Written by Laurence Phillips
One of the biggest changes to the fun dining scene over recent years has been the Gallicisation of the humble hamburger. Since McDonald’s has long been regarded by the French as the front line of American imperialism in Europe, despised by intellectuals and adored by the masses, France has attempted to lay its own to the market. MacDo (as it is known colloquially) is everywhere, the branches on Grand’ Place and Gare Flandres with the longest queues in town. Quick Burger, the domestic rival (find one at Euralille) has long been the fast-food alternative.
However, in recent years, the burger has been deconstructed, reconstructed and presented as a brasserie classic dish. Café Leffe presents a tuna steak in a bap ’n’ fries setting that is quite delicious, the erstwhile estaminet La Royale features an Italian job, and a stroll along the ever-evolving beyond-the-station quarters of rue de Paris and rue Molinel will open your eyes to delicious constant reinvention of the burger as presentation of quality regional cuisine. By the side of the Gare Flandres, Holy Cow (11 rue de Tournai) serves freshly prepared and original burgers all afternoon and evening. The Urban Basilic Café has been running entirely burger-based menus for a decade and has proven a grand success. Across town, fine fi et steak is going into the mincer at the point the guest orders a classic burger, and classic foods from grilled Mediterranean vegetables to Alsace choucroute are being lured between petit pains and wedges of multigrain pain rustique. When Frédéric Parois took over the site of Julien Descendos’ trendy Tentation on the seriously gastronomic rue des Bouchers in Vieux Lille, he opened L’Adresse, a burger bistro presenting top-notch culinary skills between two slices of interesting bread, with intriguing side orders in kilner jars.
Le Comptoir Volant, an itinerant burger van manned by seemingly all-American boys, is not what you think. For a start, the guys behind the dinercheck shirts, aprons and preppy demeanour are César Toulemonde and Greg Chaignaud, proprietors of this food truck that serves up classic French know-how and meat preparation skills. Both burgers and steaks tartares are served at what the chaps and their team call their restaurant itinerant, where the beef, hot or cold, is priced at €7, with sides and drinks under €2. For the cheeseburger, the van staff add proper Swiss AOC Emmental cheese and a slice of bacon with baby spinach leaves to a burger cooked in a port, veal and shallot stock. Monday lunchtimes find the van outside the bike shop at B’Twin Village (4 rue du Professeur Langevin) on the southeast side of Lille, and the rest of the week in Villeneuve d’Ascq and Tourcoing. Call to order or find out where they’ll be on 06 23 89 38 32. They are on also Facebook: www.facebook.com/comptoirvolant.
Just as America took France’s boeuf hachée and processed it into fast food, a walk through the menus of Lille today is proof that La Belle France has reclaimed the patty and her sisters from the Styrofoam box and restored her to her throne on a decent plate.