“I started Sampson’s in 2012 with only a dream, what has happened in the time since I still sometimes don’t believe. When people started making 6 hour trips to get to us I really realised that we could be on to something amazing. I am truly thankful to every person who has helped make Sampson’s what it is today. I often get the credit solely but the truth is I could never have done it alone”. – Carl Sampson
Worcestershire burger-van owner Carl Sampson found himself in the spotlight after appearing in the Channel 4 documentary ‘Burger bar to Gourmet Star’, alongside 2 Michelin-starred chef Daniel Clifford in 2015. After 3 weeks of intensive training in the kitchen, he then had to convince Massimo Bottura (3 Michelin-starred chef at Osteria Francescana, currently no. 2 in the world’s 50 best restaurants), that he was in fact a Michelin trained chef himself. Although it must have been quite a contrast from serving burgers from his van on the A38 between Worcester and Droitwich, Carl also took a lot away from the experience and even revealed in an interview with The Times that opening a restaurant in Worcester may be on the cards.
True to his word, Carl’s ambition became a reality when he opened his first kitchen in conjunction with The Conservatory (a Worcester bar located on Friar Street) on Friday 14th July 2017. This was a brave move for the 29 year old chef whose new venture will compete with several new Worcester restaurants, including large chains which have also opened in the city this year. We were amongst the lucky few to be invited to the launch evening on the night before the official opening, to taste some ‘scrummy bites from Sampson’s’.
Carl’s guests were invited to meet him on arrival, where he could be seen proudly cooking in his new kitchen. It was no coincidence that the open window design resembled a burger van counter, similar to the one where his dream first started 5 years ago on the A38 roadside. Tables were reserved for the invitees to take their seats and to be waited on by the Sampson’s team, who were kitted out with branded baseball caps and aprons.
Mr R and I read the menu, looking through all of the burger options listed. Our excited waitress bounced over to us and explained that she would be bringing a selection of food for us to sample, which left us curious about what we might get to try. Although we didn’t spot them on the menu, first up were the tortilla chips with stateside sauce. The homemade tortillas were crispy and simply fried, and topped with Sampson’s own recipe nacho sauce.
Next up were the appropriately named ‘porkey fries’ – these were amazing! As described on the menu they were cooked with the skins left on and garnished with smoked bacon pieces on top of Sampson’s own recipe baconaise. We got our first glimpse of a Sampson’s burger just moments later when the ‘cheeseboard burger’ arrived.
When I saw this on the menu it absolutely would have been my choice of burger to try first. Carl told us that he loves a cheeseboard, but for some reason he only ever seems to have one at Christmas. Carl’s nostalgic connection to his festive family tradition is what inspired his idea for the cheeseboard burger. He joked that people had told him nobody was going to eat grapes on a burger, but he’s proved them wrong with his creation.
Carl tries to source as many of his ingredients as possible from local suppliers, as he feels it would be a shame not to take advantage of having some of the best available right on his doorstep. His famous Hereford beef patties are made by hand every day, no presses are used to form the shape, so each one is unique. The meat is combined with Worcestershire Sauce and Sampson’s secret herb mix.
The ground beef inside of the burger patty was quite tightly pressed, with a crumbly barbequed and chargrilled texture on the outer edges. The cheeseboard ingredients surrounding the undeniably tasty beef were then held together by a soft granary bun, making this ultimately one of my favourite burgers ever. The only thing better than a cheeseboard is a Sampson’s cheeseboard burger!
Officially no longer Sampson’s burger virgins, we were now ready for more. Our waitress came back to tell us we would be sampling the chicken burger next, something Mr R and I would be very unlikely to choose as neither of us are particularly keen on fried chicken. We had a change of heart when we got a taste of the succulent and juicy chicken breast which had been coated in a cornflake and chip powder and then fried in rapeseed oil. It was served with crispy gem lettuce and a divine honey and ‘worcestered’ sauce (a Sampson’s twist on a honey sauce). The chicken burger was so simple, yet utterly delicious.
We were then given a taste of the baked beets salad which was barbequed with burnt edges. The leaves were mostly rocket and were topped with slices of pickled beetroot (my favourite part), toasted oats, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and goats cheese, rather than the parmesan that was described on the menu. The salad was fresh, simple and a tasty alternative to a burger (if you wish), although not ordering a burger isn’t an option I am likely to endorse.
It now felt as though we needed to invite some more guests to the table to help us out as they brought over even more food. We had an opportunity to taste some sticky pork ribs that were so tender they pretty much slid off the bone and into our mouths. A bowl of pork belly cubes came out at the same time which were covered in Sampson’s own recipe BBQ rub, slow cooked and glazed with honey and barbeque sauce. The fat on the pork belly was soft rather than crispy, which wasn’t to our preference, however the sauce was one of the best I’ve tried on barbequed pork.
All of the pork Carl uses is sourced from Worcester and the rub for the BBQ meat is all made in-house. You’ll be pleased to know that all of Sampson’s rubs and sauces will be available to purchase for home use very soon.
Carl wanted to serve at least one course to every table and came to ours with a palette cleansing bowl of Churchfields strawberry ice cream, garnished with berries, homemade jam and dehydrated strawberry powder. We got a chance to have a quick chat with the chef himself who told us that he’s tried to demonstrate in his cooking some of skills learnt when working briefly in the 2 Michelin-starred kitchen at Midsummer House. When we talked about what Carl is best known for (his burgers) he said the menu was designed to be different from other burger restaurants in Worcester. With burgers that have names such as ‘The Bacon Bomb’, ‘The Stateside’, ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and ‘Beany Jean’ (vegan), there’s no question that he’s achieved this.
Our final tasting course, and my favourite of the two desserts of the evening, were some scoops of tangy, chewy and fruity Churchfields blackberry and apple ice cream. We went back to the kitchen to say thank you and goodbye to Carl and he asked me what was the one thing I liked the most. I narrowed it down to the porkey fries (these are a must), the cheeseboard burger and the chicken burger. On reflection my answer still stands, however I reserve judgement until I’ve tried ‘The Original’ dubbed ‘the best in the UK in 2015’ on my next visit.
Sampson’s burgers are priced from £7 – £11, with a chicken and a vegan option as an alternative to beef. If you’re feeling particularly hungry you can double your burger for an extra £3. The fries and sides range from £2.45 – £5.55 and all ice cream desserts are priced at £5.80 each. If you do chose to opt out of a burger and choose a salad instead, the honey and worcestered is £6.95 (add chicken for an extra £3) or the baked beets salad is £8.95. Burgers are available to order for collection (call 01905 612687 to order) and Carl mentioned this week on his Facebook page that it should also be possible to get deliveries via Deliveroo within the next few weeks.
*Although we were kindly invited by Carl to go along to the preview evening, I was not asked to write a post in exchange for the complimentary food. Thank you again to Carl, the Sampson’s team and The Conservatory for hosting us and for your generosity. Wishing you and all of the team the very best of luck with your new venture.
Sampson’s at The Conservatory’s website
Worcester, Worcestershire, United Kingdom – last visited in July 2017
Food Hygiene rating is good 4/5 – last inspected 6th March 2017