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Hard Rock Cafe Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield compares burgers for the last time EVER

Written by . Published on June 18th 2013.

Hard Rock Cafe Reviewed

I'M NEVER EVER going to write about burgers again. 

It's over.

It's done with. 

Indeed here's a YouTube of me burying a burger forever.

I'll be sending Gordo and other writers in should another burger bar open.

It's all got too much.

To close the sequence, to square the circle, I thought I'd go 'back to basics' - as John Major famously declared back in the nineties when burgers in Britain meant McDonald's and sod all else.

There is a certain pier-end attraction to HRC with all its Arndale Christmas pop-up shop stock of signed memorabilia from people such as Eric Clapton, the Gallagher brothers, Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen and the like

So I thought, where better to finish off than at the Hard Rock Cafe (HRC)?

If authenticity is your bag then it is very, very American. Like the hamburger.

HRC on the inside

HRC on the inside

It was founded by two Statesiders in 1871 in London then spread round the world. It is presently owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, real native Americans, who bought the company in 1907. By the way to bolster that authentic feel I've gone back a century with both those dates.

HRC looks like one of those American bars you dream up in your head as a kid because you've seen them on a thousand US TV shows. The sort of bar you dream up and then find actually exists around malls and in the main streets of big cities in America. There's lots of neon and lots of Budweiser beer. The staff are always happy. And there's memorabilia. It even has fanclubs that collect all that memorabilia - here is the Hard Rock Cafe fanclub in Switzerland.

Anyway the burgers.

The Legendary Burger (£13.95) was the size of Oregon. It was expensive but very good. The two burgers laid one on the other were lightly pink in the middle and crowned with bacon, cheese, caramelised mushrooms and onion (the latter two a rip-off extra £2.30) plus a fried onion ring.

The bun was a little dry but the sum total bunched up in a pair of hands was uncultured, unrefined, clumsy, messy, and just exactly as I'd imagined and wanted. Top nosh.

No flag?Nice but no flag

There was a degree of tokenism about the tomato, lettuce and cucumber placed to one side on the plate but the seasoned fries cut the mustard and were all that could be asked from such moisture sucking food.

Much of the burger and its ingredients were processed and had no doubt arrived in little polythene packages but so what, the burger in essense is fast food, disposable. It's the nature of the beast.

Flags on the pictureFlags on the pictureThe presentation was dramatic with a knife thrust to the hilt through the burger. Although the failure to provide a little flag on a cocktail stick as shown on the menu was a disappointment. I sat down in grand Victoria Station and wept.

I really can't see why, say, Bryon burgers are much better than HRC's self-declared Legendary burger 'famous the world over'. Of course Byron's are 'simple' and probably the meat is better but er...is simple a virtue in something as crude as a burger? Byron review here.

Nor can I see much that is better in the renowned Northern Quarter burger offerings. There is more care with ingredients, but the mess and the onion rings aren't exactly a million miles away.

True the atmosphere is better, although there is a certain pier-end attraction to HRC with all its Arndale Christmas pop-up shop stock of signed memorabilia from people such as Eric Clapton, the Gallagher brothers, Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen and the like. 

The staff can be characters too.

Ric, our New Zealand waiter, is one of the best in the city. Ok, he's been doing the job for eleven and a half years and should be good but he was light-hearted when required, offered advice and made us feel comfortable and welcome. He had so many badges and awards strung round his neck he was in danger of keeling over up. One of the badges described Ric as 'The Man, The Legend'. 

There are more 'legends' in HRC than in Jason and the Argonauts, The Siege of Troy, Beowulf and King Arthur combined.  

 Ric, the Man, the Legend


Ric, the Man, the Legend

Away from the burgers, the rest of the food was below average; overwrought with too many add-ons and extras. The 'famous' (of course) beef fajitas, again overpriced at £14.75, were chewy rather than charming and came with such a huge dish of lettuce, guacamole, salsa and wall of cheese you couldn't see the exits. The peppers with the beef were overwhelming as well. The meat in a chicken fajita was lighter and worked better.

The 'boneless bodacious chicken tenders' were gooily fine but came with the most ludicrously crude lumps of raw carrot called 'carrot chips'. Weird.

Chewy beef


Chewy beef

There was also a startling horrible grilled Norwegian salmon (£13.95). This came with stodgy broccoli and stodgy cauli from last Sunday's roast and stodgy rice. The fish was coated in 'brown'. This was slightly spicy as though it were attempting to be a barbeque sauce. The 'brown' didn't agree with the lemon. This was an extraordinarily bad dish, the worst of the year. 

