WLC Eats: Yen Burger

WLC‘s Phoebe French heads to Borough Market’s latest burger joint, Yen Burger, for juicy Wagyu beef buns, umami-rich dashi chips and crispy halloumi with mango.

The concept: Located just outside of London foodie hotspot Borough Market, Yen Burger is where east meets west, bringing the flavours of Japan to the capital’s burgeoning burger scene. But has this been done before? Asian-influenced burgers are available at the likes of Chick n Sours and Yum Jungle, while Yen Burger faces direct competition from venues such as the curiously-named Ichi Buns, which likewise prides itself on its Japanese-inspired dishes.

Yen Burger is the brainchild of food entrepreneur Yen Nguyen, and serves up Asian-inspired offerings using ingredients such as wagyu beef, shiso and savoury stock, dashi. It opened its doors back in November last year with 70 covers over two floors as well as a downstairs bar – a welcome spacious venue in an area of London known for its lack of seating.

Commenting on the launch of her restaurant, Nguyen said: “I am so excited to be opening Yen Burger and bringing my long held vision to life. I was always so influenced by my mother’s Asian cooking, and could never go a day without it. My experiences being raised across Europe mean I am inspired by both types of cuisines and therefore I want to create something truly unique – an Asian burger. The opening of Yen burger is my dream coming to fruition and I am so excited to start welcoming guests into the restaurant.”

The décor: In a nod to its culinary theme, the interiors feature muted gold tones and paired-back Asian design. Plain wooden tables with block stools are dotted around the restaurant with branches of cherry blossom suspended over the bar, a scaled-back version of Kym’s giant floor-to-ceiling cherry tree in the Bloomberg Arcade.

Custom-designed by ID design studio, the winners of the 2017 Ilva Design Award, the upstairs has views into the open kitchen. If Yen Burger looks full from the outside, don’t be put off, because, as is often the case in the area, the downstairs floor space is considerably more roomy.

The food: With Asian accents, the menu features the likes of Finest Chick (£10) consisting of coconut panko-coated chicken breast, slaw, shiso, tomato, red onion and mango. Lighter that many fried chicken burgers, the coconut in the breadcrumbs gets lost in the frier, but the sweet tropical fruit notes and zingy slaw work well with the chicken. Also on offer is the Classic Beef (£8) combining a 6oz beef patty, lettuce, shiso, tomato, red onion and Yen sauce, while there’s also a surf and turf option (£9.50) featuring prawns and beef and a cod burger (£8), liberally smothered in tartare sauce.

For those cutting back on their meat, there are two vegetarian options available: the All Veggie (£9) including panko-coated avocado, portobello mushroom, lettuce, shiso, tomato, red onion, lime mayonnaise and blue cheese, and the Tofu Burger (£8) which combines tofu, grilled aubergine, lettuce, coriander, tomato, red onion, yen sauce and cheese. Vegan and gluten-free options are available on request.

All burgers are served up encased in Yen stamped buns and come in wooden baskets, which although pleasing on the eye, are not the most practical containers for eating messy food.

Yen Burger’s menu also boasts a range of Asian-inspired sides including Asian Slaw, Angry Wings and Edamame. We opted for the Halloumi & Mango (£4.50), with puffed up fingers of the fried cheese pairing well with the sweet, fruity dipping sauce.

Not everything was a hit, however, with the gyozas, which come stuffed with either chicken, prawn or vegetables, proving a disappointment. Usually pan-fried on one side with the rest untouched, Yen Burger’s gyozas tasted like they’d been dropped in the deep fat frier, turning the moreish, usually pillowy-soft dumplings into crisp and greasy bites.

Signature dishes: For those wanting to splash out, the signature Yen Burger (£12) is packed with a 6oz Wagyu beef patty, lettuce, shiso, pickles, red onion, smoked turkey bacon, yen sauce and cheese. While I wouldn’t necessarily have been able to identify that it was Wagyu beef, the burger was pleasingly moist, with the pickles and shiso balancing out the richness of the other ingredients. 

The drinks: Yen mainly specialises in beer and cocktails with Japanese beers Asahi, Hitachino Nest and Kirin Ichiban, as well as London’s Meantime, on pour. The cocktails also hark back to the restaurant’s Japanese heritage, using Hibiki whisky and sake to create Asian-inspired sips. While the Foreign Mint (Jinzu Gin, sake, mint, basil and elderflower – £12) was zingy and refreshing, the Long Night (gin, whisky, rum, Cointreau, vodka and ginger ale – £12) lacked definition and was far too sweet. With prices ranging from £9 to £12, the cocktails are on the pricey side compared to similar serves offered at sites including Honest Burgers and Patty & Bun.

Yen Burger does, however, cater well for those opting to abstain from alcohol. There are six non-alcoholic cocktails to chose from as well as a list of classic soft drinks.

Don’t leave without: trying the dashi chips (£3.) My favourite item on the menu, the thin fries come coated in salty and umami dashi powder and are highly addictive.

Last word: The Borough Market area is certainly not short of burger joints, with the likes of the Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Hawksmoor being joined by Honest Burgers in 2017 and Patty & Bun at the start of last year. Indeed the capital is awash with similar venues, both chains and one-offs, so Yen will have to fight hard to stand out from the crowd.

That said, its location and size are to its advantage, with the neighbouring food market drawing in both locals and tourists. It is but a stone’s throw from popular Italian and relative newcomer Padella, which consistently has hoards of hungry diners queuing outside to experience is famed cacio e pepe. Taking part in one of the many lunch time demonstrations at the market could help Yen further integrate itself in the community and draw in extra punters.

One thing that perhaps needs addressing is the pricing, with Yen’s burgers and drinks, in particular, being more expensive than neighbouring rivals Honest Burger and Patty & Bun. Honest Burger has a children’s menu (with a burger and chips priced at £5.50) and all cocktails are £6.50, while Patty & Bun’s most expensive burger is only £9.25 and its cocktails are also priced below those of Yen.

To be fair to Yen, its pricing is in line with Japanese burger rival Ichi Buns, which charges between £11.50 and £12.50 for a burger, £4 for fries and between £10.50 and £11 for cocktails. It should be also be commended for its list of lighter options, vegetarian alternatives and non-alcoholic cocktails – a sign it has paid attention to the current trends in the food and drink sector.

Yen Burger, 1B Southwark St, London SE1 1RQ, www.yenburger.co.uk

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