Beef & Liberty has been a rising name in Shanghai and even expanded to Hong Kong awhile ago. Taking great pride in their imported Tasmanian beef, the small bistro-like restaurant specialises in burgers. Located at the formidable Shanghai Centre which also houses the Ritz-Carlton, Beef & Liberty’s name was inspired by the 18th and 19th century dining societies in London known as Beefsteak clubs.
– Note that this was an invited tasting. Many thanks to Tracy for inviting and hosting my wife and I –
Formerly known as Gourmet Cafe, Beef & Liberty went through a 360 degree transformation into a bistro-like restaurant specialising in burgers and beef, which is great, because I always love restaurateurs who choose one dish or expertise, and focus exclusively in that area. In this case, it transformed themselves from being simply a burger restaurant into an artisanal burger place. It’s worth noting that Beef & Liberty are from the same people behind Pizza Express Marzano. I was told that the owner travelled across 30 different cities to sample all the burgers they had to offer, absorbed all the collected wisdom and poured it into what is now known as Beef & Liberty.
I believe it is fair to say that many of us grew up eating burgers; Sadly, for me, most of my burger experiences until my late 20s were limited to McDonalds and Burger King. It was until later that I sampled what an artisanal burger would taste like; A hand-crafted meat patty comprised of at least 2 different types of meat, char-grilled until a smokey crust develops on the patty, while still pink, moist and tender inside; The bread, the other dominant component of the burger is often understated. A good burger bun should be soft, pillowy and slightly stretchy. It should not be tough and crumbly in any way. When prepared right, it buns should be lightly toasted on both sides, warmed through with a very thin crust on the outside, and soft within. The bottom of the bun would absorb the juices of the beef patty, while not becoming a soggy mess.
I am fortunate to have had quite a few decent burger experiences in Shanghai so far. Bistro burger has been very consistent with their burgers. New York Style Burger is tremendous value. I have even had the pleasure of dining at Chef Gordon Ramsay’s Burgr at Las Vegas, which has been my best burger experience to date. Fan boy I may be, and as cliche as it may sound, the hells kitchen burger was really the best burger I have ever had, and it didn’t cost an arm and leg.
So how did Beef & Liberty held up? On the whole, it was a good experience.
My observations of the ambience is based on an evening visit. The space is located on the 1F of the Shanghai Centre, which you can walk up the steps easily from the ground floor. The restaurant has a very simple and black modern exterior. The only quirk was the the entrance didn’t stood out from the glass paned walls, so we actually walked around a couple of times before finding the door.
They have a outdoor section at the back, which must be really pleasant in autumn, or now really, since Shanghai has decided its summer should have an average temperature of 24 degrees celsius. The interior has a somewhat modern-rustic feel, bricked walls with these beautiful tiled floors. The lighting is dim, with a small table light on every table, quite a romantic ambience actually. It isn’t easy to take good photos of the food here at night, luckily I had help from our host Tracy who lit some of the shots with her phone. Thanks again!
We ordered their popular Fried Chicken Strips, a cheese burger done medium rare, and a tasmanian grass-fed rib-eye steak. I was coerced by Tracy to try their dessert; As many of you might know, I’m not big on dessert, but anyways, I picked their flourless chocolate cake.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, the review of our tasting at Beef & Liberty.
The fried chicken strips. Apparently made of hormone-free natural chicken tenders. This was highly recommended amongst several people I came across online. How was it?
It was f… fantastic. You know you have a winner when a dish comes with a sauce, but you are simply content eating it on its own. Lightly breaded, the chicken strips had a light crunch when I bit into it. I could taste the flavour of the chicken, something that we really don’t taste very often these days from the super-chickens that are commonly sold. The seasoning was spot on, and then the meat simply crumbled and disintegrated in the mouth. It was so, damn, good. The accompanying cajun aioli also paired beautifully with the chicken, giving it an extra oomph. This is the king of fried chicken strips in Shanghai. I’m not joking. 10/10
Beef & Liberty serve 8 unique burger combinations, being: Classic, Cheese, Bacon Cheese, Falafel (Vegan), Black Pepper, Green Chilli, Chicken and Lamb. You can also choose any of these sans the bun, in a bowl, Schwarma style.
The Cheese Burger. I was a little bit confused, because there was another option on the menu called the Classic. To me, a classic would probably be the cheese burger — a classic cheeseburger.
This cheese burger came with cheddar cheese, butter head lettuce (?!) and bbq sauce (!?!?).
Their classic burger comes with butter head lettuce, tomato, red onion, ketchup.
To me, my perfect classic cheeseburger would be a combination of those two, sans the bbq sauce and lettuce. I wasn’t a big fan of the cheese burger combination.
