Having recently indulged in a few really good burgers (from Burger Block, Three One 2 One and billies) my interest was instantly piqued when I read that no less a luminary than Neil Perry (of Rockpool fame) had opened a burger bar in Melbourne. Folklore has it that Burger Project is a spinoff based on the popularity of the Rockpool wagyu burger, but while Rockpool may be able to charge $22 for a burger, a burger bar cannot – even if it’s located in the rather stylish environs of The Aviary, a self-styled ‘collection of restaurants offering a unique Melbourne dining experience’ on the top floor of Melbourne’s latest upmarket retail destination, St. Collins Lane.
So it is that Bilby Blue and I duly arrive at a very new and shiny St. Collins Lane. So new, in fact, that most of the shops are obscured behind hoardings, still finishing their fitout. And in the Aviary, Burger Project sits in lone splendour down one end. There are only a few customers in sight and no queue at the registers – that’s right, no Rockpool table service here, it might be upmarket, but it is still a burger bar.
The menu offers eight beef, three chicken, and a mushroom burger. Beef burgers are cooked to medium, although fine print on the menu indicates that well-done is available on request. The only side dish is chips, with the option of salt, chipotle chilli salt, or Sichuan pepper salt. House-made ice cream is the basis of five desserts and a selection of milk shakes and thick shakes.
Key ingredients are very carefully sourced: beef is from Cape Grim in Tasmania; chicken from Lilydale free range chicken in NSW and SA; chocolate from the renowned French chocolatier Valrhona Chocolate; lettuce from Nadur Gardens in NSW; and even the salt is Murray River salt. Clearly a lot of thought and care has been lavished on these burgers. Does all of this attention to detail produce great burgers?
The answer is a happy ‘yes’, but also a disappointing ‘no’.
The good: Bilby is very happy with The Bacon Project (grass fed beef, loads of bacon, cheese, pickles and secret sauce), with a juicy meat patty, perfectly cooked, and a thick rasher of bacon. My Aussie (grass fed beef, beetroot, cheese, onion, pickles, tomato, lettuce and secret sauce) is also a good burger, the beef patty is perfectly cooked to medium with accompaniments that are fresh, crisp and tasty (see first pic).
We also order a large serve of chips with the chipotle chilli salt. They are fine, with a nice spicy hit from the salt. Other good news: burger prices start at a very reasonable $8.90 and peak at $13.90. You won’t get much for that price at Rockpool.
The disappointing: A Classic (grass fed beef, onion, pickles, tomato, lettuce and secret sauce) that I had a few days earlier on a solo reconnaissance visit, simply wasn’t up to scratch. The accompaniments were fine, but the patty had been overcooked to even beyond well-done. Indeed, it was only Neil Perry’s reputation and the hope that this particular burger was an aberration that led to a second visit. Thankfully my second experience was much improved.
We were also disappointed with the buns. Bilby put it perfectly when she described hers as “insubstantial – extremely light, and rather flavourless”. It is notable that while the key ingredients (beef and chicken) and even the lettuce are from named high-quality suppliers, the supplier of the bread is not mentioned. There is room for improvement here.
We didn’t review any of the desserts because we had indulged in gelato from Limonetto earlier that morning, but in any other circumstance house-made ice cream would definitely be sampled.
OverallA good, quick, quality burger bar, albeit with a bit of room for improvement. A ‘bun-free’ option is available on all of the burgers – served in a bowl with extra lettuce.
There is one curious aspect to the menu – Burger Project burgers are all egg-free. If egg is an indispensable element on your burger, you will have to get your fix elsewhere.