Justin North is back
Noodlies, Sydney food blog checks out his latest venture
Locals passing by probably don’t realise that one of Sydney’s top chefs is behind this little corner burger joint. From last year, life has been difficult for fine dining and Justin North has probably been one of the hardest hit. Of course he’s not the only one, a cold chill is continuing to sweep the up-market end of town with this week’s announcement that after 37 years, Claude’s, a Sydney fine dining institution will close on 7 September. North, described by many as genuine “nice guy”, has kept a relatively low profile since the collapse of his restaurant group. Now he’s back as the creative director behind Tim Jolley venture, The Burger Shed in Sydney’s lower north shore.
Comparisons with Warrent Turnbull’s Chur Burger are inevitable – two new burger joints fronted by hatted NZ chefs who have swapped fine dining fare for fast food. Though, for the record, North is no newbie when it comes to great tasting burgers, with Plan B and Charlie & Co to his name.
When noodlies, Sydney food blog caught up with North last week, he was looking fit, healthy and relaxed. He’s even been drawing, some of his work hang on The Burger Shed’s walls. The burger joint is small, narrow and long – it seats 20. Light coloured walls and tables help give the eatery a spacious feel. The theme is modern Australiana – a naked brick feature wall, shed lights and a suspended ladder.
Noodlies visits around 7.30pm just after the evening rush, there’s still a hum in the open kitchen but North has more time. In a fairly wide ranging interview with noodlies, Justin North talks about “flipping burgers”, the Mosman location and what’s next on the horizon:
Question: Sounds like The Burger Shed is a success. Why did you choose this location?
North: Wow, thank-you – I’m so glad you enjoyed it. We are only a couple of weeks old, and so far it’s looking good. Maybe a bit too early to judge the success – but so far the response to The Burger Shed has been great. Since we opened, we have been working around the clock to present consistent, good food for the locals.
My family and I have spent a lot of time on the lower North Shore – I really love the area. We love the connection with the beach – and Mosman has an amazing vibe – very family friendly and a lot of great community activities – it has a real nice community vibe – it was a natural fit for The Burger Shed idea – which was to present good quality, good value, simple, delicious food.
Q: Why did you choose burger? Does it have a heritage from Plan B and/or Charlie and Co? What bits?
North: Yes, it does have some heritage. I feel we’ve actually spent the last ten years working on the concept for the perfect burger. From the humble Plan B Wagyu Burger that people used to eat while sitting on milk crates outside our restaurant Becasse right through to the Charlie and Co burger brand. We have looked at perfecting The Burger from every angle, and I reckon The Burger Shed is pretty close.
It certainly helps that The Burger Shed business owner, Tim Jolley has been a burger fanatic his entire life! But, for me personally there are two reasons why I have a drive to find the perfect burger: When I used to travel back to New Zealand with my family, my late father would pick us all up and as we made the four hour journey, up the east coast to Blenheim we would always stop at a roadside burger van near Kaikoura. We would pile out of the car and have these amazing family moments – and I think I first started to appreciate what a great burger could be.
Then, early on, when we started to embrace the whole producer movement and more sustainable practices within our restaurants and businesses (such as purchasing the whole carcase from our network of producers) we were then able to see the value of some of the secondary cuts of meat, which are often the best bits – so the search for the perfect burger really fitted into our ongoing philosophies to create a more sustainable business.
Q: How does it feel to be back in the Kitchen as you say “flipping burgers”?
North: I’ve been cooking for 23 years now, and while I sometimes glibly say “flipping burgers” – The Burger Shed is really no different to any commercial kitchen I’ve worked in. It’s all about presenting a really good product to the guests. We source the best produce, the best tomatoes, the freshest salad ingredients and the burgers we present are the same quality that I would expect in any of our restaurants. I’ve always loved working in the kitchen and what I am really enjoying most of all is working with the young chefs we have on board – it’s just so rewarding to help train a new generation of passionate chefs and an absolute treat to see how they take everything in.
Q: What’s the most important thing you learnt from the past 12 months? Is this learning reflected in how you approached The Burger Shed?
North: The best thing that I’ve seen over the last twelve months is that Australian Producers are getting more air time. I think that even though there is so much more support for the innovative producers out there, it is still so hard for them to get their information directly to the consumer. The public are becoming more aware of where their produce comes from and the producers are getting more exposure from places like the Sydney Morning Herald Growers markets – but there are a lot of distribution issues and there is still a way to go to ensure that this really great produce is more widely available.
Q: I saw quite a few young people in groups who seemed to be there enjoying their burgers. They don’t look like your typical foodies or food fanatics. How do you feel that there might be a group of diners who are there because they love your food, diners that don’t know the “Chef Justin North” brand name?
North: I’m just so glad to see The Burger Shed idea is working in Mosman. We were confident it would – but it’s great to see it working on so many different levels. I like that the schools kids come in after school for their good value, $8 burger with grass fed beef served on a freshly baked bun, but I also like that so many other folks are enjoying it too. The foodies that are coming across the bridge to try it out right through to the guys who are coming in after their footy training, just to have a beer and a great burger for under $20.
I don’t really know about the whole celebrity chef/brand name thing – it’s not all about me – in the end, it’s just about a great team of people providing a great tasting, great value product for everyone to enjoy.
What next for Justin North and do you think you’ll return to the CBD?
North: Actually – It has been a very exciting year already. I have been very busy of late putting the finishing touches on a new cook book for focused on good family cooking and . It’s been a great project to work on and I’m really excited to see the finished result. It will be out in time for Christmas.
But what about the burgers?
The menu is as simple, there are four adult burgers at $12 each, three meat and one vego:
- The Shed: grass fed Angus and full blood wagyu pattie, cheddar, tomato relish, shed pickles, lettuce and aioli.
- Federation: ground riverina lamb, mountain pepper, mustard, piclked beetroot, lettuce and caramelised onion
- Chicken: flame grilled marinated free range chicken breast, iceberg, tomato and herb aioli
- Producers: gluten free bun, portobello mushrooms, grilled haloumi, salsa verde and iceberg.
If burgers aren’t up your alley, there’s also baja fish soft tacos and chicken tortilla. Sides include salads or in our case truffle and parmesan fries. Wash it all down with a choice of Shed Shakes: zokoko chocolate fudge, salted caramel dulce de leche or strawberry vanilla cheesecake.
These burgers are pretty, the sesame buns tall, shinny and golden – barely containing their generous, colourful filling. Our Shed Burger (above) benefits from extra cheese and bacon. You get a lot of ingredients for $15 (includes $3 premium for cheese and bacon), though it’s a drier pattie and when combined with tall buns, leaves you a little parched despite the cheese, relish and aioli. Maybe that’s a good excuse to gulp down a salted caramel Shed shake?
Noodlies’ pick is the juicy chicken burger, tasty grilled chicken with plenty of zest from runny herb aioli. Lots of flavour but doesn’t overwhelm. I could easily have had two.
The other must-order is bbq corn with chilli salt butter. It’s shinny, juicy and lively thanks to chilli, salt and generous butter oomph. It’d be a sin to leave without trying it!
The Burger Shed is a relatively safe venture for North; lower north shore location with little competition, a small 20-seater, and he’s staying in the familiar and successful burger territory. Will foodies cross the bridge for a gourmet $12 burger? Only time will tell. Regardless, the locals are taking to The Burger Shed, which must be a confidence booster for North and Co.
For this nice guy, the story might have a happy ending.
The Burger Shed
914 Military Road, Mosman
(02) 8084 1275
This noodlies, Sydney food blog was courtesy of The Burger Shed.