Expectations can be tricky things. When they’re low, and met, there’s an element of pleasant surprise. But unfulfilled expectations can be a crushing disappointment. It’s fair to say that my expectations of the burgers being served up at The Troll’s Pantry were sky-high. Almost everyone who had got in touch with recommendations via the fledgling Brighton Burgers Twitter account had suggested the place. Claims of the ‘best burger in Brighton’ were being bandied about with eyebrow-raising frequency. How could The Troll’s Pantry not be the next establishment I visited?
After checking its various media channels, I read of horror stories of an hour’s wait to be served at the one-man burger van. So, to be safe, I headed for Circle Street – where The Troll’s Pantry sits in the corner of a car park opposite a wood recycling centre – earlier than opening hours on a bitterly cold Saturday morning. To be presented with a boarded up van, no queues and an empty car park. Great.
My companion for the day (a friend of mine eager to pick up the slack from my burgered-out fiancé) and I crashed down on the bench outside of the wood store, and the only seating we could see, and began to chat. But then a funny thing happened. By the time 12pm had rolled around and we surfaced from our chinwag, a queue had stealthily formed in front of the van. The hatch opened, and a handful of people were already ordering. The rumours were true – The Troll’s Pantry was hot news among those looking for a tasty burger. Finally, it was our turn to order. The special for the day, was the ominous-sounding Hellfire, composed of scary things like ghost naga chillies and tequila, and well out of my spice comfort zone. So I plumped for the Smoky Mountain, one of two unchanging stalwarts on the menu along with the classic-sounding Imperial. Five or so minutes later, we retrieved our burgers and somehow managed to reclaim the bench. I took my first bite, and expectations were blown away.
Succulent. Juicy. Sweet. Smoky. And yes, a little bit mountainous. Basically, pick an adjective. The first taste of the Smoky Mountain is an explosion of flavour, underscored by the moistness and greasiness of that beef – a 35-day-aged English Longhorn steak pattie cooked to perfection and melting perfectly in the mouth.
Then come the various complimentary notes – a jam comprised of smoked bacon and bourbon, the soft-as-butter caramelised onions, the smoked foresters cheese, a hint of healthy greens in the shredded lettuce forming a bed for that juicy beef. Finally a subtle note of rum BBQ sauce lingers just long enough on the palette before the next heavenly bite. All housed in a home-made brioche bun that, just about, manages to hold firm till the end in the face of all those delicious ingredients. My friend was ready to rejoin the queue (which by this point had already become substantial) for another burger halfway through his first, but by the time we had both devoured our last bites, we were well and truly sated.
At £7, the Smoky Mountain isn’t cheap, but its quality speaks for itself, and it’s hard to begrudge paying extra for a burger that’s clearly put together with a lot of love, skill and effort, in a clearly exhausting environment. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a masterpiece of a burger. I already have my eye on a few of the other specials (the Troll’s Stinky Breath Burger – made with blue cheese and anchovies, perhaps, or the Winter Nymph, with blackberry and cognac peppercorn sauce) and even, maybe, putting my faith in this great burger chef enough to plump for that fearsome Hellfire. In short, go as soon as you can.
There were none. With demand so steep, and manpower so limited, The Troll’s Pantry only offers three burgers each day and a small selection of drinks. No sides. Don’t fret though – you’ll be full enough.
A browse of The Troll Pantry’s blog reveals a possible pop-up restaurant in some lucky pub in the near future, and it can’t come a moment too soon. As an experience, eating at The Troll’s Pantry would be difficult to recommend without the sensational food, especially in the winter months. With no seating or protection against the elements, lunch here isn’t going to be a long and lazy affair. This is for those looking for their burger fix, and won’t let a thing like the lack of a chair or heating to deter them.
With a product this fantastic, though, it can only be a good thing when more people can get their hands on it – such is the demand, The Troll’s Pantry is only open 11.30am to 2pm Wednesday to Friday, and 12pm till 3pm on a Saturday. So get there, vote with your wallets, get this extraordinary eatery the upgrade in digs it deserves, and celebrate the fact that there’s a rather special place to stuff your face with gourmet burgers in this brilliant seaside town. This is the start of something big, and I’m already counting the days till I can eat there again.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5