Attention India: Burger King has landed, but why is the whopper so wimpy?

Oh my god, say it isn’t true! Is Burger King really opening in Delhi? Are we the chosen ones? If you visited any food group over the last few weeks, this is all you’d hear. Wild exultations and salivations over Burger King’s Delhi debut. I did know that there’d be a mad rush as it opened. In Delhi, despite having a plethora of well-known food brands from Yauatcha to Au Bon Pain to Johny Rockets, we still love flocking to the holy American foodland. This is the only country where Quiznos is treated as gourmet fare. It’s almost like a hangover of the late eighties and early nineties, when there were no foreign restaurant outlets in India and the arrival of a McDonald’s or KFC seemed like a divine event.

Now, just for the record, though I consider myself to have a fairly open mind when it comes to food, I have an aesthetic aversion to Big Chain Food. I think stand-alone restaurants make better food, there’s more care taken and food isn’t prepared for sale and just kept lying around. At least there’s an illusion that the food is freshly cooked. The fact that Burger King had decided to not serve beef/buffalo in India was also upsetting. But I understand that after investing crores in bringing a restaurant chain to India, you don’t want some right-wing loonies to come and vandalise your restaurant outlets.

 Attention India: Burger King has landed, but why is the whopper so wimpy?

Mutton Whopper at the Burger King outlet in Delhi. Image courtesy: Rajyasree Sen

The first outlet of Burger King in India has opened at the tony Select Citywalk mall, which on any weekend resembles Calcutta’s Howrah Station with air conditioning and less poverty. I had no interest in going there on Day One, because on a normal weekend Select Citywalk is jam-packed and I could well imagine the seemingly burger-deprived denizens of Delhi thronging the mall on Burger King’s opening day. After all, what’s the point of eating at Burger King, if it isn’t on the first day it opens its shutters? So I ventured there on a Wednesday at 11:30 AM for my midday meal. The good news, there were no queues to tackle although the restaurant was already half-full. And there were full-grown adults wearing paper crowns and eating their burgers like a scene from a Alice’s Adventures in Fast-Food Wonderland.

The restaurant is done up in red – which seems to be the go-to colour for all QSRs (also known as quick service restaurants in industry parlance). If you’d been brought in blind-folded and all the branding was removed, when you opened your eyes you wouldn’t know whether you were in Pizza Hut or McDonald’s or All American Diner. The same granite-topped, steel-legged tables, the same rexine-covered sofas.

After gawking at the crowned ones, we made our way to the counter weaving through various servers, who are very friendly and very eager and two or three people who were swabbing the floor occasionally with tall mops.

I decided to try the Mutton Whopper, which everyone’s been talking about. The regular Mutton Whopper meal (Rs 219) comes with fries and a Pepsi. I asked for a Diet Pepsi instead of a normal one, because what better way way to balance a healthy processed food meal than by downing some carbonated aspartame? Now listen up, for here is an important finding – there’s a medium and a king-sized version. But the burger patty size remains the same. Only the fries and Pepsi expand or contract. But Johny Rockets – another US chain – has the same price range as Burger King and their burger patty is amazing – soft, succulent and a real whopper.

My friend ordered the Chicken Whopper without the add-ons (Rs 119). We also ordered the Chicken Chilli Cheezos. Four pieces for Rs 69. And an Orange Freeze Ice Bolt (Rs 25) which I couldn’t bring myself to taste because it looked like crushed ice soaked in Mirinda. Since neither of us thought we’d be back for a while, my friend also ordered the Chicken Tandoor Grilled Burger (Rs 129) and I ordered the Fiery Onion Rings (Rs 39 for 4 rings).

We were served at super-sonic speed. Maybe 5 minutes at the most. While sitting there and taking pictures of the food – as you’re supposed to whenever you go out – I noticed the cross-section of people Burger King is attracting. There were some Delhi society aunties in stilettos and carrying their Louis Vuitton bags. There were a couple of college students. A girl sitting alone and eating her burger. Three to four young men huddling over the paper menu. Two men in suits. Quite a cross-section.

Now to the actual food. The Mutton Whopper is not a whopper from any angle. I’ve eaten Nirula’s lamb burger in its heyday, and that’s what you call a whopper. I won’t even compare it to restaurants like Café Delhi Heights or Monkey Bar which have quarter-pounder burgers, because those burgers are at least 300 bucks more expensive. But this was really disappointing. What makes a burger memorable is its patty. It should be fat and soft, with the texture of the meat/ chicken/ fish coming through. The patty in this one seemed malnutritioned and didn’t even cover the entire bun. It was very mealy and had no real meat texture or flavour. It came with some stray bits of gherkins, sliced tomatoes and lettuce with mayo. And the bane of my existence - raw onions. Can someone please give us caramelised onions?

The Tandoor Grilled Chicken Burger was the best of the lot, because it was essentially two chicken tikkas in a bun with onions and pudina chutney. All the patties, because they’re barbecued or flame grilled, are slightly burnt at the edges. The Chicken Chili Cheezos were essentially chicken nuggets with a nice cheesy chicken filling and not half-bad. The Fiery Onion Rings were neither fiery nor made of whole onions. Instead they were made up of mashed up onion and cheese. A little like fried baby food.

What was impressive though was that when my friend went back to order his second burger, the person at the counter remembered him by face and recalled his earlier order and asked how it was. We also met the district manager, who seemed to spend the entire hour we were there, returning people’s forgotten credit cards to them.

I see good days for Burger King for a while at least – till the next new rage opens in town. They’re planning on opening 10 new outlets, so they have even more faith in Delhi’s people than I do. By the time we got up to leave which was past 1pm, the place was choc-a-bloc. The people they are a loving it. Would I go back? I think not.

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Updated Date: Nov 13, 2014 11:22:29 IST