Friday, May 7, 2010

The Counter

Working full time in Xtravision is not exactly what you’d call difficult. Thorough, yes but hard it most certainly ‘aint. Then again, I’d like to bust the myth that all we do is sit around and watch movies when nobody’s visiting during the day; they’re lies, and you’ll be very disappointed if you aim to build a nonchalant career based on them (especially once the local skangers pay you a visit!) No, there’s always something to do in one of Ireland’s favourite DVD rental stores if you look for it. This counts doubly so in my store, thanks to a set of… we’ll say, ‘circumstances’, I amn’t about to go into right now. What is difficult about working full time in Xtravision is managing your life around the late – sometimes very late – hours that are demanded. On a good day, I finish at seven. A bad day it’s ten. And I’m lucky not to work in a shop open until eleven on weekends! Of course, this means you get home with only an hour until midnight, which in my case means either cooking will go on deep into the night and restaurants are completely out of the question. Well, unless you have no qualms living on a wash, rinse and repeat of chipper, Indian and Chinese that is. It also affects the times I go to bed, because I hate for my day to end immediately after work. Most of my blog posts are actually at in and around two/three o’clock in the morning, for the unobservant of you who haven’t already noticed! So being glued to a computer at this hour naturally means a swath of late night internet browsing is bound to happen. I’ve seen some incredible things and some truly horrendous things during those types of sessions, but whilst searching for food reviews last week I came across something completely different altogether: the Counter.

Vague name aside, the Counter is what you might call a complete and total burger extravaganza. You’ll gather as much by simply clicking on the link to their website I’ve added below and watching the animated intro. …Bearing in mind that I was ordering you there, not suggesting.

Have you done it yet?


Here are some of the sounds you would’ve heard coming from Rebecca and I when we first watched it ourselves: ‘ooooh!’, ‘good GOD’ ‘oh wow…’, ‘yes, that one. That’s the one, right there’, and so on. I find it difficult to imagine you wouldn’t understand, unless you’re vegetarian. If that is the case then I recommend you stop right now; it isn’t going to get any less meaty hereon.

What defines the Counter from normal burger restaurants is, as you might have guessed, that they serve gourmet burgers. But that isn’t all! Separating this Dundrum eatery even further from most others of its kind is a menu heavily geared towards a completely customisable dining experience. Here’s how it works: you enter, are greeted with a smile, ushered into the bare-bones, eggshell blue restaurant floor and shown to your table. In front of you they’ll place a paper menu filled with various burger ingredients and ticking boxes next to each one. Add a pencil and you’re ready to go! You can chose from over sixty options that the Counter boldly claim will yield a total of 312,120 different burger combinations. Almost everything is up to you; cheese, burger weight and type, bun, sauce and toppings all must be decided before the menu leaves your table. It’s a fantastic hook that gets everybody talking and, without mincing words, is just good fun!

The customisable menu apart, there’s a set selection of house burgers (all of which are made and cooked fresh, never frozen), sides and sandwiches available with a kids menu thrown in for good measure. A good choice of malt shakes can also be found, which – if I’m going to be honest – was partly the reason I was drawn in so quickly. The menu is reasonably priced on a whole, though a few of the sides like crispy fried onion strings will make you wince at €6.25 a serving.

When Rebecca and I arrived it was Saturday, mid-afternoon. In a ‘trendy’ restaurant like the Counter, slap bang next to the armies of Ugg wearing ladies and scarf wrapped male (a half truth perhaps?) shoppers of Dundrum town centre, you’d expect the bank holiday weekend buzz to have affected the level of service you might have gotten during off-peak hours at least a little bit. The reality was nothing of the sort; everybody involved was incredibly helpful and enthusiastic, explaining each facet of the menu and making recommendations wherever possible. I especially appreciated the pointers in ordering side dishes, where I was guided to the option that lets you try everything as opposed to ordering overly large portions that’d leave you unable to finish.

Ultimately I opted for a 1/3 lb beef patty in a normal bun with sharp provolone, roasted sweep peppers, beetroot, dill pickle, sun dried tomatoes and a spicy sour cream sauce. Half the fun of it was actually trying to figure out what flavour combinations will end up working, and unfortunately for me the above choice turned out to be a bit of a hit and miss affair. Not to fault the ingredients, I just chose too many strong tasting ones. Particularly the provolone, which was had an almost feta-esque tang. Altogether it was quite a powerfully flavoured burger, meaning I missed out on a lot of the actual flavour of the meat. Such is the hazard of putting the creative meal options largely in the eater’s hands though, it makes you wonder if the staff have any stories about horrendously combined orders.

Rebecca’s burger meanwhile featured an English muffin, Cashel blue cheese, black olives, lettuce, honey cured bacon, sun dried tomatoes and a garlic mayonnaise. It also tasted a damn sight better than mine with the cheese and bacon really combining well! The English muffin wasn’t as sweet as either of us had expected, but it didn’t offend in place of a traditional bun. As for the meat, in either case was fairly coarse but ever so slightly dry; franchise rules – unfortunately – require that all of the Counter’s burgers be cooked well done, so you’ll never quite get the juiciness of a medium burger.

We shared a three-way order of normal and sweet potato fries with the addition of crispy fried onion strings. To top it off, we had two malt shakes; one vanilla and the other apple pie.

Albeit cooked from frozen, the fries did the job required of them and were nicely seasoned. Sweet potato chips are one of the foods that get my inner child all giddy and when done correctly they’re an incredible side dish. Sadly, what the Counter served up pales in comparison to those available elsewhere in Dublin; crispy with only a sliver of actual potato to be found inside does not equal a nice, big and meaty chip. Rebecca meanwhile loved the crispy fried onion strings, which were essentially very thin onion rings with none of the ring involved. The malts on the other hand, well they completely stole the show.

Vanilla was as described, but I couldn’t get over my apple pie version. It actually had chunks of real apple and pie crust in there which made it an absolute delight to drink my way through. Well, whatever Rebecca didn’t manage to steal. The only problem is that either malt cost a whopping €5.25, which is a whole two euro more than what you might pay for a larger helping in Eddie Rocket’s.

To finish, we shared a very sweet key lime pie that came with a generous serving of ice cream. And when I say very sweet, I mean to the closest you can possibly get to cloying without actually being so. As with the Gourmet Burger Company, it wasn’t the desserts we had visited to try so this wasn’t the biggest of issues. Especially given how full both of us were! In total, we paid just over forty euro for everything; fifty including tip for the great service.

The Counter isn’t the height of Gourmet Burger perfection; you can’t choose a cooking temperature and the sides are nothing out of the ordinary. Where they deal in sandwiches as an extra menu item, the Gourmet Burger Company dishes out wild boar. Similarly, Jo’Burger of Rathmines will blow your socks off with their own version of sweet potato fries. What the Counter is, conversely, is an extremely fun dining experience with a great selection of ingredients both familiar and not so familiar. Their menu is innovative, and I haven’t yet quite seen anything like it in Dublin. In most cases, you get more than what you pay for barring one or two unreasonably priced items and the service is absolutely top notch. In a nutshell, it’s the kind of place I’d visit regularly if it weren’t on practically the other side of Dublin. Or closed when I normally finish work.

The Counter
Dundrum Town Centre,
Pembroke District,
Dublin 16
Tph: 01-2164929


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