How does the newest kid on the block stack up against the famous Shake Shack? Read more…
7 | 1.5 | 2 | 2
- Foundations of a good burger
- Super crunchy fries*
- Massive hype
- Long lines
- Poor processes that lead to long wait times and inconsistent quality
- Cheeseburger (no bacon)
TL;DR – The burgers at Jacks Newtown are not worth the hour long wait but then again, not many dishes in the world are. Nor are the burgers “Shake Shacky”. What they are, however, are good burgers with a good foundation, plagued with the usual launch quality and operational issues. A walk-don’t-run proposition, either go early or late, or wait a few months for the hype and the lines to die down.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu.
Let’s cut to the chase. The answer to the question that everyone came here to find – Is Jacks Newtown anywhere near as good as Shake Shack?
Short answer, no.
Long answer, no…but does it matter?
Most bloggers and food writers (Good Food Guide included) compare Jacks Newtown with Shake Shack, yet haven’t even had Shake Shack before. Which is akin to asking a blind person to describe their favourite colour to you.
Looks can be deceiving. You wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, why would you judge a burger by its bun.
Shake Shack on the left, Jacks Newtown on the right.
While inspired by Shake Shack, what they don’t realise is that Jacks Newtown is actually not similar to Shake Shack at all. Yes the menu is similar, and yes they both use potato buns, but saying that Jacks Newtown is “Shake Shacky” is like saying that the Whopper is “Shake Shacky” because it has beef, tomato and lettuce. If you have read my Shake Shack review, you’d realise that Jacks’ patty is thicker and tastes different, the sauce is different, the burger is constructed differently (veggies on the bottom as opposed to the top but more on that later). All this results in a burger that tastes as close to Shake Shack as it does a Whopper.
The question everyone should be asking is how does Jacks Newtown stack up against Mister Gee, Mary’s, Bar Luca and other burgers of Sydney. And in that regard, it stacks up well, but mostly due to weak competition. There are good burgers in Sydney, but no one is making great burgers.
So Jacks Newtown is not the best burger in Sydney, it’s not Sydney’s answer to Shake Shack and it definitely doesn’t justify the long daily queues. What it is though is the first of many steps. One of many steps on the journey of Sydney’s first great burger. But the journey is long and arduous. And by the time Sydney gets there, we may as well have waited for Shake Shack to hit our shores.
Cheeseburger – $10 (7/10)
The biggest problem with the Cheeseburger is balance, which is the hardest thing to achieve, whether it be a burger or a piece of sushi.
Yes you can have all the right ingredients; potato bun, that has mashed potato as a partial replacement for flour in the dough to achieve a softer and airier bun; beef patty, developed with the famous Vic’s Meat to create a specialised patty with the perfect 80:20 meat-to-fat ratio. But without each component in the right proportion and a sauce that ties it all together, the burger lacks harmony and cohesiveness.
Because there was not enough sauce, and because the patty was too thick, all you could really taste was the beef patty. Not that it tasted bad, it just didn’t taste like a burger.
Onto the positives though. The potato bun is a step in the right direction for the Sydney burger scene, and were as “Shake Shacky” as Jacks Newtown was ever going to get. Not only was the beef patty the perfect meat-to-fat ratio, but it was also cooked well, resulting in a crispy char on the outside that helped contain the intensely meaty juices inside. Some may prefer a bit more seasoning but with a patty of this quality, my preference is for the natural beef flavour shine through. After all, extra flavour is what the sauce is for.
Bacon Cheeseburger – $12 (5.5/10)
As many people know, I have defiantly held my stance against bacon in burgers. But before you grab your pitchforks, I believe bacon doesn’t belong in burgers not because I have anything against bacon. It’s because I believe the core burger (this case, the Cheeseburger) should be an amazing marriage of bun, meat and sauce; a balance that is so perfect that adding or removing an ingredient will only ruin the burger.
If you need to add bacon to your burger, you’re basically admitting that your core burger lacks flavour. And if that’s not the case, then adding bacon simply throws off the whole balance of the burger, making it excessively salty.
Having said that, regardless of my thoughts on bacon, even the most die-hard bacon fans (which apparently is basically everybody) should steer clear of the Bacon Cheeseburger. The bacon was chewy to the point where it would be wise to just take it out of the burger and eat separately.
Burger Construction 101.
Not many of you may know, but there is a much debated art of Burger Construction. Perhaps as debated as the correct way to hang toilet paper (obviously you hang it over, not under). These Burger Constructors believe that by stacking your burger a certain way, you can tame the rogue condiments and escaping vegetables, and enhance the flavour of your burger.
