I’d heard good things about Almost Famous before I visited their Leeds branch last weekend. The gourmet burger company is a kind of brash American diner that prides itself on its double burgers, saucy wings and loaded fries. The company have three other venues in Manchester and Liverpool, but with Leeds being the newest addition, I thought I’d try it out.
We visited on a Sunday afternoon around 4pm. The plan was to take my mum and her friend out for somewhere nice to eat, as we’d just spent the day shopping. Originally, we hadn’t planned on eating in Leeds but we found ourselves starving after a couple of hours on the high-street and so I racked my brain for anywhere that I thought could be a nice treat. As I said earlier, all I had heard was good things about Almost Famous and considering I was a virgin to the establishment, I thought I’d allow the Leeds joint to pop my Almost Famous cherry.
Walking into the building and up a short flight of stairs, the restaurant opens up into a large dining hall dotted with booths, metal chairs and wooden tables. Graffiti fills the walls as do neon signs and cheesy quotes.
We waited to be seated at the front of the dining area before a waitress came over and put us in a booth in the corner of the room and left. It wasn’t the biggest table in the room but it was manageable. We were sat for a good fifteen minutes before anyone came to take any sort of order from us (there was never a mention of having to order at the bar yourself). We were asked if we were ready to order food, which we were, and so we ordered – alongside our belated drinks order. I ordered a pint of San Miguel which came in at £4.80 but a range of drinks are on available including bottled beer and cider (£4.20-£5), soft drinks (£2.50-£3.50) and wine (£17-£25).
After a short while, we were presented with our food. I ordered the ‘Unfairground’ (£10) which is essentially a double cheeseburger, deep fried bacon, nacho cheese sauce and your other ‘typical’ burger salad and condiments stacked up in a bun and topped with a ball of candy floss (something I really wasn’t expecting). It was a pretty monstrous burger. I had seen bigger before, but this burger was oozing with cheese, sauce and toppings – something that excited me greatly.
I can still taste the burger on my palette as I write this. The first bite was near orgasmic. The way the meat released its juices, the feel of the runny nacho cheese coating your mouth, the almost caramelised shoestring onions – it was enough to make any food-lover weak at the knees. After a while the burger can get a tad sickly, in fact I couldn’t even finish all of mine, but it’s a beautiful process getting to that sickly stage. It may not come as a surprise that I couldn’t manage to stomach the candy floss topping nor could we fit a proper dessert – but we gave one of their boozy milkshakes a go. The weekly special was titled ‘Nutty Bitch’ and was a typical Kinder Bueno, Ferrero Rocher-y type of milkshake finished off with a shot of Baileys – it was enjoyable but nothing more special than I’ve had before.
Unfortunately, though, the quality of the food was shadowed by the service and atmosphere…or lack of it. It seems that Almost Famous is trying to be the cool kid on the block. Naming your cocktails ‘Bitch Juice’ and ‘Big F**k off Strawberry Daiquiri’ doesn’t give me the impression of a cool kid – it gives the impression that a giddy, sugar-filled ten year old has written it thinking he’s the next comedic sensation. It’s the same with the napkins. If you’re going to charge premium for a burger – then make the rest of the experience enjoyable. If I had walked into a greasy spoon and they had set a tube of kitchen roll on their table for me to use, I’d say fair game. But when it’s costing you the same as it would a meal anywhere in Leeds, I think it’s fair to say proper napkins wouldn’t go a miss. Now. I’m not being a miserable dickhead here as some people will think I’m being. I GET that for a burger to be good, you should need about 30 napkins and I GET the edgy, hipster look that that’s trying to be implemented BUT having kitchen roll on the table just gives off a really shitty, unprofessional vibe. Look at all the other burger restaurants in the UK. Do they use a tube of kitchen roll? Of course they don’t! They use napkin dispensers like any other self-respecting restaurant would do.
The cringey cocktail names and terrible table presentation aren’t all that important though. There is something Almost Famous needs to fix before it even attempts to look at anything else and that is their service. I don’t know whether it was an off-day, I don’t know whether the staff were hungover, I don’t know if it was a new-staff training day – but it was not up to scratch. There was literally a handful of tables in on that afternoon, yet I still had some of the slowest service I’ve ever witnessed.
It was like they were not arsed in the slightest, just floating around waiting for someone to tell them what to do. There were even times (before ordering) where my table would be glanced at to then be ignored for another five minutes. Major improvement is needed in this department. I don’t want to take anything away from the food that Almost Famous makes because the burger I had was exquisite. However, the chef should blame his waiter and waitresses if people aren’t as generous with their comments as they could be.
I think I would visit Almost Famous again, but not unless I was in Manchester or Liverpool. The Leeds restaurant has really brought down my expectations of the chain after I was told so many good things. It’s a shame for the Leeds joint, as I can say I have no desire to return any time soon. Lets just hope that the Manchester and Liverpool restaurants are pulling their fair share.
Almost Famous (Leeds) can be found at Alexander Court, Great George St, Leeds LS1 3AL and is open 12pm-10pm daily (11pm on Friday & Saturday). More information, including menus and prices, can be found here – http://www.almostfamousburgers.com/leeds.html#