It's a bunfight
On any given Friday or Saturday, Lan Kwai Fong is carpeted with drinkers, the smarter among them eating something pre-pint, while others turn to a midnight snack. Bread is unscientifically recommended as a way of soaking up any alcohol that hasn't already made it into the bloodstream, and in answer to that call, LKF's burger scene has long flourished.
The rolling turnover of burger joints that includes the recent demise of Atomic Burger has left two worthy of mention: Sidewalk, on Wing Wah Lane, and Gourmet Burger Union, below Hotel LKF by Rhombus on Wyndham Street.
To get to Sidewalk, formerly known as Cul de Sac, run the gauntlet of the restaurant touts waving menus, one of whom will be the infamous Elvis, who has been working this lane, shaking hands and flashing his infectious smile, since 2000. He has gone into business with Cul de Sac owner Canadian Neil Norman and Benjamin Fernandes, the previous manager of Indochine 1929, to run the renamed joint.
Sidewalk serves up the Philly cheese steaks and poutine (a French-Canadian dish of fries, gravy and cheese curds) for which Cul de Sac was long renowned. Its burger menu is a simple list of beef, lamb, chicken, fish or veggie for a rather hefty HK$78 each. The service is prompt and friendly, and the beef burger I order arrives looking as if it might justify the price tag. Served in a basket lined with paper, the burger's layers of lettuce, red onion, tomato and two large strips of gherkin are topped with the New Zealand beef patty, which is thin but fills the sesame-sprinkled, mild mustard coated bun. It doesn't have that home-made feel, but it's hot and tasty, and there's ketchup and spicy sauce on the table. Watch out for the watery juice that drips out as you eat - perhaps from well-washed, but not so well-drained, lettuce?
The poutine is served in a plastic dish, forks sticking up out of the gloop. This is extreme comfort food, even if you're not from Canada, and the curdy cheese turns to challenging strings as you lift a gravy-covered chip. The gravy tastes a bit as if it comes from the British packet mix Bisto, but the combination hits the spot.
What sets Sidewalk apart is its location. The small outlet has bar seating for those who want to eat inside, where a few lonely disco lights play on the ceiling. But outside, the high tables in the lane are perfect for people-watching. As the night wears on, its fun to watch increasingly inebriated punters walk up the hill from D'Aguilar Street. Our recommendation - sit on the uphill side of the tables, and not too close to the Middle Eastern restaurant next door, as there's something of a cacophonous play-off going on between the two restaurant's tunes.
Gourmet Burger Union doesn't have the luxury of outside seating, but perhaps that's not a bad thing, given the weekend chaos on Wyndham Street. Its high wooden tables and high stools may challenge those customers who are a little unsteady on their feet, and although the interior feels rather confining, it's appealingly rustic. The service is friendly but a tad offhand; the young waiting staff seem to know their stuff.
The menu lists starters (which include salads and chilli as well as its Half-Half of chips and onion rings), hot dogs, and its signature seriously gourmet burgers. The classic GBU Kick Ass of 100 per cent grass-fed New Zealand Angus Beef, yellow American cheese, tomato, lettuce and GBU sauce (HK$58) is one of about 15 burgers that also include the more exotic Double Truffle featuring truffle cream, gruyere, caramelised onions and rocket (HK$78), and the Bondi of chicken, avocado, lettuce and aioli (HK$78).
The Kick Ass is much cheaper than Sidewalk's beefburger, but also much smaller. Despite being stabbed through the middle with a skewer - which you have to pull out to eat - somehow this burger doesn't seem to hold together as well as Sidewalk's. The last few bites are a juggling game.
It's comforting to be told that the beef is grass-fed, but the small, thin patty, while tasty, doesn't have that handmade feel and comes on a thick bed of lettuce, with one slice of tomato, and is smothered in a lava flow of yellow cheese. The GBU sauce, a creamy mix of mayonnaise with two kinds of mustard and pickles, is what makes this burger delicious.
The poutine is served in a circular disposable bowl, forcing the hot chips to stick up out of the sea of gravy and cheese, and retain a gratifying crunchiness.
The verdict: the sauce in the Kick Ass burger is genius. Very moreish, it lifts the small, good value sandwich almost into the big league, but the restaurant suffers from all but the outside table being hidden away from the pavement. Sidewalk's location beats Gourmet Burger Union's, meaning you don't have to miss out on the action just because you need a snack, but the selection is humdrum by comparison.
17 Wing Wah Lane, Tel: 2525 8116
Mon - Thur 11am - 4am, Fri and Sat 11am - 6am, Sun 11am - 4am.
Gourmet Burger Union
41 Wyndham Street, Tel: 2525 2028
Mon - Wed 12pm-4am, Thur - Sat 12pm - 6am, Sun 12pm - 12am.