General consensus, myself included, is that lettuce and tomato should go above the meat and cheese. It’s why they are called toppings and not bottomings. There are a few advantages to this –
- By putting the sauce on the bottom with the meat, the meat juices combine with the sauce, which is the reason we all love burgers in the first place.
- With the patty on the bottom, it’s the first thing that hits your tongue and as a result the first thing you taste.
- Lettuce should never come in contact with the patty or cheese. The heat will make the lettuce wilt and it will lose its crunchy texture.
There are benefits on having your “toppings” below the patty though –
- If the patty is juicy, putting lettuce below it can prevent the bun from getting soggy. Having said that, a good toasted bun will prevent this from happening anyway
- The most likely reason though is that it speeds up the process. If Jacks Newtown can put all the toppings on the bun while the patty is cooking then slap it all together, they can pump burgers out to you a few minutes sooner than if they have to carefully place the toppings on top of the cooked patty.
Fries – $5 (7.5/10)
I like these Fries. I am not saying they are good fries (in a technical sense, they are sorta terrible). Nor am I saying you will like them. I just like these fries.
Traditionally, I’ve never liked crinkle cut fries, with the only exception being Shake Shack fries. However, these fries have been crinkle cut in a way that adds a whole new dimension of texture. Also with most fries, you’ll get around 80% potato-ey (fluffy) fries and 20% crunchy chip “shrapnel”. However Jacks’ fries were the complete opposite – 20% fluffy, 80% crunchy.
One box of crunchy chip “shrapnel” please.
So overall, I like these fries. In case you were wondering, yes I’m that guy who scrounges around the bottom of the fries container for the crunchiest fries. But like the meat in the burger, this may be a case of too much of a good thing. I loved the crunch of the first few fries, but after making it halfway through, I started questioning my chip preferences and beliefs.
I’m not entirely sure if the chips were just over fried, or the crunch was their intent, but without anything to wash it down (more on the drinks below), these got dry real quick.
At this stage, they are seasoned mildly with salt but Jacks Newton has said that they want to eventually serve their burger “secret sauce” over the fries with a cheese sauce, a hybrid of the In-N-Out and Shake Shack approach, which will be a welcome addition.
That 2 hour wait. Photo credit – Jacks Newtown Instagram
Some closing thoughts and an alternate perspective on some of criticism of Jacks Newtown.
Yes, there’s no denying that the wait is long. But really you have no one to blame but yourself. You didn’t have to go in its opening month, after it blew up on social media. Yes some of the excessive queues are due to poor processes, but that should only take a small portion of the blame. If you’re judging the quality of a burger itself, it is unfair to take into account the wait.
Having said that, if you’re evaluating whether these burgers are worth the hour long wait, probably not. Not many places in the world are worth that wait. But if you must, go early or late. Don’t go smack bang in the middle of peak period.
Note – Our wait in the queue was made longer, when they realised they lost our order. This was rectified quickly though.
Running out of food
Again, reinforcing that “they have only been open for a couple of weeks”, naturally they are going to run out of food. When I went, they were out of the Veg Burger and the Frozen Custard Shakes.
Buns were cold
The underlying problem here is that they batch make their burgers, which I completely understand. It’s the quickest and most efficient way to make burgers. They prepare all the buns in one go, put all the patties into the bun in one go, and then distribute them after that. What this means though is that if you are at the end of a batch, you will most definitely get a cold bun.
Whether this process changes as their capacity meets demand, time will only tell. Processes naturally improve over time so even if the process doesn’t change, at the very least, less burgers will be cold.
The burgers are small
Yes they absolutely are, and that’s how burgers are meant to be. Australian burgers are big only because we have no idea what a burger is. We put beetroot, fried egg, and everything under the sun then sandwich it a bun that is actually as big as the sun.
Drinks are sorta hopeless
The Sodas, from The Soda Press Co, are beyond terrible even if they are designed to have 30-50% less sugar than soft drinks. I mean what’s the point of 30-50% less sugar if it comes at a cost of 80% taste.
Being able to catch a Frozen Custard Shake is like catching the Yeti, the Abominable Snowman. You hear about its mythical existence, but you have to see it in person for yourself. Of the friends that have been, I only know one time where they had Frozen Custard Shakes available. From what I know, one of the flavours is Choc-Hazelnut.
Follow the neon lights. Photo credit – Jacks Newtown Instagram
Jacks does a lot of things right. But the biggest thing it did wrong was get itself compared to Shake Shack.
So fellow foodies, how was your experience at Jacks Newtown, and what’s your favourite burger in Sydney?