The queue is out the door and it’s a Thursday – a good sign if it’s busy, I see vacant tables at the back after waiting five minutes and I plough down the narrow gap between the counter and tables to find a member of staff, there are seven behind the counter but instead I’m left clueless if we are waiting for a table or to order, a girl is walking around cleaning dirties and she struggles to comprehend the rapidity of my English, she is French as it transpires everyone working at Big Fernand seems to be. I figured out that you have to pay for your food first, the reason for the line, in essence they should have a sign up or a member of staff greeting people to inform the waiting people who haven’t been before how the system works as it will no doubt lead to a level of frustration in not knowing as was my case. Another five minutes and we are ordering the standard cheeseburger is its namesake “Big Fernand” and comes with tomme de savoie cheese, sundries tomatoes, parsley and their own homemade cocktail sauce, with seasoned fries a straight £10, pay upfront, no outlandish service charge as was “optionally” stipulated in previous weeks. Downstairs was busy and luckily we were lead to a wonderfully light and airy space upstairs decked out like a kitch 1960s French boudoir style living room complete with typewriter and all the trimmings – enough room to swing a tiger, the room was empty apart from two guys sat at the end of the long table in the centre of the room. We took our positions at the other end of the grand table. Five minutes later our burgers were arriving. A quick turnaround as they had burgers cooking downstairs in the long open plan kitchen on the way in, they are cooked in rows and of varying times ranging from blue on the left to well done on the right side of the cooker, the chips must be cooking constantly so to take the order according to how we want the burger cooking and get it ready to serve seems like an efficient and streamlined process. When it comes to food the French know what they’re doing, arguably French cuisine is revered as the best in the world and to knock out a few burgers here and there seems like the most unlaborious endeavour for those culinary French wizards.
The food is served on a classic wooden board, the chips standing tall and chunky in a cardboard holder and the burger comes in the form of a large seeded bun with the patty inside smaller but substantially chunky, on closer inspection there is a substantial mound of savoie cheese mounted and melted on top of the burger with some parsley and sun dried tomatoes scattered on top, a homemade burger cocktail sauce has been spread evenly on the seeded bun. With the meal was served some water in a branded bottle and a trio of homemade dips to compliment the meal barbecue, Mayo with herbs and more of the cocktail sauce.
We started eating and immediately it became apparent that the combination and ingredients had been carefully crafted through trial and error, the meat was perfectly cooked and slightly pink, the melted cheese whilst very light in flavour was the perfect addition to the meat with its texture, the parsley worked well with all ingredients complimentarily and the sundried added that sharpness to complete the balance of flavour and texture. The cocktail burger sauce was recessive in flavour but present adding a creaminess to every bite. The bread bun was a little crispy on the outside and fresh and soft on the inside. Every mouthful had that wow factor we had been looking for and it seemed effortless, like suddenly there was this perfect symbiosis between the meat and its new home – a house made from bread, a mushy cow wearing a seedy little hat, it was like the purpose of the meat had been to ultimately become this very meal and provide this experience for us to relish. The chips were also outstanding with some salted paprika seasoning it seemed on the outside and with a slight crunch. We had struck gold and on every level Big Fernand was suddenly punching so far above everyone else in the current field that it seemed we had already reached the gates of burger heaven and the burger god had winked and given us his particular approval to sit as his honoured guests for one day only beside him on his cloudy throne.
The wow factor had us wowed and we were suitably full at the end of the meal. I hope something can challenge this but Big Fernand is truly a huge act to follow and maybe I’m speaking to soon but we may just have a winner.