Three stylish but casual premium-burger chains are challenging fast-food competitors with better bread and meat that goes beyond beef to free-range chicken or lamb. These 21st century joints prepare their own patties, grill them while you wait, and serve them on fresh rolls with a side of chunky homemade fries. You can even top off your meal with an American-style milkshake. The bill, starting at $5, makes these restaurants a bargain by London standards.
Shoppers and playgoers in the West End can drop into one of Hamburger Union's hip and trendy outlets—on Dean Street or Garrick Street—or north Londoners can grab a quick bite at a third on Upper Street in Islington. These newcomers are challenging GBK's dominance with Scottish, grass-fed, additive-free beef. For Atkins dieters who still want to indulge, the chefs will omit the bun, but carbo-loaders can feast on the "proper chips, never frozen." You can also get the vegetarian options, milkshakes and wine that GBK pioneered, and with speedy service. Lovers of burger kitsch will be glad to see the traditional tomato-shaped ketchup bottles adorning every table.
The newest kid on the premium-burger block is Real Burger World. Its family-friendly places, on Lavender Hill in Clapham and North End Road in southwest London's Fulham, opened in 2003 and 2005. Their specialties are handmade beef, lamb and chicken burgers infused with Indian or Thai spices, or mint, accompanied by potato-skin fries, and shakes made with fresh chocolate, strawberries or bananas. But don't ask for bacon on that burger or for alcoholic bevvies—Muslim co-owner Naz Choudhury prepares the food according to halal standards.