McDonald's New Premium 'Signature' Burgers: Are They Good?
The Oak Brook, Illinois-based company is trying out a new 'Signature Collection' of premium burgers in 28 stores in London and the south of England. They've been designed by a team of chefs, feature 100 percent British and Irish beef and are made to order.
At £4.89 ($7.58), they are expensive by the standards of McDonald's in the U.K., where you can pick up a cheeseburger for £0.99, but cheap compared with MeatLiquor, there the price is £8, and Byron, where it is £7.95.
So are they any good? Richard Turner, the executive chef of Hawksmoor steak restaurants (where burger and chips cost £15) agreed to put them to the test. Turner is also co-owner of Turner & George meat suppliers and takes his beef seriously. (He's writing a book on it.)
Turner is not a McDonald's hater: He has visited corporate headquarters in Illinois, says the company in the U.K. uses good ingredients and has even been known to order the occasional Big Mac.
Here's what he had to say at the taste test of the new Signature Collection in the Cannon Street outlet of McDonald's, in the City of London.
"The packaging looks great: It's nice and clean. The burger is very neat, well put-together. But the bun is sweet and the patty is dry as hell. There's not enough fat and the grain of the meat feels woolly. It needs an awful lot more fat to make a good burger and (as is always the way with McDonald's) it's well done. Because it's a thicker patty it's actually harder to eat than the other ones. It's not as good as a Big Mac, which has a thinner patty, more salad, more moisture. This is trying to be a modern burger like a MeatLiquor burger, but without the meat, the fat and the cooking needed. There's 30 percent fat in a good burger. This is probably 10 percent. We went through a period in the '80s and '90s and later when we cut the fat but fat is flavor and juice and moisture. McDonald's are still doing that here. They are giving us a lean burger. The bacon is OK. It's not bad. They are trying harder but the problem is the patty." 3/10
Ingredients: 100 percent British and Irish Beef, BBQ sauce, coleslaw, red onion, Batavia lettuce, Beechwood smoked bacon and Cheddar cheese, in a Brioche style bun.
"The overriding flavor is barbecue sauce and it's not a very good barbecue sauce. It tastes a bit cheap and synthetic. These are good-looking burgers. I didn't want to come in here and slate them. McDonald's isn’t a bad company in this country. It's fairly ethical, they use reasonable ingredients. It's easy for me to sit here and pick it apart but when you're rolling this out, there are safety margins you put in. Like maybe they can't cook fatty burgers because of the risk of fire. I am just guessing. But this is disappointing. Again, it's not as good as their standard range. They've dropped the ball. If they're going to make a better patty, they need to add fat. This is pretty horrible." 2/10
Ingredients: 100 percent British and Irish Beef, BBQ sauce, coleslaw, red onion, Batavia lettuce, Beechwood smoked bacon and Cheddar cheese, all in a Brioche-style bun
"This is actually quite well-seasoned and it's got loads of sauce on it and quite a bit of salt in it. So it is actually quite tasty but again the patty is bone dry. It's saucier, it's moister and it's juicier but not the patty, just the ingredients. This is the best of the three because it's got salt in it and sauces in there making up for the bland, tasteless dry meat, and chili covers a lot of ills. 4/10
Ingredients: 100% British and Irish Beef, Jalapeño slices, Pepper Jack cheese, Batavia lettuce, mayo and a spicy relish, in a Brioche-style bun.
For comparison, we tried the regular Cheeseburger.
"It's a much thinner patty. It doesn’t matter that it's overcooked with no fat in it because the ratio of meat to the rest of the ingredients works better. It's still not a great burger but it's a better burger than those three. It's still sweet as hell. It could be a dessert."
Ingredients: The simple classic made with a 100 percent beef patty, cheese, onions, pickles, mustard and a dollop of Tomato Ketchup - all in a soft bun.
Richard Vines is chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines