People regularly ask us if we are truly anonymous food reviewers. “Surely staff must know when you are eating in their venue?” is oft the cry. They possibly do, but sometimes we keep them on their toes. We might book under a different name, go with friends or, sometimes not even with each other.
And so it was that this review is brought to you by Cat and Ian. Not quite so pleasingly poetic as Matt and Cat, but a necessary action. You see, Newport’s McDonald’s is the restaurant under scrutiny – a chain Matt has publicly declared he has never set foot in and where, to date, he still refuses to go.
This curious stance has led to some rather direct feedback. Matt has been accused of “pure snobbery” and “virtue-signalling” – a conspicuous expression of moral values. Though what sort of morality this displays is not entirely clear. He was also described by Katy B as “A pompous bore of a man.” That may be true, but we’re not sure what that has to do with his hatred of Ronald McDonald.
So, to McDonald’s. What is it about this place that draws the crowds? Surely not everybody is going in there just to use the toilet? Are the burgers really that good? Cat took in upon herself to find out.
Newport’s brightly lit McDonald’s is still looking fresh from a recentish makeover, part of which involved the installation of a space-age ordering system. Back in the day, a joint like this would have back-lit photos of garish burgers and neon-coloured fries positioned at a neck-craning height above the counter. The new computerised system brings this concept into the twenty-first century. Yes, the pictures of food are illuminated, but items are more realistically depicted.
If you don’t fancy having a mute experience, you could still talk to a human at the counter in the old-fashioned way – and when Cat and Ian visited, plenty were doing just that. However, Cat wanted to get down with the kids and so she and Ian stood jabbing at the touch screen until the restaurant’s flagship Big Mac burger hoved into view. It was quite fun scrolling through the options: fries, salad and carrot sticks could be mixed and matched to create a fast food dinner. Eschewing the buckets of sugar-taxed fizzy pop, Cat chose a no-yoghurt berry burst to wash down her Mac and fries.
When Cat invited Ian to join her at McDonald’s, she had jokingly offered to make a reservation for dinner for two with a table by the orchestra. Chuckles aside, it turns out that, once the electronic order is placed and paid for, the meals can be delivered tableside, and for no extra cost – which is something you don’t see in most restaurants (debates about tipping still rage on).
Taking their seats in a booth, Cat and her pal waited for their burgers. It really is a funky venue. There was more than a hint of mid-century modern industrial design sprinkled with post-modern Ettore Sottsass Memphis group’s bold laminates; all acid yellow accent colour and monochrome graphics. The bright lighting showed how clean the venue was and Cat watched as staff bustled about with a dustpan and brush to sweep up any wayward fries.
Cat’s Big Mac arrived via table service as promised and she looked expectantly at its box. The ‘Big Mac’ text was so big it covered the carton’s lid. Boy, this was full of promise. A legendary burger in the world’s most ubiquitous restaurant – she couldn’t wait to let Matt know what he was missing.
Instructed by McDonald’s veteran Ian she tipped her fries into the upturned lid of the box, then examined her meal. It seemed that what was ‘big’ about the Big Mac wasn’t the beef; these patties looked liked they been flattened in some kind of meat mangle. No, if anything it was big on bread. Topped and tailed with bun with more bun on the inside separating the burgers. This was pretty much a bread sandwich. How clever. The marketing suggests a mighty burger and at first glance this triple-decker affair looks far heartier than the regular burger, however the meat quota is literally a thin one.
Cat looked about her in vain for cutlery before picking up the burger to take a bite. The middle bit of bread slipped into reverse gear, nearly falling out of the butty. Generally Cat’s not one for burgers, particularly artisanal ones, made with gnarly roughly-minced pink beef with a few bits of teeth-resistant gristle, and crusty sourdough buns toasted to make them even more chewy – that’s Matt’s domain. So texture-wise the Big Mac couldn’t have been softer and easier to masticate. And the meat certainly wasn’t pink; it was presumably too thin to cook rare. Overall the Big Mac did not live up to its name, being disappointingly inconsequential with only the trademark gerkin and that tasty mustardy sauce to pep it up. It was almost a pleasure to see the return of iceberg as a garnish instead of some peppery watercress or fancy-pants baby leaves. Almost – but not quite.
Cat dunked her fries into ketchup and slurped her berry drink up through its plastic straw. The waste in this place must be phenomenal. Even though a lot of the packaging was cardboard, once contaminated with grease and sauces, it’s not fit for recycling.
With the human element potentially removed from the process and the need to chew diminished, this dining experience was possibly one step away making a contactless payment at a hatch and lying under its food chute with an open mouth. Although we’re not quite at that stage, the appeal of McDonald’s is obvious. The constancy of the product, reasonable prices and the attractive and family-friendly venue. It had a special table with wipe clean tablets to keep young ‘uns amused and presumably making their dinner a truly happy meal. McDonald’s has even retired that horrific clown and is really working hard to reposition its food as a nutritious offering. Blimey, there were even pictures of actual cows on one of the screens.
But all this counts for nought if the burger is miserable and, alas, it was. Ian and Cat left, then met Matt to talk about the experience. We were going to chat over a drink in Wetherspoons but Ian won’t go there because of the chain’s stance on Brexit. More virtue-signalling, and Cat all <sad face> about no cutlery or crockery in McDonald’s? What a trio of pompous bores we all were that night.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Funky environment
- Furturistic ordering system with table service
- Cheap as fries
- Miserable burger