A couple of years ago, it seemed like the most-asked question in Hull was “Have you tried one yet?” Within weeks of Dope Burger opening their first take-away in a tiny unit near Paragon Station, they established themselves as easily the best burger supplier in the city. You couldn’t hold your head up in polite society unless you’d sampled one.
Skip to the present and the roaring success of that first Dope Burger (people still happily queue in the rain to be fed there) has extended to their Caribbean Wagwan Chicken offshoot on Spring Bank (try the pork bajanga), the Mexican-themed Boss Burrito and now a 50-seater Dope restaurant next door. The growth in popularity and expansion of operations have been swift and remarkable. Dope Burger has gone from tiny burger joint to mini empire in less time than it takes for a McDonald’s apple pie to cool to a vaguely edible temperature.
The Dope style, it has to be said, will not be to everyone’s taste. There is graffiti for decoration, no table service, no cutlery, no choice of drinks, no starters, no desserts, no chairs (only stools), uncomfy tables and they don’t even take cards for payment – cash only. If I’m perfectly honest, it’s more of a takeaway with seats than a recognisable restaurant. What they do have, though, is a burgeoning customer base. They also make quite superb burgers.
How good? Well, the best burger I’ve ever had was at the Burger Joint in New York. It used to be a small shack on the south side of Central Park and when someone wanted to build a massive, posh, multi-storey hotel on the site, they had to have the shack rebuilt behind red velvet curtains in a corner of the lobby. It’s a favourite of food-savvy, uptown New Yorkers. The second best burger I’ve ever had was also in New York, at the Corner Bistro in Greenwich Village. It’s a shabby Cheers-like bar filled with students and tutors from nearby NYU and it has the best jukebox in the world. They make their burgers in a space behind the bar no bigger than a roomy shower cubicle. The third best burger I’ve ever had is in Dope Burger in Hull. Number three, on a list as prestigious as that, is not bad going at all.
The Dope restaurant is located in Witham, which is close enough to the heart of the city to be classed as the centre but far enough away (over the River Hull, amongst industrial buildings) to not attract the usual townies or tourists. Yes, Hull has tourists these days. They have a menu of around 13 burgers, a hot dog (with a large choice of toppings) and a handful of sides and dressings. Don’t over-order, a burger and some fries will be more than enough for even the most determined waistband botherer. Also, be warned, you will get messy. All the burgers are greasy (but in a good way) and sloppy and impossible to eat without redecorating your face.
I’d definitely point you toward the black & blue burger, which features blue cheese and black treacle. It’s sweet and nicely bitter and utterly dissolves as soon as it’s in your mouth. How something so butch-looking can wither like wafer, I don’t know. But wither it does.
Much more robust is the Old Amsterdam, which is like a big, thick Dutch trawlerman of a burger featuring bacon, maple syrup and a very welcome pickle. The chicken rachlette and praline bacon burger has praline bacon in it, so obviously it tastes amazing. If you’ve never had praline bacon, all you need to know is that it’s bacon grilled with brown sugar and chopped pecan. Imagine that.
Elsewhere, the chilli dog is a relatively mundane sausage in a roll until you blather it in chillies, beef chilli, praline bacon (naturally) and truffle-infused cheese. Then it becomes unrecognisable as a hot dog and requires the support of a mountain rescue team to eat. All the rest of the burgers, you’ll have to try yourself and report back to me. I’m stuffed.
One restaurant in Hull recently made it onto a list of “Restaurants with the Best Views in the UK” but it’s on the marina so all you actually see is a load of boats. Far more interesting is the view from Dope Burger’s window. From left to right, you can see the Annison Building (a fabulous former undertakers and two-storey stable), the tower of Hull Minster, the clock tower of Guildhall, Hull College, a former Victorian warehouse converted into flats, two former banks dating from the 1920s and the Art Deco-influenced North Bridge. It’s like a picture essay of the socio-economic history of the city, all viewed from an unfancied corner.
And it’s this determination to take good food to the less popular areas of the city that is Dope Burger’s greatest move. They pick locations away from the trendy bits, where rents are lower but there is plenty of passing trade. They keep the food simple but tasty and offer great value for money. Many of you won’t thank me for pointing you to Dope Burger, as it won’t be comfy and fluffy enough for you. The rest of you will offer me thanks heavily muffled by the burger you’re merrily shoving in your face. And that’s fine by me.
Dope Burger, 18 Witham, Hull HU9 1BY. 07884 552426, dopeburger.co.uk. Open daily, 11am-10pm.
Drink selection 1/5