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Old Skool burger at RocoMamas cooked to a crisp

IT may be fashionable to diss fast food, but the popularity of franchise and chain restaurants shows that it makes a lot of people very happy. And while the memory of the soggy burger I ate in Kowloon earlier this year, that ‘tasted like death’, is still a vivid memory in my taste buds, the time came when I found myself in a shopping mall at lunch time, and was persuaded that sitting down to ribs or a burger and chips at RocoMamas would be a great idea.

Ribs and Castle Lite at RocoMamas

And so it was that a mid-week visit to the Village Walk included lunch at South African entrepreneur Brian Altriche’s ‘smash burger’ franchise, specialising in burgers, chicken wings and ribs.

Shiny, happy young wait staff in skinny jeans, tee shirts and short black aprons welcomed us, and showed us to a table on the verandah. Decor, menus and waiters’ uniforms all echoed the corporate colours of orange, black and beige, a combination of colours suggested by psychologists to stimulate adventure and communication, and to promote food products. Was this the reason almost every outside table was occupied by lively groups of Millennials? A few Generation Xers and at least one sedate Baby Boomer could be seen inside, in spite of the very loud generic piped music.

The smash burger concept originated in the US, and refers to the smashing of a ball of ground meat on a hot grill, said to seal the juices, rather than squeezing them out. The process claims to result in a medium to well-done burger, that remains juicy.

A basic ‘Old Skool’ Roco smash burger with a 150g beef patty dressed up with tomato, red onion and RocoMayo costs $3.50. ‘Doubling up’ to a 2x100g beef patty (check the maths) costs $4.50. For a few more dollars you can add on cheddar cheese, bacon, caramelised onions, guacamole or chillis, and graduate to a Rock Star, a Mushroom Swizz or a Chilli Cheez Bomb. The extras all sound good, and when stacked up present an impressive looking burger. Brian Altriche claims that the RocoMama burger is the ‘most Instagrammed burger in South Africa’.

Although I like my food to look appealing, I really wanted to check out the quality of the beef patty, and to find clues as to why the statement ‘we’re not normal’ appears on the menu and in descriptions of special offers. And so while diners to the right and the left were tucking into towering special edition Boom burgers with cheese, jalapeno chillis, salsa, corn kernels and complimentary fries, I ordered a modest Old Skool burger, chips extra.

Served on a sheet of brown paper, resting on a wooden board, my Old Skool burger looked like Chilli Cheez Bomb’s poor cousin from the wrong side of the railway tracks. But appearances aren’t everything, and it was all down to taste. After scraping off a largesse of mayo, I found a tough little beef patty, cooked to a crisp and devoid of juice. The burger bun was pale and uninteresting, and although they looked attractive, the matchstick fries ($1) tasted stale.

Old Skool smash burger at RocoMamas

George paired 250g pork ribs ($6) with a Castle Lite ($1.50), and scored his meal with a high seven out of ten.

Next door to RocoMamas is Pizza Inn, which has become the go to place every Tuesday evening for pizza lovers. Two for the price of one is an offer too good to miss, and Last Tuesday saw us waiting in line for an hour and a half for our order. Favourite pizzas are Regina, with ham and mushrooms, and Roast Veg and Feta. On a balmy summer’s evening you can make new friends while you wait in the queue, window shop, or look for bargains at Pick ‘n Pay.

I’m still no wiser about what is normal about burger joints, or what RocoMamas would have me believe when they assert that ‘we’re not normal’. But whether you prefer slow-cooked meals to fast foods, it’s clear that franchises will continue to proliferate while burgers, ribs and pizzas are what the people want. – A Matter of Taste Charlotte Malakoff

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