Published: 06:00, 06 May 2021
| Updated: 08:56, 06 May 2021
Ahh the mid-week takeaway.
Similar to a Monday night roast, cereal for dinner or Chinese for breakfast it's an impact meal – a mini culinary rebellion for those who can't be bothered with washing up.
I'm not going to pretend I've never ordered in mid-way through a working week but have I gone to a gourmet burger van beside the River Medway and paid £12 for a combo meal at 4pm on a rainy Wednesday before? No. No I have not.
The burger van is part of British culture. The smell of sizzling beef emanating from a grubby truck in a litter-strewn layby on a Saturday morning is part of growing up... isn't it?
But in recent years this most patriotic of delicacies has gone through something of a transformation.
Sure, you can still find a giant floury bun stuffed with greasy patty, lashed with burger sauce and crammed into a polystyrene container. But now you can also get double truffle burgers, Korean vegan burgers and Halloumi fries (£6!) served up out of space-ship-like aerodynamic silver trailers.
I'm pretty sure if I'd gone to the burger vans of my childhood memories and asked for a Hot Mess and Sanpellegrino blood orange chilled pop I'd have been chased from the roadside by a furious flipper.
I know about all the newfangled fast-food creations you can now buy because I've gone to The Gourmet Griddle Drive Thru's section of Lockmeadow Entertainment Centre's website and studied the menu – an admittedly odd amount of preparation for a trip such as this and, I would soon find out, an almost completely pointless exercise.
I also learn that "Gourmet Griddle can ONLY accept cars, motorcycles, small & medium sized vans. They do not accept or have the means to process foot traffic.
"Please don’t walk into the Drive-Thru! Customers on foot will not be accepted."
Sorry truckers but maximum vehicle height here is 2.2 metres. Once in you can grab your gourmet dinner and manoeuvre at a "strict 5mph speed limit" to one of 60 parking bays complete with "river view".
Over the road you'll find a controversial late-night McDonald's drive-thru, which sprang up to the distress of local residents in 2014.
It was feared traffic noise would keep them up all night and the fast-food giant would eat up the competition from small independent takeaways.
The success of Gourmet Griddle – shielded from Ronald McDonald's watchful eye by the towering Lockmeadow complex – seems to have allayed one of those fears.
But could the power of this burger van be more potent still? Gourmet Griddle is the first tenant to sign up to Lockmeadow's new food hall and will soon move from the car park to a slot beneath the Odeon cinema as part of a £900,000 revamp.
A 105-year lease on the entertainment complex was bought by the council for £19.1 million in 2019.
Back in the day we'd come to sample the delights of Lockmeadow's numerous restaurants after school and compete to see who could eat the most at the stuff-till-you-chuck Chinese (a disputed 13 courses) but since then eateries have moved out, leaving two prominent units empty for more than four years.
Gone is said all-you-can-eat buffet and the popular-if-short-lived Gourmet Burger Kitchen leaving just a New York-inspired kitchen, family-friendly pub and, unfortunately, Frankie & Benny's.
So, you could say the hopes of a town are hanging on the quality of my meal.
Has any place previously been made famous by the humble burger? Yes! Just look at Hamburg.
Last week my colleague reviewed KentOnline readers' favourite fry up and was almost immediately called a "cretin".
Someone else said he was weird and possibly even "American" for liking his bacon crispy.
So, with trepidation and having starved myself of lunch, I jumped in my car and headed to the drive-thru only to be confronted by my arch nemesis, Maidstone’s perpetual traffic nightmare.
I briefly wondered if everyone had heard about the Gourmet Griddle and had the same idea as me. Maybe even the two children that whizzed past me on e-scooters were hoping to dodge the strict vehicle policy and grab a posh burger?
After 20 minutes in solid gridlock any sense of fun had been sapped.
Was a ravenous man ranting about traffic the ideal customer for this hipster venue? Probably not, but if the chefs could cheer a wary traveller they’d have won a new fan.
Peering over my steering wheel I eventually rolled into the car park behind the cinema only to be greeted by a large orange traffic cone and a Gourmet Griddle which seemed to have been battened down in preparation for a storm.
I disembarked and went to investigate. After creeping around the shuttered burger compound for a few moments I heard whispers from inside followed by a disembodied “sorry mate, we don’t open until 5! You can pre-order online.”
This contradicted Lockmeadow’s website and made me so furious I responded in the only way any self-respecting red-blooded Englishman should: “Oh, OK! Thank you!”
It turns out Gourmet Griddle has its own website, one which was very simple to use and, slightly disconcertingly, told me ‘so far so good’ after I pre-ordered my £12 double truffle combo with fries and a Diet Coke.
If you’re willing to take out a bank loan you can add extras like a milkshake, grilled halloumi and ‘angry house fries’ (which have jalapeños on) but I’d heard a rumour someone else was paying and I know which side my bread’s buttered.
The website with the wrong info made a big deal of the ‘river views’ but, in part because of the traffic cone debacle, I could only see tree trunks and a brief stroll demonstrated only the disabled bay was in sight of the water, and even then the view was obstructed by a big yellow Danger sign.
At bang on 5pm an email popped up confirming my order and at 5.11pm it was ready. Things were looking up.
For the full experience, and determined to stall the impending traffic doom, I decided to eat in my car.
With rain hammering down I unpacked the meal and wondered if this was how travelling sales reps dined.
The first thing that struck me, other than a very inviting aroma, was the presence of a chilled Diet Coke can in a paper bag full of hot food.
Once I'd got over that devastating blow I removed two tubs - one full of black truffle mayo and the other, possibly, burger sauce – and cracked open the cardboard home of my combo meal.
Rain hammering down as I opt for the authentic drive-thru experience
Fluffy and exhibiting the right amount of crispiness the chips were punching well above their weight and once combined with either sauce, or both if you're feeling fruity, were a stellar addition.
My concern with burgers of such awe-inspiring dimensions is always the logistics involved.
They may look impressive but if you have to resort to a knife and fork you're pathetic and besides, I hadn't packed cutlery.
Luckily, the guys at the Griddle knew how to build and as a result I had no trouble, save for a few stray pieces of lettuce.
It's genuinely hard to find a bad word to say about this masterpiece. It was on the manageable side of massive, was packed with ingredients and, commenter Hugh-Janus will be pleased to know, showcased not-too-crispy bacon.
Punching through all of that was, according to the website, Weald Dairy Sussex blue cheese.
I'm being ultra critical here but the presence of aioli, while complementary, did result in some mess, which was neatly caught by my improvised paper bag bib.
It did feel like a battle to tame this beast – portion size is not a problem – and once I had I sat back heaving in garlic-scented air. A walk round the drizzly car park promptly sorted me out.
Not only had the chefs cheered me after my traffic woe they'd made my elongated car park stay worth it and by the time I left I had a smile on my face in spite of the certain gyratory system hell that awaited me.
Ratings out of five
Food: No complaints. Solid chips game, dauntingly large burger and top-tier sauce *****
Drink: Disappointingly warm **
Decor: My car needs a clean and the rest of the place was a soggy car park *
Staff: Friendly when they weren't disembodied ***
Price: At first glance shocking but having experienced the food very reasonable ****