When you step out of the Hauptwache station in central Frankfurt into one of the city’s main squares, you get why Five Guys chose it as the location for their first German restaurant.
The US burger giant, which has exploded in popularity in recent years, clearly seems to have selected the most American setting that Germany has to offer.
Customers who tuck into a burger and fries outside the fast food joint are doing so almost literally in the shadow of New York-style skyscrapers. Frankfurt isn’t nicknamed “Main-hatten” for nothing.
Five Guys opened their two German branches in Germany in December, with Essen being picked as the location for the second one.
Coming from Berlin, it was my first experience trying the burger famously compared by Barack Obama to the pyramids of Giza.
Without wanting to sound like a big city bragger, I think it's fair to say that Berlin has a rather impressive array of independent burger joints, where toppings like gorgonzola and serrano ham act as drool-inducing side kicks to a juicy beef patty.
So I was intrigued by Five Guy’s claim that there are 250,000 combination possibilities for their burgers. Surely this hyped American chain was going to blow anything Berlin had to offer out of the water.
Once I'd navigated my way through stacks of peanuts bags, I found a menu that offered almost no choice at all. There wasn’t even a perfunctory avocado slice to let me pretend I was being healthy.
How many people does it take to make a good burger? More than five guys. Photo: Jörg Luyken
I only had the option of a regular burger, a cheeseburger or one of those with bacon. I could then add any or all of salad leaves, gherkins, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and sauces such as ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard, which the menu proudly offered at no extra cost. To get to their figure of 250,000 combinations, Five Guys must employ a mathematician with a skill for conjuring numbers out of nowhere who puts even the dodgiest Frankfurt financier to shame.
I added a soft drink to my burger but no fries and was presented with a bill for €11.20.
The order was then passed on to a veritable army of kitchen staff, one of whom had the job of carrying out the patties, another flattened them, another put sauce on the buns, while a couple more bantered with the customers.
Ultimately, I don't have any complaints about the burger itself. The two patties were satisfyingly succulent, even if the bun was as flavourless as one would expect from American baking.
Left uninspired by the options at the newest addition to Frankfurt’s food scene, I decided to later seek refuge in a much more traditional offering – the city’s famous green sauce.
At Apfelwein DAX in the Sachsenhausen district, I was offered shade from the sweltering afternoon heat on a cool Hinterhof, where a table of pensioners were apparently well past their first glass of Apfelwein.
Green sauce and Apfelwein. Photo: Jörg Luyken
The cloudy cider-like drink has been brewed in the Frankfurt region since the 17th century and, with its alcohol content of between 5 and 7 percent, you already feel the benefits after a single glass.
To counteract the damaging impact of all that alcohol, I ordered some of the famous Frankfurt green sauce, which has reputed healing powers due to the seven “Frankfurt herbs” that are found inside it.
Green sauce contains parsley, cress, chives, sorrel, borage, pimpinella and chervil mixed with quark. It is traditionally served with boiled eggs and potatoes, but I ordered it with Tafelspitz – boiled veal.
It was a little bit like eating the mush at the bottom of a glass of Pimms – the flavours are so mixed up that you can't quite put your finger on what you are eating, but you know it's delicious.
So if I have a piece of advice for Five Guys, it would be this: add a traditional Frankfurt sauce to your menu – it'll beat the 250,000 options you already offer.