That said, the cheese burger was actually perfectly executed. The bun was lightly toasted on each side, and was soft and fluffy. The patty was cooked exactly as ordered — medium rare, and had a smokey charred aroma on its crust. The patty was made from pure grounded Tasmanian beef, which showed as it broke apart easily. Whilst this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, some of the best burger patties are usually made with a precise ratio of various fatty to lean meats. This gives the patty a more unique and robust flavour, and in some cases also help the patty to hold itself together better.
That said, I liked the fact that the burger was kept simple, and not stacked to crazy heights.
While the burger was technically close to perfect — all its components cooked to perfection, there were some things I disliked about it.
The BBQ sauce made the overall bite quite sweet. Maybe to suite the Shanghainese palate? A little more tangy BBQ sauce might have helped balance out the richness of the burger better, which is why ketchup has always been a timeless classic choice.
The lettuce was really, really, un-necessary. It didn’t do anything for the burger, and instead got in the way many times, on many bites where a piece of lettuce ended up dangling either on the burger or off my mouth. There’s no crunch in the lettuce for texture and its flavour acted more as a distraction than a complement. What I would have liked in its place? Crunchy, sour pickles! A small dish of pickle slices were served on the side, but they were sweet and not sour at all.
Part of the cheese as you can see in the cross section was double layered. This made the those areas a little heavy on the cheese flavour, and also the thicker cheese sections would not melt consistently. As a matter of fact, most of the cheese was unmelted, which resulted in a less satisfactory texture and flavour. I would be much happier with a single thin slice of ‘American cheese’ melted evenly over the patty. This particular light-colorer cheese didn’t looked nor tasted like cheddar, perhaps it simply wasn’t a sharp cheddar that I am used to.
Marred by these shortcomings, a burger that would have been otherwise perfect, gets a 8/10.
I’ve seen some very lovely pictures of their steak on Shanghaigirleats, so I was quite curious about their tasmanian grass-fed rib-eye.
The ¥298 steak comes with a side salad and frites. I thought it was quite unusual that you get to choose between an sirloin or rib-eye cut for the same price. A rib-eye would usually cost more.
Unfortunately, our steak was slightly overdone that day, which resulted in a rather chewy and slightly dry ribeye. Which was a great pity, because the charr on the grill-marks were very flavourful. The quality of the grass-fed Tasmanian beef was apparent from the subtle delicate sweetness in the meat which you rarely taste in Qingdao beef.
I particularly enjoyed the bright and robust flavour of the black peppercorns rubbed on the steak. However, thick and juicy piece of medium steak, this was not. It was medium well, and surprisingly tough and chewy for a medium-well. I suspect that the steak wasn’t basted during the cooking process, and was pressed upon, because it looked a little compressed and flattened. What happens when you do this is that the juices get squeezed out, and you end up with dryer than usual meat, although the steak looks slightly larger and you get darker grill marks more quickly.
The accompanying frites were de rigeur and wasn’t made in-house, which was a shame. One of the things I use to judge a western joint by, is the quality of its fries. It’s akin to judging a chinese restaurant by the quality of their rice. It was a shame that Beef & Liberty did not make their own frites, because I’m pretty sure that if they put their heart to it, their frites would’ve probably been awesome. The accompanying salad was uninspiring. The steak gets a 6.5/10, because it really wasn’t up to standards considering that it cost ¥298.
At that point, I was already bursting at the buckle, and we didn’t even finish the steak.
We were highly recommended to try their dessert, and I hesitantly agreed to the flour-less chocolate cake, a choice that I didn’t regret.
Upon inspection, you would notice that the cake didn’t have crumbs on the inside, because of the lack of flour. This gave it an almost pudding-like consistency which melted in the mouth. The chocolate was neither overly sweet, nor bitter; A very gentle balance in-between, and very delightfully so. I actually enjoyed the cake a lot, and had at least 5 bites of it before I gave up. Under different circumstances, I would have finished the entire delicacy. That said, for a non-dessert nor cake lover to enjoy this, it was really a very good chocolate cake. 9/10
All in all, this was still a decent meal that was prepared expertly, albeit not very consistently in the case of the steak. It is comforting to know that the ingredients used here are top-notch for the slightly above average price point. There is a lot of potential in becoming a go-to place for burgers and a good night out, but they still need to work out some kinks, like the combinations of the burgers (O mushroom with swiss cheese burger, where art thou??) and the consistency of the steaks. I can’t really speak for myself in terms of service, since this was an invited tasting, but from my observations, the servers were attentive to other patrons, and often responded to others and myself quickly when called for. The great thing is that Beef & Liberty are regularly introducing new seasonal menus, so there is some variety and change, which I’m looking forward to sampling the next time.