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» London: Beefeaters and Burgers at GBKBurger Reviews
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London: Beefeaters and Burgers at GBKBurger Reviews

By • Jul 4th, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

During a recent visit to the UK, I found myself at one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of England, the Tower of London.

The sprawling complex on the River Thames, consisting of numerous buildings inside a double-curtain stone wall and moat, is positively dripping with almost 1000 years of history.  Construction began in 1066, with the site being used as everything from a royal residence to a prison housing the country’s best-known and most notorious captives.  Want to see where (roughly) 7 of the most famous executions in British history took place, including the beheading of Anne Boleyn?  There’s a lovely monument on the Tower Green:

Want to see the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom?  The full collection of 23,578 gems that make up the tangible symbols of the monarchy are under armed guard and on full display inside the Jewel House.  You can’t take pictures inside this particular building, but just outside is one of the best spots in London to snap a close-up of a member of the Queen’s Guard in his traditional bearksin hat:

You can even get up close and personal with a Yeoman Warder.  These military retirees (nicknamed “Beefeaters”) once guarded the Tower’s prisoners, but now perform largely ceremonial duties like locking the Tower down at 9:53 each night, looking after the Tower’s resident flock of ravens, and giving guided tours of the Tower buildings and grounds.

It’s a fascinating place where history comes to life, especially if you’re lucky enough to help fire a working perrier (a cousin of the catapult) during a siege weapons demonstration:

The tour books say to allow 2 to 3 hours for the Tower of London, but my wife and I spent over 5… and we skipped a few things.  Afterward, with growling stomachs, we found this practically within the shadows of the Tower:

That’s the Tower of London at left.  But the sign in the upper right corner of the photo reads “GBK,” marking a Gourmet Burger Kitchen location.  Three New Zealanders started the chain in London in 2001, with over 50 locations now dotting the UK.  The steel-and-glass exterior felt oddly out of place given where I had just come from, but it was a welcome sight as I looked to perform my own Beefeater duties.

GBK uses 100% Aberdeen Angus from neighboring Scotland, and features over a dozen variations on their menu:

With toppings ranging from the expected to the exotic, there’s something for every taste here.  I got the classic Cheese burger: aged cheddar, salad, mayo, and relish.  My wife went for the Avocado & Bacon.  We got a large order of chunky fries (meant for sharing) with two of GBK’s superb dipping sauces (options include garlic mayo, blue cheese, satay, and sour cream).

As with the burger I got at Shakespeare’s Globe 2 days prior, my burger was cooked more than I’m used to in the States.  But while I blamed the dryness of that Shropshire beef offering on a puzzling lack of cheese, not even the aged cheddar on my GBK lunch made much difference.  It wasn’t a bad burger; I’ve just simply been conditioned to see a lot more juicy pink in the middle of my meat.

I ended up spreading one of the fries’ dipping sauces on my burger, which helped immensely.   On the other hand, my wife’s burger was spectacular right out of the kitchen.  The avocado added a wonderfully-creamy texture to each bite, giving the in-mouth impression of a burger that was much more moist and flavorful than it was in reality.

With my flight back to the US leaving in less than 24 hours, my British Burger Invasion would have to come to an abrupt end.  It would have been nice to have a world-class burger to go along with this once-in-a-lifetime trip, but it wasn’t in the cards.  There may well be a truly phenomenal burger lurking in some bar in Brighton or a lunch counter in Liverpool; trying two burgers in London obviously isn’t a comprehensive sampling.  All the more reason to come back someday, I decided.  On this day, I was happy enough to chase a case of post-burger dry-mouth with one of GBK’s excellent milkshakes and a walk along the Thames, with one more stroll past the Tower of London for a last few Kodak moments.

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