Apart from the studiedly realistic 'American Diner' fittings, the most obvious peculiarity is the fact that you have to go up to the till to order and pay and are then directed to help yourself to condiments, tap water and free monkey nuts (there are worse freebies). The system seems to work, apart from a tendency to congestion around the till when several people are queuing. Still, given that the very friendly and efficient waiting staff show you to a table, supply you with menus and then bring your food, it's difficult not to think that they might as well take your order too. Also, GBK isn't exactly cheap and the lack of full table service hardly mitigates that. Still, the chain was apparently founded by New Zealanders, so maybe it's a Kiwi thing.
Alongside the wide range of burgers (beef, chicken, vegetarian with various additions, and a few more exotic ones) are various sides and salads. The Photographer had chargrilled chicken skewers with smoked chilli mayonnaise (£3.95), which he enjoyed, commenting on the 'real chicken' (as opposed to the rather odd-textured meat you sometimes get with this kind of dish) and pleasantly tangy mayonnaise. I ordered some 'haloumi bites' with 'spicy kiwi fruit and jalapeno sauce' (£3.85) and received a bowl of fat chunks of lightly-singed cheese, which I very much enjoyed as I love grilled halloumi. I did wonder where the sauce was but assumed that they'd just been sparing with it. Only afterwards did I notice that the bottle brought by the waiter, which I had assumed was Tabasco for the chicken, actually contained spicy kiwi fruit and jalapeno sauce. OK, my fault for not being observant, but I'm not sure a bottled sauce on the side should be passed off as a major component.
Buffalo burger with extra mushroom and jalapenosWe both chose burgers that were advertised as being from Laverstoke Park Farm and were thus slightly more expensive than some, though not all, of the rest: Buffalo (£9.95) for the Photographer and Wild Boar for me (£9.95). The buffalo burger was pretty good, lean and tasty and striking a good balance between medium and well-done, although the mushroom ordered as an additional extra was cold. My burger was actually a rich mixture of boar and smoked bacon and had a great salty, almost gamey flavour. The brioche bun it came in was unremarkable, although it might have been improved by a flimsier texture as a contrast to the meat and to soak up the juices.
Having glimpsed the standard 'skinny fries' (£1.35) on the table next door and decided that they looked dangerously underweight (I've seen thicker electrical wires) we went for the premium 'chunky fries' (£3.25). They looked better than they tasted - even the spicy 'hei hei salt' that was supplied didn't stop them from being rather dry and stodgy. Finishing the bowl became a bit of a chore.*
Apart from a few frozen yoghurts GBK don't do puddings and this time l I don't think I could have managed one, although it might have been good to have the option. Still, I liked GBK, almost despite myself. Overall it's a stylish, friendly, well-run place to eat and the whole experience almost cancelled out the various grumbles I had with the food. However, certain things could have been done better, particularly since the costs start to mount if you order much more than the basic version of the various items. If I'm going to be paying much more than £10 for a burger and chips, they need to be very good. In any case you may know that Byron Burgers, the small but highly-regarded London-based chain, will soon be opening in George Street [update: see my review here]. With a rival like that, GBK will have to raise their game.
Gourmet Burger Kitchen
29-31 George Street, OX1 2AY
*Update: it's been pointed out to me that ketchup with your chips is free but any other sauce, even mayonnaise, is £1.25. This seems a lot.