Are we nearing the McDonald’s singularity? Where high-end fast food increasingly becomes indistinguishable from its low-rent cousins?
While many commentators have been quick to point out similarities between Melbourne’s increasingly numerous high-end burger joints and USA based chain “Shake Shack”, having never visited a Shake Shack to me it all seems very McDonald’s.
Maybe I’m just uncultured… but walking into brightly-lit Royal Stacks in Melbourne’s CBD to be greeted by a board offering Frozen Custard “Concrete Mixers”, where flavoured custard is blended with brand name sweets such as Reese’s Pieces or M&Ms, it’s hard to draw any other comparisons.
This CBD burger bar comes from Melbourne burger stalwart Dani Zeini, and is one of two Royal Stacks restaurants; the other being on Sydney Road in Brunswick. Zeini also had a hand in other mod-decadent burger places such as Grand Park Taverna, Motorhome Majestic, Easy’s, and Truck Stop Deluxe. Having in the past been fairly indifferent to both Easy’s and Motorhome Majestic I was tentatively curious about the offerings here.
The burger options are varied without being too overwhelming. All beef – with one vegetarian exception, they range in price from $8.90 to $13.90. Sides are even more straightforward and in the form of fries or potato gems, with optional cheese sauce.
In addition to grown-up shakes, beer and wine is available. The beer goes from Coors “Larger” (sic) to local favourite, Mornington Peninsula IPA. While wine is either red or white from Beattie. Beattie offer plastic 150ml “by the glass” offerings usually reserved for picnickers but equally at home here.
We began with the Prince Harry, which features a horseradish, shallot and gherkin mayo; and the Saint, which features two patties, bacon, chipotle mayo, and jalapeno. My guest and I were also pretty boring and opted for the same beer, Mornington Peninsula Sorachi Kolsch.
The Prince Harry, while small, wasn’t lacking in flavour and the horseradish-rich mayo set everything off and giving an almost decadent feel. While the Saint was a pretty much perfect combination of salty bacon, spice, and sharp raw-onion. The patties weren’t overwhelmed by the condiments and everything worked together while letting the beef shine through. The fries were generous and crisp – and knowing there was sugar in our future, we left the cheese sauce off on this visit.
For dessert we tried the Frozen Custards. Strawberry with M&Ms, and Peanut Butter with Oreos. Both were very sweet but texturally lovely. They are all hand-churned on-site daily and quality shined through under the candy-sweetness. On the day, the Peanut Butter won out for the slight saltiness that kept everything in balance. While we’d had our fill of burgers and beer, we greedily finished both (well I did, my +1 let me take care of hers too).
I couldn’t put my finger on why I enjoyed this more than my visit to Motorhome Majestic, whether the burgers were better, or the more low-key vibe helped me settle in, or maybe I was just in a bad mood that day. As a result, a revisit of Motorhome is probably in-order in the near future.
And in summary, yes, the McDonald’s singularity feels to be inching ever closer, but I don’t think that’s ultimately a bad thing. Almost daily I walk past a similar Shake Shake-influenced place in the form of 8Bit (Footscray) and see families chatting and smiling over fatty burgers and insanely decadent milkshakes. The quality is much higher than McDonald’s and that comes through in every way. Royal Stacks lets quality produce drive everything even when it’s slathered in mayo or dotted with M&Ms.
And when you take out all the bad from McDonald’s I’m sure most readers have fond memories of visits as a kid. Instead in 2016 you can take your kids along to a place that’s equally as fun, but of much higher quality and have a beer at the same time. Or you can just take yourself along and be a big kid all over again.
Contact: Royal Stacks – 470 Collins Street, CBD, Melbourne, VIC + 800 Sydney Road, Brunswick, Melbourne, VIC. Website.
Find Luke from AleOfATime at http://aleofatime.com where he spouts his knowledge as the guru of Australian (but mostly Victorian) craft beer. I have learnt everything I know from listening to his podcast – which you need to iTunes right now. Also Twitter and Facebook.