You may remember that last year, I went on a secret crusade to seek out the best burger in Reading's town centre. And I declared that, while Giraffe's burger was both great quality and value for money, the burger at Jamie's Italian just pipped it to the post, because of the flavour of the combined ingredients (but mostly because of the jalapeño chilli and the texture of the bun). The only problem was that you have to pay extra for the chips, which made it quite pricey.
But then everything changed. Because Handmade Burger Co decided to set up shop at the other end of the Riverside.
Eager to see how their burgers would fare against Giraffe and Jamie's I set off, on a frosty January lunchtime, to find out.
Before you've even walked through the door, Handmade Burger Co is a good thing because it opens at 11.30am. Most other places in town (except Mission Burrito) assume that no one craves lunchtime food before exactly noon, meaning that I've often spent a good half an hour wandering around town, just wanting to be fed.
As you walk in, you're shown to a table, which you get to choose (thumbs up again). As we opened the door, we sidestepped to allow a middle-aged couple who came barging out, complaining that the extractor fans were so loud it was 'like eating in an airport'. The extractor fans are a bit whooshy, yes - but it's not so bad once you get past the hallway and sit down. And anyway, you'll miss out on the beef if you leave.
I went for the Blue Cheese and Bacon burger, which was really good, served with salad and mayo in a sourdough sesame seed bun. I also ordered a milkshake, which gives the whole meal a really retro feel - frothy, chilled and frosty and served in a tall, 1950s-style glass with a straw. Try the hazelnut flavour - my absolute favourite. The burger was juicy, had tons of flavour and was seasoned with tiny soft pieces of onion so it was sweet, too. Their standard burgers are 100% prime Scotch beef - but you can always upgrade if you like to a Jimmy's Farm burger, made up of beef from free-range, rare-breed cows. I went back (another day) to try their Classic cheese burger - and instead of onions it was seasoned with fresh, chopped herbs. Gorgeous. And even more gorgeous at just under £7.
And if beef's not your thing, they have lamb, chicken and veggie burgers too - and junior burgers for the kids. There are more than 40 burgers to choose from, so that'll keep you busy while you're sipping on your shake.
But if I'm honest, I already expected the burgers to be good. But it was the chips that really blew me away. You're used to getting, with your burger of choice, a pile of pale, floppy, stick-like chips piled up next to your plate. Not here. Here, they give you golden, chunky, gnarly chips that have been fried twice. Their flavour is so good I didn't bother (and don't on subsequent visits) to get them seasoned with cajun or jerk spices, I just order a bowl of them and casually dip them in garlic mayo as I eat. The chips were wonderful. Yes, you pay extra for them, but one bowl will feed two of you - the portions are really large.
So. The Handmade Burger Company wins, hands down, on cost (£11 will buy you a regular-sized (generous) burger and proper, hand-made chips (enough for two of you). And you can always order a smaller burger for under a fiver if you want). It also wins on quality (prime, grass-fed beef comes as standard) and service. You're left to order when you're ready, at the till. You never feel pressured or that you're taking too long to decide what to order.
I love it, and really hope they keep up the good work. Only time will tell though whether they have some competition when Ed's Easy Diner opens at The Oracle in the Spring... I've heard they do peanut butter milkshakes, too...
Have you been to Handmade Burger Co? What did you think of it? The best in town? Or did the extractor fans put you off? Which milkshake flavour did you buy? And what did you think of the burgers? Let me know in the comments below...