Salmon hell

Salmon hell

The puddings are pure old-fashioned sweet feasts, accumulations of cream and chocolate and ice cream and anything else that makes a sweet-toothed punter giggle and swoon. 'Nothing says rock 'n' roll heaven like a sweet lick of homemade dessert' says the publicity on the website. 

The 'sinful hot fudge sundae' was good in a nostalgic 'dad's treat' way. The sort of thing you'd receive in a Little Chef on the way home as reward for sitting in a hot car on an excursion to a distant stately home.

As I ate it, on the HRC screens Rod Stewart gyrated on a grainy video to the song, Do you think I'm sexy? The first words on the song are, 'Sugar, sugar, oooh.' How apt I thought.

Childhood sweetheartChildhood sweetheart

HRC is a mid-market, mass-appeal venue, that does what it says it does well. Aside from the salmon which I shudder to think about, it was fine if ridiculously expensive. Then again all those badges for staff must have cost a pretty penny. 

At least it was refreshing to be in a place not going on and on and on and on and on and on about being 'honest' and 'no-nonsense', but instead with tongue firmly in cheek (I really hope so) was all about being 'legendary' and 'world famous'.

Anyway that's me done with burgers, until I decide to be a hypocrite of course.

It feels cleansing. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+


Hard Rock Cafe, Exchange Square, Printworks, City, M4 2BS. 0161 831 6700.

Rating: 12.5/20

Food: 5.5/10 (Burger 7.5, beef fajita 6, chicken fajita 6.5, tenders 6.5, salmon 1, dessert 6.5)
Service: 4
Ambience: 3

PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away


A wall of add-ons for the fajitasA wall of add-ons for the fajitas

Chicken better than beef for the fajitasChicken better than beef for the fajitas

Sticky somethingBodacious goo

Frighteningly crude 'carrot chip'Frighteningly crude 'carrot chip'

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33 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Jonathan MoranJune 18th 2013.

Totally agree- it's become total overkill- it's little wonder our city is seen as a culinary joke when the best we can produce is burger joint after burger joint.

Jonathan SchofieldJune 18th 2013.

Jonathan our city is not seen as a culinary joke, where on earth do you get that?

6 Responses: Reply To This...
Jonathan MoranJune 18th 2013.

Would you not say a city of our size that lacks and has lacked a michelin star for many years a bit poor? Also some of the national press and their critics attitudes towards Manchester and its eateries would suggest this- A.A Gill for example?

Jonathan SchofieldJune 18th 2013.

No, I'd say if you've travelled through the less glam cities of Europe but often the best, Antwerp, Hamburg, Bologna, Bergen, La Coruna, you'd find it similar. Manchester has excellent food but it's not capital city. I love AA Gill's writing, he's fabulous, but I don't believe a word he says about food because I think he knows more about everything else including TV than he does about food. Gill is genius because he writes well, which is, and something bloggers always fail to understand, the main thing about food criticism and any criticism for that matter. A writer's first duty is to be a clever entertainer first and, if a food writer, a dissector of bouillabaisse second. But the writing always comes first.

Jonathan MoranJune 18th 2013.

Yes I agree, that 'a second/third city experience' as a whole is always preferable to that of a capital. I accept that having a menu that attracts michelin star is not to everyone's taste but I feel that in a supposedly international city it's a blot on our copybook!

Jonathan SchofieldJune 18th 2013.

Rogan at The French will get a star.

Jonathan MoranJune 18th 2013.

IF that happens we will still be behind Liverpool and Birmingham and Leeds and Ludlow......But it's a start!

AnonymousJune 19th 2013.

Liverpool has no star, fraiche is definately the wrong side of the river. And I dont think leeds has one either. Starts simply arent everything when it comes to food.

AndrewJune 18th 2013.

We have some fantastic restaurants in Manchester, we certainly are not a joke. Burger places were massive last year, enough now!

AnonymousJune 18th 2013.

I think what Mr Moran is trying to say is that we are definately not a title contender when it comes to city eateries. I think you would agree that we have some good restaurants, but no outstanding ones bar the new Simon Rogan which looks to have potential.

Poster BoyJune 18th 2013.

RIP 'American' food. What's 'on trend' in London this year...?

1 Response: Reply To This...
StephJune 18th 2013.

More 'Dude Food' i'm afraid. There's loads of posh fried chicken joints as well now.

