Burger Project preview

Author: Maggie Scardifield
Photography: Nick Cubbin

"Greasy, cheesy and sweet - that's what I don't want it to be," says Neil Perry. "I want it to be more like the burgers that I ate when I was a kid. They were all corner-shop or milk-bar burgers, grilled fresh, with a nicely toasted bun."

Last night, two hundred lucky Gourmet Traveller readers were given an exclusive preview of Perry's vision at his latest offering, Burger Project. The first of a planned string of stores, it opens today at World Square in Sydney. Perry and his team are calling its core offering "the people's burger" - a combination of grass-fed Cape Grim beef chuck and brisket (ground fresh in-house), with onion, tomato, lettuce, house-made pickles, and (if you're game) cheese and bacon.

Alongside the classic burgers, Perry's menu also spans a banh mi-inspired chicken number, hot wings, a grilled confit mushroom burger and, for the gluten-free folk, a burger in a bowl with extra lettuce.

Perry says the essence of the Project is showing that even at a very reasonable price-point (the standard burger is $7.90), "fabulous ingredients" play their part. "I want people to have a lovely, really long length of flavour that's very clean, juicy and delicious."

The other thing Perry has brought to the burger game is spice. It's best savoured in the spiced pork belly burger (a nod to Spice Temple's famed bar burger), the Korean beef burger with kim-chi and gochujang, or a side of triple-cooked fries with Sichuan salt.

"I think that chilli is second nature in Australia," says Perry. "Because we're so multicultural, I've eaten Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Thai food my whole life. That beautiful blend of Asian flavours - that's the Australian flavour to me."

To be in the running for last night's preview, GT readers were asked to share their best burger experience in 25 words. "There's not really anything else like this that's nice but still has a casual vibe," said reader Stephanie Macfarlane. "The menu is really reasonably priced as well, considering who's on the grills. It's been a really good, fun experience."

The official opening is today at 11am, with Perry back on the tongs, cranking out burgers until 10pm, seven days a week up until Christmas Day. With more surprises in store, including talk of secret off-menu items and Negroni slushies, it looks like he's onto a winning formula.

The Food Competition winners were treated to their choice of burger, side, drink and dessert. Your GT correspondents went with a double (two beef patties, cheese, onion, pickles, tomato, lettuce and secret sauce); the Vietnamese-inspired spicy chicken (grilled free-range chicken, salted chilli, pickles, pickled slaw, lettuce, coriander, soy and mayo); and the spicy pork belly (crisp free-range pork belly, salted chilli, pickles, pickled slaw and lettuce). Other options include hot dogs (your choice of pork or chicken sausages), crisp hot wings and, for something sweet to finish, a choice of house-made ice-creams such as Valrhona chocolate or salted dulce de leche.

The Drinks  For us it was Rockpool New World Pilsners all round. It's an all-natural pilsner brewed for the Rockpool group. Our fellow diners had good things to say about the house-made sodas and the chocolate shakes.

We Loved  The chips. Triple-cooking can sometimes make for all crunch and no savour, but these examples - skin-on, golden and lovely - were an exception. The blood orange and passionfruit sorbet also provided the perfect after-burger palate-cleanser.

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