The Kidults Aren’t Alright, or, the Chur Burger that Ate Sydney

Sydneysiders, back me up here: Surry Hills, for all its glories, is also just ever-so-slightly ridiculous. You know what I mean. The blow-in hipsters. The Saturday afternoon Crown Street kaftan parade. It’s all a bit of a scene.

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Scene and be seen

Add to the mix Chur Burger. Set on the site of the former fine diner Assiette, which later became the “more accessible” (but not accessible enough, apparently) Albion Street Kitchen or ASK, owner Warren Turnbull has, after a fire, managed to dumb things down sufficiently to really find the market. With some industrial stools and plywood communal tables he has created the perfect environment for people who think their McDeath t-shirt is really quite clever to get in, shove a burger down their gob, and be on their way in fifteen minutes.

Not surprisingly he is making a small fortune in the process.

Look, Chur’s burgers are in and of themselves pretty good for ten bucks. But they are nothing out of this world. A reasonably fat but not overly-filling patty that, thankfully, is not charred all the way through is let down by a lack of seasoning. A bit of extra bacon goes unnoticed and the biggest flavour comes from the pleasant umami of a rich tomato jam. It is, and may remain, a decent pit-stop for the Prick to lay in a foundation before meeting journo cronies for a session at the Clock Hotel. But “Burger of the Year”? Please.

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Chur Burger, in situ

Those who know can find far better burgers in this town: While Leichhardt isn’t quite as hip as the Slurry, nor do its restaurateurs play as hard in the public relations game, it is home to the wonderful little Bonarche Burgers. Lovers of the form should do themselves a favour and make the trip: an “All-American” with extra bacon is (no surprise here) the Prick’s go-to order.

If all this sounds a bit, well, chur-lish, my apologies. The Prick is very conflicted on this whole subject: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner,” the great philosopher and pioneer of classical economics Adam Smith famously wrote back in 1776, “but from their regard to their own self-interest.”

And on one level, if Warren Turnbull can make more of a buck turning out by some accounts three thousand or more burgers a week, more power to him. At $10 or more a throw, plus sides and snacks plus beers that cost almost as much again, that’s a helluva gross. Especially as the wages bill must be far lower at Chur than at either Assiette or ASK.

But the other half of Smith’s equation is the “we” and what, collectively, we Sydney diners expect for our dinner. That is the worrying bit.

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Dude, we went to culinary school and did that etage at Joël Robuchon for this?

Judging by the success of Chur and legion other joints serving what are essentially gussied-up children’s menus, as well as the slow shuttering of Sydney’s fine dining rooms (Claude’s last week, who will pull the pin next week?), what “we” seem to want is to not have to sit still through a meal that lasts more than twenty minutes and, if possible, never touch a piece of silverware. Hence the present bonfire of the gastronomic vanities where table linen and silver and what were once the trappings of adult dining are tossed on the pyre to be replaced by kidult menus of sit-down street food, barbeque, and burgers.

For as lovely as tacos are, even the greatest chef can only take them so far (by no coincidence Turnbull has also opened a Mexican eatery in the Hills).

And while pulled pork is glorious, its sudden ubiquity as an every-day food – especially in places catering to the under-30 set – suggests an ironically geriatric preference for stuff that doesn’t require too much work in the way of chewing.

The danger now is that restaurateurs, having discovered a way to beat the brutal one-two punch of slow table turnover and high wage bills (the latter being a unique feature of Australia’s bizarrely-regulated IR sector), are being further pushed in that direction by publicists and newspapers who feed off the churn of mindless change. And when the tide goes out on all these trends, as it inevitably will, we will have lost a lot of knowledge, tradition, and enjoyable nights out in the process.

You’ve heard of Children of the Corn? Sydney’s restaurants are being destroyed by the children of the corndog.

Chur Burger on Urbanspoon

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14 Responses to The Kidults Aren’t Alright, or, the Chur Burger that Ate Sydney

  1. Bob Colman says:

    Sad but true.

  2. “gussied up children’s menus” LOVE IT.

  3. timt says:

    ‘Once an inner city suburb swarming with Irish immigrants and notorious for crime and vices’ – Pity those Irish aren’t swarming over Surry Hills anymore – they’d be more preferable than hipsters.

  4. ambradambra says:

    I live in Surry Hills and now never leave the apartment. But I will, if only to check out Bonarche. Have often gone past this joint, but never ventured in. Look forward to it.

  5. Steve says:

    Nice article. Agree entirely. The safe option is the default position taken by credentialed chefs & restaurateurs these days. After a lifetime of honing skills but being demoralised by the monetary successes of less endowed but perhaps more fiscally astute operators whom are largely ignored by the media, thats is unless the papers and mags are doing an ‘Ironic’ article, they have decided ‘if you cant beat em… etc’
    Its not unlike the shlock that emerges from Hollywoodland posing as cinema, designed to make a big splash to cash in on what is an increasingly short box office run. But here’s the rub: These pedigreed operators are deluding themselves that they’re offerings are somehow more lofty than the mum and dad shops that used to pepper our suburbs. Heaven forbid, they would not ever consider that they share any parallels to the behemoths of the fats-food industry(the mis spelling was intentional). The fact is that they are servicing our base notion for instant-gratification and ‘dumbing-down’ our food culture at the same all the whilst pretending that this venture ‘just makes business sense’. What about all those years devoted to the high table arts, do they now count for nothing in the quest to appeal to the global ‘goodification’ of our collective tastebuds?

  6. Bob says:

    Hateful malicious writeup that I can’t disagree with too much expect for the debasing nature of the vitriol directed at turnbull. And btw the “best burger” hyperbole has lauded more around Mary’s cheeseburger. I do appreciate this blog and your writing. Consider me a fan. Cheers

  7. Excellent article and thought-provoking, to say the least. You might just be interested in this piece from Paris By Mouth that was published the day after yours – http://parisbymouth.com/the-menace-of-culinary-displacement-in-paris/

  8. thesuzchef says:

    Had a good giggle and a nod reading this. Sydney dining is definitely moving towards more casual eateries, aiming to be accessible and trendy. 3000 burgers a week is definitely more lucrative than a fine dining institution with low table turnover and high cost of ingredients and wages. I’ve eaten at Chur, it’s good but it’s not the best burger. My vote is for Mary’s on that one, but it’s too dark, too cool and has too much facial hair for me to visit regularly!

  9. Stan says:

    Sad but true, as commented above. But should you be tempted to call for the government to “do something abut it,” note well that we are all the better off for the principles that Adam Smith describes so well. You are always free to open a fine dining establishment yourself. If only we can get rid of the stupid IR laws.

    Good point by Steve about the old mum and dad shops in the suburbs that did/do burgers just as well as these hipster joints. There are still a few around. The highlight of my regular drives up/down the Pacific Highway is the lunch stop at Macksville for a great burger at an old style milk bar / coffee lounge (Bridge Cafe). And only $6! (No affiliation etc.)
    Stan.

  10. anon says:

    Ten bucks? That’s cheap compared to the 15 I paid in Perth last week for something less fancy than that.

  11. mr.C says:

    Good read Prick. A very astute observation but sad. Believe me when I say I like the precision fine diner as much as the next person does. It seems like, regardless of what how which direction the media urges the public in, it will be inevitable that restaurants start transforming this way as that’s what the general public wants. It is the safe option but sadly, as you say, a lot of tradition is lost in the process.

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