Words by Alice Harbourne and photos by Ken Downie.
This time last year we asked 10 of Auckland's best burger makers to turn up to a central city kitchen and compete. Esther Jeong and her partner Matt Shephard of Tiger Burger left no detail neglected, to the extent of bringing their own hot plate on which to cook. They'd only invested in the kit a few months previous, it'd had seen them through a summer of street food markets where they trialed their Western/Korean street food mash-up having both left jobs in the media. It was a hit, lines for their "kimcheese" burgers and fries always seeming impenetrable at events like Silo Cinema.
A year and a half later and they've opened their own restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Grey Lynn restaurant Dilecta. They've refitted the deep indoor/outdoor dining room themselves, with the help of industrial designers-turned-food vendors Hamish Macdonald and Amy Sisson of Kraken Crumpets. It's now an airy, monochrome canteen, Tiger Burger's philosophy referenced thoughtfully throughout the design, with hand-painted illustrations by Matt's brother, Toby Shephard. A statement light box spells things out in Korean: "'We make burgers capturing the flavours of Korean food from the time tigers used to smoke pipes'," translates Jeong. English language-speakers have "once upon a time"; Koreans have pipe-smoking tigers. They win.
They also win when it comes to flavourful ferments: traditional kimchis, sauces, mayos and pickles are all made by hand in the Tiger Burger kitchen, which is no mean feat - sauces like the gochujang require three months of fermentation time. "If we run out, we can't just pop out and by a jar of it, especially as ours is gluten-free," says Jeong. Requests for gluten-free or vegan meals are gladly accommodated here, and when meat is served, it's free-farmed and sourced locally from Grey Lynn Butchers.
A concise menu of four burgers (down the line there'll also be a weekly special), four sides and two desserts mean that the pair can execute it with typical perfectionism. Their Metro top 10 kimcheese burger is in attendance, of course, its spicy, oozy "naughtiness" justifying its signature status. New additions include "Seoulful bites" - Korean fried chicken with yang nyum sauce and honey garlic mayo - handmade spiced apple dumplings and gluten-free chapsal doughnuts for dessert, made with kumura and rice flour. To drink, Fentimans' botanically brewed soft drinks align perfectly with Tiger's ferments, while Asian beers, sake and imaginative cocktails designed by Ryan Megson cut through fast-food richness.
Jeong and Shephard have given their first restaurant so much thought, not to mention blood, sweat and tears. There's nothing else like it in Auckland, which we hope means it'll stick around.
549 Great North Rd