When I first heard that “some Icelandic burger bar” is opening around the corner from possibly the finest burger restaurant in London I was instantly intrigued, and 99% certain I knew who would be behind it. Not because I have an obsessive interest in Icelandic fast food (though I sort of do), but because there’s only one proper burger chain in the whole of Iceland. McDonalds didn’t even want to slog it out in the Icelandic burger market for the long-term, they pulled out when the Icelandic economy went tits-up in 2008.
The man behind this burger joint is Tommi Tómasson. He’s a bit of an icon in Iceland (not just because he looks like the leader of a suicide cult, with his big white beard - there’s a massive picture of him in the restaurant). Tommi opened the first burger joint in Iceland in 1981. Imagine that! Being the first person to introduce hamburgers to an entire country! Ok, Iceland’s population is about the same as somewhere like Burnley (a place where hamburgers weren’t available until 1997, incidentally) but it’s still very impressive.
The reason I’d heard of Tommi and his beard is because I’ve been to a few of his Icelandic restaurants whilst visiting Reykjavik. Over there, they go by the name of Hamborgarabúllan and they serve decent, straight-up burger and chips in a fun, cool, family-friendly sort of environment. On hearing about Tommi’s plans for a London opening, at the height of BURGER MANIA, round the corner from one of the most popular BURGER MANIA restaurants in London I was surprised, to say the least. I enjoyed the burgers I’d had in Iceland but they weren’t mind-blowing.
I headed down there on a Monday night, a week into the Burger Joint’s life. It’s pretty tiny (maybe 25 stools) but cosy and welcoming. It’s got the start of the huge collections of drawings, posters and Americana on the walls like his Icelandic restaurants, and there’s no table service, you get your food Maccy D-style from a small counter at the back, staffed by some very friendly Icelandic dudes (I LOVE the fact his London staff are Icelandic). They played ‘November Rain’ by Guns N’ Roses in all its 9 minute glory. This fact alone is worth a point. The place was buzzing and alive with chatter but not too busy. There was even a young family in there. I know! How outragous. How dare someone be able to eat a hamburger with their family in W1? Shocking.
The menu is small and simple - a few burgers, some meal deals, some sides. No booze, just soft drinks. I am told you can BYO, but you’d have to check with them as I forgot to ask. Thorough professionalism is always at the vanguard on MBFBY?
I went for the steak burger with bernaise, fries and a can of Coke. My name was called out 5 mins later, I collected the burger from the counter and was pleased to note that it’s served with the fries in a basket, and it’s wrapped in paper just like when I was in Iceland. Did I mention I’ve been to Iceland? No? Oh, you must go, it’s AMAZING.
The burger was very good indeed, certainly with better quality meat than its Icelandic equivalent but otherwise sticking to Tommi’s formula. Cooked nice and pink with a slice of classic melted cheapo cheese, a light, soft bun and a decent size. Not too greasy. Lots of flavour from the steak. Nice and simple. Tommi’s burgers are definitely influenced by the Golden Arches, and that’s no bad thing. The bernaise sauce in a little pot on the side was delicious and thick, and the fries were skinny, crispy and as good as I’ve had.
We were in and out in half an hour (and there was no stupid queuing) and the bill came to £24 quid. Bargain. In a town awash with try-too-hard burger pop-ups and blokes deep-frying pizzas in old iMacs under railway arches in Hackney, Tommi’s Burger Joint is a welcome addition to the scene. Simple, friendly, cheap, unpretentious and the guy behind it has been cooking burgers since before your man deep-frying his pop-up pizzas was even born. Plus, he introduced burgers to an entire country. AN ENTIRE COUNTRY. He’s bascially the burger equivalent of Antoine-Augustin Parmentier.
So, I wish Tommi the best of luck. I’ll certainly be back as often as I can for a cheeky burger. The only thing that would improve it - BEERS. As long as they aren’t Icelandic beers. They taste like piss. Did I mention I’ve been to Iceland?
MBFBY? was NOT invited to review this restaurant.
Tommi’s Burger Joint
58 Marlybone Lane