Aussie chefs start a hot cross bunfight

HOP TO IT: Mitchell Davis from the Dolphin Hotel in Surry Hills with his creation.
HOP TO IT: Mitchell Davis from the Dolphin Hotel in Surry Hills with his creation.

The holy trinity of Easter - Jesus, buns and the bunny - will be joined this year by something very different: the hot cross bun burger.

A humorous exchange between two chefs on Instagram, the online photo-sharing service, has spawned a challenge that is being taken up by pubs and bars across Sydney during Easter.

Mitchell Davis, who was head chef at the Landmark Hotel in Eastwood when the 2013 Pub Food Guide included it in its list of top five burgers in the state, says: ''Jamie Thomas of the Drink 'N' Dine group was posting burger images on Instagram and tagging me in them and saying he was coming to get me for the top five burger award.

''We had a bit of banter and I thought, 'Righto, kind sir,' and suggested a challenge. Last year when I was at the Duck Inn Pub & Kitchen [in Chippendale] I did a hot cross bun burger at Easter time. It was a Moroccan chicken burger and we sold a whole stack of them. So I said, 'Well, why not do a Hot Cross Bun Burger Challenge?'

''The rule is basically to come up with a burger that has to be on the menu and sold to the general public over Easter. And, you know, just go nuts with it. It's great; what started off as a gentlemen's bet has spiralled out of control. All sorts of things are being made. My baker is making me bigger hot cross buns just for this.''

Under Davis's eye, The Dolphin Hotel in Surry Hills has come up with the ''Hot Cross Burn'' of Angus beef patty, pork-stuffed battered jalapenos, cheddar and habanero hot sauce, while North Sydney's Commodore Hotel has a Hot Cross Bunny made up of beer-braised rabbit, crumbed portobello mushroom, streaky bacon and a Creole mustard sauce. And finally, The General Gordon in Sydenham is putting on the Hot X General, featuring pulled pork, apple fritter, slaw and harissa mayo.

Thomas, who oversees the menus at The Carrington, The Abercrombie, The Norfolk and The Forresters pubs as well as the Santa Barbara bar in Kings Cross, says: ''I jumped on it. We did one at the Norfolk last year but I always love a challenge and I think this one's in the bag.

''I sent an email to every head chef to come up with an idea that best represents their pub and they've come up with some really good stuff. Adam Cremorne at the Abercrombie has come up with an idea called The Last Supper. It's basically the burger you'd eat if it was your last meal. It's a hot cross bun, double patty, pulled barbecue beef brisket, cheese fondue sauce, deep-fried pickles, lettuce, tomato, mustard and ketchup. It's very unhealthy; a monster of a burger all inside a hot cross bun.''

Ben Varela, head chef at The Blue Gum Hotel in Waitara, says he is looking forward to the challenge: ''We're doing a rabbit version so it'll be a Hot Cross Bunny Burger, a real play on Easter. We're getting our baker to do a custom hot cross bun without too much fruit in it otherwise it could get too overpowering. We're going to make our own rabbit patties and have a bit of a Moroccan date thing going on. And team it with a chipotle mayo.''

Over at Davis's old stomping ground, the Duck Inn Pub & Kitchen, they're going the lamb route. Owner Ben Kirkman says: ''We'll be doing a lamb and harissa aioli burger on a hot cross bun. We're using normal hot cross buns but we'll be hand-making the patty with a bit of mint in the relish.''

Of course, all this begs the question: how do you know who's won?

Davis says with a laugh that he's at a loss on that one: ''I dunno. You can't tell by sales because some pubs are just naturally busier than others. Unless someone comes round and eats at them all?''

Ben Varela at the Blue Gum laughingly suggests a pub crawl: ''Go round to each other's pubs and have a taste?''

Thomas, too, is at a loss: ''Winner? My burger's better than your burger? Maybe we could put them up on Instagram or Twitter or something and do it that way and let the public decide.''

The hot cross bun burgers will all be posted on Instagram under the #hotxchallenge tag.

-Sydney Morning Herald