EmmerageJune 18th 2013.

Screw American burgers - can someone please serve a non-brioche-bunned, thin-pattied, multi-lettuced, no-pickled (but well beetrooted) burger modelled after the seaside fare of Cornwall/Australia? Nomz.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
TimbucJune 18th 2013.

Great point right up until you said nomz.

SmittyJune 19th 2013.

Nomz is now my totes fave new word. Amazeballs. Keep it up Emma, Pfft to Timbuc

Axel LariatJune 20th 2013.

Don't say nomz. It makes you sound like an idiot if you say nomz. So don't say it. Unless you ARE an idiot of course, in which case go and comment on the Telegraph website.

EmmerageAugust 13th 2014.

Being anti nomz is oftheminute snobbery. A perfectly cromulent word, denigrated because everyone got tired of having lolcatz rammed down their throats, and because people aspire to a kind of foodie wankery that is less about the animalistic grunting born of amazing nomz, and more about the pictures and rants posted about said nomz. Hardly my fault, the meaning rings true.

Paul CarterJune 18th 2013.

I agree with anonymous, but lets hope Simon Rogan achieves the sort of success that will attract other high end eateries into the city, if not then we can assume Manchester will sink into the sea of culinary mediocrity it found itself in pre-2013.

AnonymousJune 18th 2013.

I thought the arganoughts and arthur were Myths not legends. rather like the mythical best burger in manchester.

exTGIJune 18th 2013.

Is be interested in people's thoughts about how HRC compares with TGI Fridays ( prob the closest equivalent )

TaraJune 18th 2013.

Pies are the new burgers!

1 Response: Reply To This...
GordoJune 18th 2013.

Hear hear!

David in CheshireJune 18th 2013.

Wept? Now there's educated, although I think that in the spirit of the OTT HRC (to which I am much addicted, having collected their t-shirts from all around the known world,and which come bulging out of my wardrobe as I do from the restaurant), you might have gone further. Per tramlines Victoriae Station sedi, et flevi, dum recordaremur tui, modicæ Cocktail haerent cum vexillo. Or something.

Jonathan SchofieldJune 18th 2013.

David you've written a whole sentence in Latin. I'm in love. Sort of...

David in CheshireJune 18th 2013.

Sorry, I'm taken.

Manc GuyJune 18th 2013.

£13.75 for a burger? That's my week's grocery shop! Talking of cheap food, JS...who won this prize; www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk/…/Best-Of-Cheap-EatsHelp-Us-And-Win-A-Prize…

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldJune 18th 2013.

Still writing it, the longest article ever. So much good stuff. When I'm finished - soonish - the winner will be announced.

Richard AthertonJune 19th 2013.

So what if we don't have loads of Michelin Stars? What about all the small independents in and out of the city that offer solid food at prices which are affordable and that most locals can enjoy. Stars may attract top quality restauranteurs, but will also attract top class w*nkers that can afford to eat (and be seen) at them. There's something for everyone here, and a very good standard for restaurants to meet. Ps. In agreement on the Pie's (and Ale)

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJune 19th 2013.


Jonathan MoranJune 19th 2013.

Surely assuming those that can afford to dine at such restaurants are 'w*nkers' is as ignorant as assuming those who choose to eat elswhere as chavs. You're much more likely to find the kind of people you describe at the plethora of Manchester eateries which offer style over substance (rosso et al) for the nouveau riche.

AnonymousJune 19th 2013.

Hard Rock Cafe is the best because it's unpretentious and knows what it is <3 there's always a nice and welcoming atmosphere there too.

AnonymousJune 19th 2013.

I feel we have to give Hard Rock some credit, after all, according to this journalistic masterpiece, they brought burgers and smoked ribs washed down with a lovely frozen daiquiri to the grey, staid streets of Victorian London. Four months of hard labour on the docks and you could save enough money to each surrounded by pictures of Sir Edward Elgar sitting by his piano, the original sheet lyrics of 'o come all ye faithfu' and the largest collection of wall hanging Stradivari this side of Florence.

AnonymousJune 19th 2013.

Nice article, definitely agree with JS, not much to separate the 'hype' at NQ, Byron etc. AFB no longer cook their burgers pink, the last time i was at Solita the burgers weren't pink, however HRC did cook their burger pretty good and nice and pink in the middle (it was about 18 months ago though since i last had food there). Neither can compete with Meat Liquor in London though, by far the best I've had. Had a decent one in Common recently mind.

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