When news broke the hit chain Five Guys was to set up shop in Gunwharf Quays, in Portsmouth, burger lovers were delighted.
With more than 75 restaurants across the country, the firm is among a number of US exports to break into the UK market – see Taco Bell and Shake Shack for previous examples.
Having never visited one before, I was intrigued by its self-described ‘fast casual restaurant’ ethic – which, to me, suggests Burger King with bells and whistles on.
Its mostly young, trendy patrons have oft suggested it walks the walk – but at a disproportionate cost. Disappointingly, they’re not wrong.
On a glorious summer’s evening myself and a companion discovered this for ourselves, both approaching the experience as blank states, excited, and wanting nothing more than to be impressed and subsequently converted.
Like big-name fast-food chains, service begins at the counter at Five Guys. Our server was unfailingly polite and just as patient – guiding us newbies through the order process.
Before that sounds too much as if we were signing a joint mortgage agreement, understand there is a ‘knack’ to this.
Whatever burger, beef hot dog or sandwich you opt for, you have the chance to customise it almost entirely with up to 15 fresh toppings, for free. No more picking out the gherkins.
I went for a safe, classic bacon cheeseburger with lettuce and mayo (£8.95).
My plus one, a vegetarian, put her name down for the veggie sandwich (£4.50) – and we both ordered fries, cooked in peanut oil as standard (£2.95) and a Coke (£3.15).
Having now parted ways with more than £20, we had a few minutes to size the place up before our order number was called out for us to collect – think Argos for hamburgers.
Scanning the room, we noticed nearly every interior wall was screaming out about just how great other people have said Five Guys is.
In framed testimonials, you’ll find kind words from Buzzfeed, TimeOut and countless US newspapers. Read on here though, and somehow, I think you’ll agree this clipping won’t make the cut.
Other fixtures and fittings include nice, clean tables and chairs, an easy-to-navigate sauce station and – naturally – a huge stack of bagged Five Guys-branded potatoes. This must be an aesthetic-cum-ergonomic quirk, but it just looks like a delivery no one’s had the chance to pack away.
On to the food now.
It comes in a brown paper bag with patties and sandwiches wrapped in foil and fries overflowing in recyclable cups.
The latter is a feature the chain promises to give its customers – which is ideal, because who doesn’t love scooping hot chips out of an oil-sodden bag?
Having unfurled said foil, my bacon cheeseburger – the main event – was a let down. For what I’d paid for it, it simply didn’t deliver. The patty was tasteless and, for the first time, as an avid burger-er, I gave up eating it because I was bored.
It eventually found its place in the bin – which, unlike McDonald’s, Five Guys does not provide outside – so see the nearest rubbish bin.
My fellow diner did not fare well either.
The veggie sandwich was just that – there is no meat substitute patty – but in her case a mass of soggy lettuce, tomato, onion, mushroom, pepper and cheese in its place.
To make the whole trip worthwhile though, the Coke was nice – and we did agree we enjoyed the fries with a bit of mayo, even if they were salty enough to sting our mouths.