Vegan burgers billed as an alternative to Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger’s growing monopoly will arrive in London 1 November, as Simplicity Burger opens at Hopscotch on Brick Lane. Chef Neil Rankin, who made his name at barbecue specialists Pitt Cue and Smokehouse, and restaurant group Temper, is turning his hand to plant-based burgers, using dehydration, fermentation, and actual vegetables to make a burger that stands on its own terms, rather than attempting to directly mimic or emulate meat patties.
Rankin has told Eater that diners can expect “a stripped back burger menu. No starters, only chips as a side and a few burger variations that will change as we develop.” He also says that the aim of the Simplicity Burger is not to emulate other vegan burgers:
Its looks are based a lot on the shake shack patty but the flavours aren’t like anything I’ve had. I’ve really tried to ignore what’s coming out of vegan scene and take a different mind set. Not out of disrespect but I wanted to start from scratch and see if I could make something that appealed to me as a meat eater.
The restaurant is a collaboration with Andrew Fishwick, former owner of The Truscott Arms — now the Hero of Maida — and former Smokehouse executive chef David Lagonell, according to Big Hospitality. Rankin told Big Hospitality that he has stepped back from Temper, which now has three restaurants in Soho, the City, and Covent Garden, to focus on the project, but remains a director and shareholder; this restaurant is designed as a test bed for the “simplicity burger.”
Vegetarian and vegan burgers are having something of an existential crisis. Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat are not just making huge funding raises, scaling vegan burger production, and inspiring U.K. based companies like Meatless Farm to enter into supermarkets. They are partnering with both smaller chain restaurants like Honest Burgers, celebrity-backed enterprises like Neat Burger, and fast food giants Burger King and McDonald’s, while positioning their product as a solution to the climate emergency: not just eat less meat, but eat more of our burgers. As these companies scale, and more and more dollars, interests, and middlemen pour into the market, there’s a very real question about how economies of scale will affect a product that purports to be helping to liberate the planet from systems of meat production that thrive on the convenience and ubiquity that it is gaining for itself day by day.
Simplicity Burger, however, with its ferments, vegetables, and methodology has more in common with the veggie burgers of the 1990s than anything else, a product that was once considered countercultural through its association with hippie culture and is now considered countercultural because of fake meat’s huge, venture-capital backed rise, in concert with mainstream veganism’s erasure of people of colour and “vegan” eating that is indigenous to cultures around the world. Rankin’s individual aims for Simplicity Burger appear to sit with his ideals around meat cookery: considered provenance, careful cooking, and tasty food, for those with the means and time to treat those things as a leisure activity:
“This feels like a huge step backwards to trust big stock market listed corporations with our diet again and it feels like it’s been done under the cover of our own guilt and a lie that people can’t do this as well at home. So I guess we fit in by trying to tell people that not only can they cook this at home but they could also grow it at home and it tastes a hell of a lot better like all things do and always will.” A noble ambition, that he hopes will bear out come launch.
Simplicity Burger, 202 Brick Lane, E1 6SA