When round-the-block queues spontaneously appeared on Surry Hills' Bourke Street repeatedly over the last year, it meant one thing: Kerby Craig's monthly Ume Burger pop-up was in business. This year, Craig has responded to demand, first rebranding the original Ume as the casual Bar Ume, and now opening Ume Burger waterside at Barangaroo. Those trial-runs in Surry Hills have paid dividends; Craig has hit the fast-smart market running with a tight four-burger menu that's all killer and no filler.
Where Bar Ume's dimly-lit atmosphere is in keeping with its izakaya-inspired menu, an appropriately summery vibe takes precedence at the waterfront Ume Burger. It's essentially a glammed-up takeaway; little flourishes, such as the bright bouquets on the oak-panelled counter and the origami (a deftly folded prawn, cow, carrot and pig, each representing a burger's focus) suspended mid-air above the menu, keep things colourful against the sleek concrete open kitchen.
Ume Burger with edamame.
Craig's burgers were a sensation on Instagram, but they're nonetheless more restrained than the quadruple-stacked clickbait you find on social media. These are burgers designed to be eaten as well as uploaded. Take the Ume burger, a mighty juicy cheeseburger augmented with a Bolognese-style sauce involving slow-cooked wagyu, miso and soy sauce. It's not meat-on-meat simply for a snapshot's sake - a soft Hokkaido-style milk bun from Alexandria pâtisserie Textbook keeps it balanced, while the sweetish sauce is applied lightly to complement rather than overwhelm.
But the hit of Ume Burger's pop-up phase was the Ebi Burger, a prawn katsu burger inspired by an item on the menu at McDonald's in Japan: minced prawn, crumbed and fried golden in a patty. Its pleasures are simple and direct, but with the addition of shredded cabbage and a tangy tartare sauce it's done well.
Rounding out the menu are the Kakiage Burger, a tempura vegetable fritter burger with a salty nori mayo and soy tonkatsu sauce, and the Menchi, a crumbed pork belly burger with a spicy citrus yuzu-kosho mayo. These are perfectly enjoyable, but take a back seat to the Ume and Ebi; take an accomplice and order one of each to share with umami-salted fries.
Drinks include the mainstream Japanese beers, Asahi, Orion and Kirin, cider, and a few sakes, shochus and Suntory whiskies. A vending machine is stocked full of Japanese drinks, but the house-made yuzu and brown sugar, and passionfruit-ginger sodas hold more allure.
Kakiage Burger and koji fried chicken.
Where the Ume Burger pop-ups had a frantic quality, Barangaroo ticks over with confidence, handling its numbers without evident strain. The messiest part is the soft-serve ice-cream machine in the middle of the store, but Craig has a habit of lending confused customers a hand before things get too out of control. Say an informal ohayo to Barangaroo's laid-back - and did we mention waterfront? - summer burger and beer spot.
Ume Burger, Wulugul Walk, Barangaroo, NSW, Mon-Sat 11.45am-10.30pm, Sun 11.45am-9.30pm, umeburger.com