Hype’s a pretty strange thing. You can get whipped up into frenzy over something and, whilst riding the wave of hype, get completely blindsided to the truth of the matter. Take Star Wars Episode 1 for example. There was such a storm around it at the time that it was only years later, once the dust had settled, that critics secretly revised their 10/10 reviews to correctly reflect what an absolute pile of shite it was.
Two comparative examples of hype I can think of in the Berlin burger scene are the way visitors and residents of our fair city alike will know (not think) that The Bird’s the best burger place in Berlin without ever having eaten there. This kind of hype has been borne out of serving really good burgers for nearly 10 years. It’s a well-earned reputation. The next example is the explosive, Justin Bieber hype that BBI receives, culminating in it being named one of the top 10 burgers in the world.
I’m flying solo on this burger reviewing mission (although Phil has already eaten there) and the hardest thing for me in writing this is trying to distance myself from the hype and see the burger for what it is, regardless of how hip it is. Although I am quickly realising that if anyone reading this article just wants to know where to get a good burger in Berlin, these last three paragraphs have been completely useless. Well, fasten your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen.
Walking down Pannierstraße at about midday, I pass a completely empty BBI. No queues. Nothing. But… I just wasn’t hungry enough to eat. I came back an hour later and half of Berlin was queuing up for lunch. Hey, it’s part of the BBI experience! I joined the queue.
Once inside what BBI affectionately call their ‘tree house’, a room no bigger than your average photoautomat, the first thing you notice is the grill and the cooking patties (being expertly nurtured by the chef). These patties are the colour of real meat. The 190 grams of beef are pressed quite thin and become huge, bigger than the chef’s hands. If I wasn’t hungry before, I certainly was now.
I ordered a cheeseburger and was pleasantly surprised to find that it already came with bacon. You can, of course, add more bacon if you wish. I was told there’d be a 30min wait on the burger.
Along with the queuing and the anticipation, there’s a real sense of fun in BBI. The guys working there really seem to enjoy themselves and make an effort to make sure everyone else is having a good time. One dude in particular was a riot, squawking chicken noises every time someone ordered a chicken burger and rapping down the microphone.
The 30mins passed quickly and I heard something resembling my name booming over the PA system so went to collect my chilli-cheese burger. Wait a minute, wasn’t that a cheeseburger? No, I was quickly corrected by the staff, I’d ordered a chilli-cheese burger. I hadn’t but, thinking that jalapenos make everything better, I didn’t argue.
The burger’s massive, and attractive, and kind of makes you question whether or not you’re hungry enough to eat it all or just go home now. That flat, wide patty has a bun just as wide to hold it all together and the complete burger is taller than most dogs in Berlin. With effort, I picked it up and took a bite.
Now, after watching that delicious burger grilling and the careful way the chef layered garlic oil, then chilli flakes, then the cheese, and then the jalapenos on top, I was really looking forward to tasting that beef. What I tasted from my first bite was heat from the chilli, a mouthful of rocket leaves, and smatterings of the salsa and BBQ sauce they piled on top of it. I could hardly register the beef.
Perhaps it’s a response to the perception that burgers are ‘junk food’ and unhealthy, but putting two handfuls of whatever lettuce leaves are currently in vogue into the burger makes the burger both unstable and taste like peppery leaves. Sure, the towering burger looks impressive but if iceberg was good enough for the high society aboard the Titanic, it’s good enough for me.
When we first started writing this burger guide, we referenced a golden ratio for a burger where all flavours and textures are balanced and they all deserve their place within the burger. BBI’s ‘let’s put everything inside the burger’ approach means you never really get to taste what the individual components actually taste like. The thing that suffers the most from this is the beef patty – I never got to taste it. Maybe they need to turn their attention back to what’s important about the burger.
The waiting time also poses a strange question: does the slow food movement really apply to burgers? It’s fast food. Check out Tommi’s Burger Joint’s flame griller, which can perfectly cook a thick Angus beef patty in minutes, compared to the 40 minute wait for dramatically thinner burger at BBI. And, who ever heard of a slow-cooked beef burger?
BBI can’t be blamed for the hype that’s bestowed upon it and, all that aside, BBI does an alright burger if you’ve got an hour to kill. Best in the world? Best in Neukölln?
BLY’s top tips for eating at BBI (Berlin Burger International)
- To avoid queuing, pick a time when no one else in Berlin is thinking about eating. Perhaps five minutes before they open on a Tuesday morning.
- Play a little Super Mario on the NES whilst you wait for your burger to cook.
- Try to picture what your name will sound like shouted through a muffled PA system so you’ll know when your burger’s ready (e.g. Jimmy will become ‘Bhhmmaah’).
Andy says: “Behind the hype BBI’s a decent burger joint. It’s got its own style, but it’s not my style.”
Phil says: “BBI is fun when you are drunk, have a fresh beer and time to wait. Unfortunately the burger is more a salad sandwich than a burger. My advice for BBI: more real thick beef, less salad.”
Berlin Loves You Rating: 6.5/10
This review is part of our series on Berlin’s best burger joints. Read our opinion on what makes a good burger.
Berlin Burger International