The return of the burger athlete

Like anything that you have done to excess, eventually something that you love becomes something that makes you shudder in fear.

Last year, when I achieved the unique personal milestone of eating 25 burgers in 15 days for Burger Wellington, as part of Wellington On A Plate, I honestly felt like I had been allowed to choose the method of my own demise. That it did not actually kill me was probably due to the fact that a) I ate with people I like (and thus didn't feel the scorn that is reserved for the solo burger-eating fat man), b) I didn't eat all the chips, and c) I ramped up my swimming regime. Still, I wouldn't advise it.

And still, several people asked me, "are you doing the burger challenge this year?", like I'm now the "go to" burger guy. Um, no. I'm not. Or - I wasn't going to. It kinda ruined WOAP for me, an event I would otherwise enjoy. Last year the only thing I really did, apart from eat burgers, was go to The Larder Parks Up At The Garage Project, which, to be fair, was one of the greatest meals of my life, so I didn't feel too hard done by.

And then, with a very gentle twist of the arm, I was having something to do with Burger Wellington again. I won't tell you exactly what just yet, but let's just say there was beer bribery involved. And then, suddenly, I had to start thinking about being a burger athlete again. I felt like Welsh winger Shane Williams, beckoned from retirement to join the touring British and Irish Lion squad in Australia. "I thought I was out, but they pulled me back in." Holy moley.

I did have the sobering death from a heart attack of one of my favourite actors, James Gandolfini, better known as Tony Soprano, to remind me that having too much of a good thing was no good for you at all (all that ziti, all those cannoli... I have always viewed myself as broadly a cross between Tony Soprano and David Brent). But then I got the equally sobering news that True Bliss were re-forming, so, you know - I just thought bugger it.

Anyway, the schedule I have agreed to looks to be infinitely less arduous, so I'm pretty sure I will still be able to cut it in the burger stakes. I thought I'd better do a bit of training, anyway - be prepared, and all that. Unfortunately, as we are carless (after getting rear-ended by an uninsured little twerp on Adelaide Road, and the car being written off - thanks for that, dude, in the coldest, wettest week of the year), I must restrict burger training to that which is walkable from home or work. Which means no trips to see Burger Mike at Ekim in Lyall Bay (who did well not to get blown away by last week's storm).

And then my buddy Sam posed the question on Facebook the other night: "Is there a burger place in the city that is actually good?" And, apart from Mike, I couldn't actually think of a satisfactory answer. Yup, despite the fact than in less than two months, the city will be ablaze with sizzling meat, when it's not Burger Wellington time I reckon burger options in the city are a bit thin.

I have desperately tried to like Burger Fuel, but find that they always seem to overpromise and underdeliver. (Plus, I got a promo email from them this week, with a Game of Thrones theme, which was rife with grammatical errors - "who's" in place of "whose" - very distressing, though when I pointed this out to their comms people, they did offer to send me out a voucher, which I thought was pretty good - I will try again.)

Someone in the thread suggested that Prefab did a pretty good burger, and as I like Prefab, and especially their bread, I thought I would give it a go on one of those cold, carb-craving days last week. So, bracing myself for the weather, I rugged up and trudged round there, a burger to eat.

I briefly considered soup, but was easily dissuaded when I learned it was something lamb-y. Burger. Yes. Let's.

Prefab burger and hand-cut chips, $15. Not that cheap, but not that expensive either - Burger Fuel will set you back about the same, easy. What am I looking for? Same as I was looking for during Burger Wellington last year - succulent, juicy, tasty grilled meat, a great supporting bun, delicious sauces and some fresh, tasty fillings - and just a hint of something tart and vinegary as counterpoint to all the richness.

When it arrives, I am pleasantly surprised - it looks hefty and hearty, and there is a generous complement of well-salted chunky chips. There is also a side disc with some of Prefab's impeccable house-made tomato sauce. The bun is square, which freaks me out more than it should - in my mind, a burger is round, like a wheel. I lift the lid and peer at its contents - a cos lettuce leaf, a slice of tomato, some beetroot and a ring of raw red onion, and a slather of mayo, (or perhaps aioli?). Generous. No cheese, but I'm OK with this. That would, then, be a cheeseburger, which is something else entirely...

I slice it through the middle and am met by a generous slosh of "burger juice" (a concept I invented last year to describe that which emerges from a burger when you moosh it all together. And I taste.

Excellent bread - it keeps all the fillings in nicely. And all the other ingredients combine well - there is just a nice amount of wetness, and the beetroot gives a vinegary bite (that I augment with some of the excellent tomato sauce). I give the patty a little extra salt (still better to under-season than over) - I could go it a little pinker, but I know a lot of people would not. It tastes good - meaty, charry. It tastes like a burger should.

It is a very good burger. One of the better ones on a regular café menu about town. And still, I am surprised by how few great burger options there are in the capital.

But not for too much longer. This burger athlete is back in training. I'm coming for you.

You have been warned...

Anyone else psyched for Burger Wellington and Wellington On A Plate? Which burgers are you liking the sound of? And - the best burger in Wellington, or in your town?

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