Vittles Reviews: When Is a Viral Burger Worth the Wait?
Supernova, Hamburger America and the need for speed. Words by Jonathan Nunn. Photos by Michaël Protin.
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Vittles Reviews is a column dedicated to critical reviews of London restaurants, written by Jonathan Nunn. This is the first review of the year; you can read all the previous reviews here.
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God Knows Why We Wait for Burgers
Supernova, Hamburger America and the need for speed, by Jonathan Nunn
At around 5.30pm on a recent Wednesday evening, a line too disorderly to be called a ‘queue’ has started to coalesce on two sides of a partitioned pavement opposite the viral smash burger restaurant Supernova, which opened in September last year on a Soho side street. Given the youth of the crowd, the air of excitement and their faces pressed up against the powdery yellow of the walls, you could easily mistake the scene for a Sofia Coppola book signing if it wasn’t for the two line cooks visible from the window.
The process never deviates: each chef takes out 12 hockey pucks of beef and kneads them into the flat grill with the motion of a masseuse, using their whole body weight and a device resembling an old-fashioned iron to transform each puck into a friable disc the size of an Anzac biscuit, a lacy coaster whose edges taper out into nothing, giving up their ghost of moisture, which rises in a steady steam. After a few minutes, each disc is scraped off the grill like roadkill, flipped, and two slices of American cheese are added to each patty and melted under a cloche. Meanwhile, another chef near the horseshoe counter, who controls the pace of the operation like a rowing cox, assembles 24 toasted potato rolls and applies either a halo of ketchup and mustard or a paste of ‘secret’ burger sauce to each bun face. Pickles are added painstakingly, with tweezers, before the patties are doubled up, brought over and finally fashioned into burgers. Each round of burgers takes four chefs around ten minutes to make, which means if you’re watching through the window, you are already in for up to an hour’s wait.
Supernova is the latest ‘concept’ from David Bellaiche and Gabriel Cohen-Elia, the team behind Ahi Poké and Crème, a cookie shop that dared to ask ‘What if cookies were thicker?’. Crème achieved an unexpected virality through TikTokers each beckoning their followers, in the same singsong cadence, to ‘come with me to try London’s most famous cookies’. With Supernova, that virality has been baked in from the start: everything about it, from the idea to how it’s executed, has been designed for TikTok and Instagram Reels. To make something go viral, you have to have a strong visual signature that makes everything you’re producing instantly recognisable as yours, whether it’s the exact shade of sauce on the steak frites at Solis in Battersea, or the green sauce crop circle on the pizza at Crisp in Hammersmith. In Supernova’s case, the signature is the process itself: the grid of burgers cooking on the grill, the buns in a line on the counter, even the queue, which has to be policed to ensure it doesn’t interfere with neighbouring businesses. All of these things are relentlessly documented and videoed before they are uploaded with voiceovers all asking the same thing: Is this burger really worth the wait?