I’ll be back for the burger

Ed eats

Ryan’s Irish Pub
Triq Wied Għomor
St Julian’s
Tel: 2135 0680

Food: 9/10
Service: 8/10
Ambience: 9/10
Value: 9/10
Overall: 9/10

I know some readers think that only the finest of fine-dining restaurants should rate highly. While every meal should be an experience, most tend to be purely functional and, in purely functional terms, the simplest of eateries serve their purpose.

At €7.50 for a burger, this place is a steal. I don’t think a pub should have the right to serve this quality of food either

The price of a Big Mac around the world is even considered a relatively reliable index of the cost of living in every country where it is served, such is the staple value of their product.

I am no McDonald’s fan in the sense that I can happily live my life without consuming their fare, but I am no sceptic either. I have been known to devour their quarter pounder with cheese on occasion and I have no shame admitting it.

I’ve been called many things but I refuse to be called a food snob. Snobbery only gets in the way of having fun. Evaluate that phrase as applied to several pleasurable exploits beyond the consumption of food and you might just find that it rings true. If you’re a true snob, however, you’ll have trouble admitting it.

Coincidence had me enjoying an early afternoon pint with a few friends, one of whom works for a fast-food franchise. I gave her my take on the democratisation of fast food. With the certainty that comes from knowing an organisation on the inside, she agreed that there is a lot in favour of predictability, value and a pleasurable dining experience. The conversation made us all very hungry. “Let’s go to Ryan’s,” said one of us.

I was already having a beer and wasn’t prepared to walk towards another bar that served the same brand of beer, and I made this clear. “Ah,” ventured the proponent of the idea, “but you haven’t yet tasted their ribs. Or their hamburger.” And then he launched into a eulogy about the quality of both. We quaffed our liquids and trotted up the hill to Ryan’s Irish Pub.

The terrace was a sight to behold. Every table was occupied by people happily soaking the unseasonal sunshine while merrily eating and drinking.

One of the tables was occupied by a dozen girls who were attractive enough to be causing traffic accidents in Marsaxlokk. It’s what’s inside that counts, I hear you say. That is why calculators are so ugly on the outside.

In we walked, still surreptitiously looking backwards. It took a while for my eyes to get accustomed to the dimly lit restaurant. Once they did, I felt at home. There is something about a pub that always makes me feel at home.

It could be the inordinate amount of time I’ve spent inside them since I was old enough to climb onto a barstool. It could be the wood panelling and the faint smell of departed spirits, spilled onto the wooden floors for generations.

Whatever it is, pubs were designed to keep you inside them for as long as possible because the longer you stay there, the more you drink. And the more you drink, the longer you stay there.

Pub food is essential to the health and happiness of the pub dweller, and the UK has come to grips with it, even spawning a breed of ‘gastro­­pubs’ that have everything to recommend them except their silly name. Unfortunately our version of pub food tends to be greasy chicken wings and soggy burgers for the most part so I tend to lower my expectations when asking for the menu.

In this case my expectations were somewhere along the halfway mark. I was in a pub so they took the natural dip.

The food had been strongly recommended by the rib man himself so expectations had risen a notch.

The man who was running the place turned up with a pen and paper, smiling affably, grinning almost as he recommended the pulled pork sandwich. I loved his confidence and was sold on the idea but the burger had also been strongly recommended.

The burger expert was at table. The rib expert was at table. We quickly decided that burger girl and I would share a bacon cheese burger and a pulled pork sandwich to make sure we evaluated both. The rest were having ribs and would not be swayed.

We ordered drinks and settled in. While I would have loved to be on the terrace, I found I was enjoying the cool interior of the pub. TVs were showing football so the guys who actually like the sport could follow the match. We were closer to the bar. I was in my natural habitat. Pubs don’t promise much so it’s easy for them to keep me happy.

When ordering our food we’d been told the waiting time would be a little longer than usual. We waited for almost 15 minutes but this was fine as we’d been kept in the loop.

Once our food was served it was evident that whoever thought of creating a pub menu had stuck to his guns. There is no elaborate garnish or any attempt to make more out of a rack of ribs than it actually is. The real deal is served in generous enough portions, with fries served to share and little pots of sauce on the side.

We all started with the ribs and I watched the rib man, anxious to observe his first reaction.

He swung his head from side to side and chewed slowly. Then he put his fork down and announced, quite solemnly, that these were better than his own secret method.

He was simultaneously thrilled and disappointed. From now on, he said, he’d have to step up his game. I tasted them and have to agree that they are indeed the best I’ve tasted.

Tender, steeped in a gloriously rich marinade that is not too salty, nor too intense. It just carries the delicately unctuous flavour of the ribs along, giving a sweetly acidic kick on its way.

I expected the pulled pork to be more of the same. The marinade is different and so is the sauce. Had this not been a pub I’d have wanted a more deli-style bap, but then this is no deli so a burger bun is perfectly acceptable.

The pulled pork is also very tender and has its very own, slightly sweet sauce that makes you want to bite further into the sandwich, trying to fill your mouth with the combination. There were a couple of bits of pork that were a bit hard, possibly coming off the outside of the smoked shoulder, but these would not stop us from enjoying the sandwich.

Despite all this, I still think the burger was the star of the show. The patty was just thick enough to retain all its moisture and still be perfectly manageable. Awesome sauce and skinny salad make for the perfect bite. The cheese melts, the bacon is crisp enough to snap, and the bun is fresh, just helping to carry the ingredients without getting in the way.

If Ryan’s manages to serve this exact same burger, with the same cooking temperature and meat quality, they can easily pip New York Best to the top spot in my personal burger charts.

At €7.50 for a burger, this place is a steal. I don’t think a pub should have the right to serve this quality of food either. Some readers think that only the finest of fine-dining restaurants should rate highly and I respect their position.

But I feel life is only complete with its fair share of guilty pleasures and outstanding pub food is one of mine.

I’ll be back, Ryan. Just keep that burger exactly the way it is.

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