a London export that’s joined various restaurant chains within the city.
At the very end of last year, InterContinental Hotels Group jumped on board and opened Stock Burger Co. on Brighton seafront, specialising in American comfort food and craft beer. Although a separate street entrance is available, the new restaurant is connected to the city’s Holiday Inn, yet it seems as though the restaurant has been intentionally distanced from the hotel in order to fend off any preconceived stigma. While there’s nothing wrong with the Holiday Inn, (we stayed for the night in a very comfortable room) it’s not a connection that screams contemptibly chic burger bar: a vibe that Stock Burger Co. definitely seems to be striving towards. Inside, there’s very little, if any, of the pretension that goes with the majority of gourmet burger restaurants to have opened within the past few years. Instead, the central bar with it’s impressive assortment of beers (we’ll come to that) and neon signage takes the main focus, joined by sleek, clean décor that feels more Scandinavian than American, and floor-to-ceiling windows that peer onto the seafront and the site that will soon house the multi-million pound Brighton i360 – an erection that will act as a relatively pointless viewing tower, piercing the otherwise invisible skyline between the sky and the sea, peering down at the old burnt-out pier.
One very good thing about Stock Burger Co. is the friendliness of the staff, a rarity in this type of restaurant to say the least – talking us through various beers, offering a “doggy bag” for leftovers from the titanic burgers, and making no qualms surrounding a request to move to a sturdier table that didn’t wobble like a one-legged drunkard. Although the selection of burger choices is particularly grand, what’s most memorable from our visit was the extensive drinks list. Although the wine selection is relatively sparse (who honestly drinks wine with a burger?) a selection of around 20 different beers, as well as three house brews, are available and each burger is paired with at least one of these. Most striking is the Stock Burger IPA – crafted by local brewery Naked Beer – that boasts an explosion of hops on the nose, joined by some citrus peel that continues on to the refreshing bitterness quite typical of India Pale Ale – yet the complexity of flavour within this particular brew is commendable. Beer aside, a number of moderately priced classic cocktails are also available.
As far as the food is concerned, the main focus is on burgers of the towering gourmet style that arrive at the table as though in competition with the i360 across the road, also available are a number of salads, a rump steak, and beef rib that – like the beef burgers – favours UK-reared Glenarm Shorthorn beef sourced from Hannan Meats in Northern Ireland. Also supplying the likes of luxury department store Fortnum & Mason, as well as the majority of Mark Hix’s restaurants, this beef is some of the best that Britain has to offer, with slabs of sugar-pit cured short rib from Hannan Meats previously sampled both at home and in various restaurants, have been some of the best I’ve eaten. To start, a sharing platter consisted of BBQ pork ribs that make up for what they lacked in flavour with the slow-cooked tenderness, shrimp fritters were adequate yet routine, and a trio of chicken wings were coated in a crisp, delicious batter and slathered in a piquant chilli sauce, adding another depth of flavour.
With the gargantuan burgers (we both chose from the back of the menu that allows guests to craft their own, not dissimilar to Five Guys) the stunning quality of the meat is undeniable with every bite, but what’s the point in using only high-end ingredients if they’re not prepared properly. Alas, the beef patty was overworked and was cooked far more than medium, as the menu insinuates unless otherwise specified. Instead, my burger was well-done at the very least. Although still relatively tasty, it’s always disappointing when slip-ups as small as these are demonstrated. My girlfriend’s chicken burger was, fortunately, quite brilliant – comprising a glamour model-sized chicken breast, the restaurant’s own sweet sticky craft beer sauce, and griddled onions that delivered a satisfying British burger van touch.
Having eaten enough for a party of four with the burgers alone, the thought of partaking in one of the desserts served in petite mason jars as if the bowls had all gone missing, was out of the question. While the drinks list is impressive and the prices relatively reasonable, the slightly underwhelming food – particularly the beef burger – managed to let Stock Burger Co. down on this occasion. If only so much care was focussed on the cooking, which’s importance is far superior to provenance in so many instances.
Stock Burger Co. can be found at 137 Kings Road, Brighton, BN1 2JF.