The Counter

Glasgow

SO THEN I get a jokey telling-off from the waiter for texting at the table in front of my family and I know what he’s quite right. Except I’m not texting, this time anyway.

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I’m writing notes about what we have just eaten and in particular what’s left strewn before us in bowls and dishes like some horrendous culinary freeway crash.

Tater tots, loaded, supposed to be anyway, with turkey bacon, pimento cheese, spring onions. Turns out to be a whole £9 for a bowl of battered mash potato balls boiled in oil until it drips from them when squeezed, with some dry, hard, bacon chucked on that and a single yellow tasteless blob which I presume is the cheese, but looks kinda like sick.

To be fair, another waiter actually tried to warn us off them when ordering but being a fan of that long-forgotten genius James M Cain I always get sucked into trying a taste of roadside Americana whenever I see it.

Hence the fried dill pickles, too, with apricot sauce, the full order of nine grilled wings and the onion strings. The pickles are as greasy as the taters, the wings dry, tough beyond belief and actually just four 1/2 wings in total for £9. I don’t think anyone can get away with this quality nowadays even in the kiss-me-quick end of the market.

There’s also a weird, bitter taste from the batter on the onion strings, just another kind of onion rings if you are wondering, and we haven’t even got to the mains.

Amazingly, Counter’s burger was once named one of the 20 in the world to "try before you die" by GQ magazine.

But that was back in 2005. Fast forward to today and what was once hip ’n’ happening in Santa Monica has mutated into a chain that opens its first franchise in the UK, apparently, in downtown Glasgow. Well, at the Quay complex by the Clyde, jostling for stomach space with Nando’s and Frankie & Benny’s.

We passed right by the windows of an eerily empty and seemingly shut-down Italian chain on the way here, tables set, glasses laid out, dust thickening on the panes – a warning of how brutal this market can be. It’s a shame but right now, even before we try those Counter burgers that we ordered by using pencils to tick off boxes with a choice of buns, burgers and toppings – over a million combinations – there’s little chance of recovery from those starters.

That million combo shtick, incidentally, is Counter’s unique selling point but even that’s a bit of a yawn nowadays.

OK, so now we pick from turkey burger, beef, southern fried chicken, vegan, veggie, even salmon. Singles are £9.50, doubles £13 and that’s before sides at £3.25 and various extras.

I count 15 cheese choices including truffle Gloucester, more sauces including chipotle aioli and buttermilk ranch, and even more toppings including salt and vinegar crisps.

There are six buns available including brioche, multigrain, muffin and a gluten-free version making me wonder how they keep those things fresh. Actually, the brioche buns are surprisingly good-looking things, shiny, smooth and toasted.

Being kind of lazy I skip the tick box hoo-ha and just order the signature Counter Burger which comes with provolone cheese, onion strings, sauteed mushrooms and garlic aioli.

It tastes pretty much exclusively of the very, very thick layer of lettuce that’s packed into it. Not a bad burger, not a good burger, just kinda bland.

Of the various combos ordered around the table there are no complaints – how could we, we picked the toppings – but equally not much in the way of enthusiasm.

So forget the marketing nonsense, this is just another burger restaurant – and a pretty poorly-executed one at that – that’s arrived in town long after the party is over.

The Counter

Springfield Quay

Glasgow

0141 418 0873

Menu: All the way from California the famous, once upon a time anyway, build your own burger with a million combos. Bit tired now. 3/5

Atmosphere: Booths, some neon shtick, slightly upmarket Americana feel to it but otherwise unremarkable. 3/5

Service: Can’t fault the waiting staff who are pleasant and friendly and even warned me not to try the tater thing – I should have listened. 4/5

Price: The burger moves upmarket or that’s the plan. Hugely overpriced with awful starters and burgers with a side coming in at £13. 2/5

Food: Truly awful set of starter dishes that plumbed new depths and pretty forgettable burgers, too. 4/10

16/30