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Half Man! Half Burger! East Sussex, restaurant review

Kathryn Flett finds plenty to relish at this trendy burger joint in St Leonards-on-Sea

By Kathryn Flett - The Telegraph

8:00AM BST 22 Aug 2015

 

The Gonzo burger at Half Man! Half Burger!  Photo: CHRISTOPHER PLEDGER

The Gonzo burger at Half Man! Half Burger!  Photo: CHRISTOPHER PLEDGER

 

Iam celebrating my 10th year in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex – which, for the sake of argument (and we’ve only just met, so let’s not) is effectively the Hove to Hastings’s Brighton. Hastings itself has just been named (by a newspaper that isn’t the Telegraph) “third coolest seaside town in Britain”. We’re behind Hove and Burton Bradstock but ahead of Whitstable, Margate and Orford, so yay to us.

As I write this, it is the proverbial sunny seaside Sunday afternoon in August and the three eldest male offspring have scattered themselves thither-and-yon betwixt Wales and Kent, while the smallest has in all likelihood popped over to Narnia to wrestle centaurs. Back in the day, when I lived in London and fantasised about being beside the seaside, this was precisely the sort of sunny Sunday lifestyle for which I itched. Now that I’m here, on days like these I feel blessed, sitting on the shingle sipping a craft beer and dodging B-52 gull-bombs.

Inside Half Man! Half Burger!

“Have you seen the new hipster burger joint in Marine Court?” said my Gentleman, en passant, at about 12.45pm. Marine Court is a listed Thirties apartment building resembling a cruise liner.

“No! But what about seeing it right now?”

“We’ll never get in. Last time I passed it was heaving.” He is from the Midlands, and negativity is his Kryptonite.

“Ssssh,” I said, “let’s just see. I’m buying.”

At Half Man! Half Burger! (the name is worth a column in itself) we found a warm welcome from young staff wearing black, and plenty of seats on the communal tables, which are the only tables available – non-communal tables being strictly for the petit burger-oisie. “Looks good,” the Gent acknowledged in a tone that said “miserably disappointed” was a more comfortable default.

HM!HB!’s tables are bare wood, accessorised by knock-off Eames chairs. There is retro-industrial, steampunk-y lighting (big bulbs with showy-offy filaments), old music posters, a concrete floor, tiny bar and an open pass to the small kitchen filled with busy burgeristas.

Glasses of iced-and-sliced water were placed in front of us with a smile, and the menu propped twixt condiments and cutlery, next to the Mission Statement, which was predictably Kindly and Sustainable (the cows spend their pre-patty lives at a bovine Montessori, playing with their cud … etc). We ordered beers from a Beard. He pulled us two halves, exclaiming, “Whoa – this beer is lively today!”

The whole set-up is about as hipster as I could cope with without getting the giggles. I was old enough to be everybody’s mum, and I wanted to hug them all (in a non-patronising way): with their facial hair designed by Etch-a-Sketch and their scary, Channel Tunnel-sized, migrant-incursion-inviting earlobe piercings, they are adorable.

Adorable, too, in their way, were the couples with numerous small children who arrived and sat, cosily and communally, right next to us. Which was the moment I asked to move.

What with the concrete floor, high ceilings, plate glass window (Sea views? Check.) and children playing their Hunger Games, the noise levels at HM!HB! can be challenging. However, we’re not just here to talk light fittings, facial hair and menu fonts (“Wonky Manual Typewriter”, since you’re asking) – let us groove on to the Food.

My Gentleman had “The Smokestack” – two patties, HM!HB! smoky bacon and onion relish, Monterey jack cheese, shredded iceberg. Our delicious bacon relish also contained a batch of top-secret ingredients, including “liquid smoke” – a burgerlicious bargain at “7.5”. (Because zeros are, like, so noughties?)

I went off-piste and chose the Guest Burger – the “Tipsy Hog”: 10-hour slow-cooked pulled pork in HM!HB! Memphis Screamin’ Whiskey BBQ Sauce and Slawsome “Slaw”. I was already exhausted.

HM!HB!’s buns are glazed brioches (there are gluten-free options for those so inclined), which I generally find too pillowy and poncy for burgers, but perhaps that’s just me. The side of chips (“2.5”) was delicious – thin-cut, taut and herby. The Gentleman’s plate (tin, natch) was emptied while I was (reluctantly) writing “Slawsome slaw” in my notebook. Never being one to sing loudly for a free lunch, all he said was, “It’s good… Smoky.” Meanwhile, I speedily internalised the sweet, almost crumbly pulled pork un-burger. It, too, was good.

We shouldn’t have had any room for a pudding and we didn’t – though why should that stop us? The Oreo cookie cheesecake was “too gimmicky” for my guest, but it was punchy, un-mushy and I quite liked it. Kids would demolish it; indeed on the next table, they were.

I enjoyed nearly everything about HM!HB! – the service, the décor, the location and indeed the food; less so the noise and other people’s kids. HM!HB! started life serving burgers from a van at festivals and I like the fact that, by dint of being a) not there and b) too old, having missed out on the real urban hipster thing (and detesting festivals since I got my bag nicked at Stonehenge in 1981), HM!HB! makes this fattish fiftysummat feel just a little bit like a seaside hipster – a Shipster, if you will. Slawsome.

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