Wairarapa large black pig bacon, roasted pork belly and pulled pork shoulder, with pickled cucumber, hoisin mayonnaise and iceburg on a steamed bun" - $18.The "all about longbush pork burger" from Ti Kouka was a clear winner of the WOAP 2013 Burger Wellington Challenge.
The burger itself was left field. No actual pattie. Hoisin mayo. Pork three ways. For it to win against some pretty high pedigree burgers, it must have something special going for it.
Thankfully, they put the burger back on the menu for two weeks following their success in the top 5 cookoff. And word definitely got around because on my first attempt to try it there was no room in the inn. They offered to seat me in 1/2 an hour but when I agreed and said I wanted to try the burger, they apologised and said they would be sold out by then. "Best come back next week. And it is advisable to book".
So on Monday with a 12 noon booking, I turned up at 11:58AM to find my trusty partner in crime Brad already there. If there is one thing Brad does well it is punctuality. I have never, ever arrived at a restaurant before Brad.
The waitress arrived to announce the special, which was, surprise, the burger. We ordered two of them before she had finished her recital.
An old friend Tim, who I hadn't seen in ages came in for what appeared to be a business lunch. Hope he had the burger...
The burgers arrived and the presentation was pretty impressive. Two plates. Burger on one, accompaniments on the other. On the side were three condiments. Some mustard sprouts, chilli oil, and pork crackling.
With the burger was some wilted coriander and basil. Opening the burger out, you could see a solid piece of pork belly with some good fat. Two slices of bacon, with some good fat. Shredded pork shoulder, with some good fat. Whoa!! There is a lot of pig fat in this burger!! A dash of hoisin mayo held the pork belly onto the top bun. On the bottom bun was shredded lettuce and cucumber. Was it pickled?
Anyway, I constructed the burger, which I am known to do. All condiments got added. With the inclusion of the crackling, it was now a pork four ways burger .
Here is where it became interesting. The whole reason de existence of the burger was that the bun held the contents, which allowed you to pick it up and place it into your mouth without the need for cutlery. Not possible here as the steamed bun was just too floppy, especially the bottom one, which was quickly becoming soggy.
Brad immediately went to knife and fork. I decided to cut my burger in half (which I would normally do anyway for the cross section view but didn't have to for this burger cause there was no pattie for cross sectioning).
And having tried their Sticky Beef Burger last year, I knew that it was going to be tasty!! And it was. The pork was melt in your mouth with a bit of crisp crackling and bite from the bacon/belly . The bun was light and soft. Sweetness came from the hoisin mayo, and heat from the chilli sauce (which I added myself). The coriander, mint, cucumber, mustard sprouts, and lettuce added freshness. I can see why it won the award. You almost wanted to eat it slowly to max out the length of mouth time. I was sad when it was all gone.
Reflecting, it was difficult to score. Taste wise it was superb. An Asian twist on a burger, but definitely a flavour bomb you could get from a good vietnamese restaurant. It just wouldn't be called a burger. And that is what matters.
Don't get me wrong. This was a good dish. I went back a second time (although this time the pork crackling was replaced with fried shallots). And I enjoyed it again. Clearly a host of other people were enjoying it as well.
I'm not willing to score the Longbush, but if I had to put this up against the T-Rex (last year's winner), I would have to give it to the T-Rex. If I put it up against Charlie Bill's entry last year, Miss Piggy would be a two point favourite. Maybe it is my bias coming into play, but I just couldn't see this in the same category as a great burger. Largely because it didn't fit my definition of a burger. I want a juicy, minced meat pattie. I want melted cheese. I want a soft bun that holds the burger together. I want char. Then the support crew - gherkins, tomato, onion, or whatever defines the flavour.
I also have to say that their fries are the best. Big, fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. With three, yes three, condiments - harissa, aioli and tomato sauce - all handmade, all good. The rest of their menu looks outstanding as well. Congratulations Ti Kouka on winning the Burger Challenge for 2013!! Can't wait to see what you come up with next year. Next time I will make sure I come in during the Festival.
Note: How about next year, the top five all keep their burgers on the menu for a couple of weeks? It would be great to try them all, and going by the number of people in Ti Kouka, it would actually be good for business!!