12 Princes Highway, Sylvania, New South Wales
With COVID-19 lockdown still in the easing off stages here, I haven’t been making as many trips as usual. But today, on a fine and mild, sunny winter Sunday, I ventured to Sydney’s deep south – The Shire. Not for a sausage roll, but to sample another legendary Sydney food item: one of Paul’s famous hamburgers, from the Princes Highway-side shop known simply as Paul’s Famous Hamburgers, in the Sutherland Shire suburb of Sylvania.
Having negotiated the tricky turnoff directly after crossing Tom Ugly’s Bridge, I arrived at Pauls’ Famous Hamburgers a few minutes before 11:30, figuring I’d get an early lunch to avoid the crowds. They only open at 11:30, but even before there were signs of stirring within the shop, a queue was forming outside. It got up to about a dozen people before 11:30 passed and the shop opened – at which point I jumped on the back of the queue to avoid even more people getting in front of me.
While standing in the approved COVID-19 socially distanced queue, marked by taped crosses 1.5 metres apart on the footpath, a woman came out and moved along the queue with an order book, taking people’s orders. I ordered a special with cheese (which comes with beef patty, lettuce, tomato, raw onion, bacon, fried egg, and cheese), plus beetroot and Paul’s special sauce (home made aioli mixed with chili sauce), a large chips with regular salt (as opposed to chicken salt), and a peanut butter crunch milkshake. Having declared my Aussie colours in the previous hamburger review on this site, the additional beetroot was a complete no-brainer. In fact, no matter how famous these burgers may be, I’m a bit put out that beetroot is only presented as an option and not part of the standard package.
The queue cycled inside and past the cash register fairly quickly, as they have an impressive production line inside, cooking up a storm, with about a dozen staff at various stations adding ingredients to burger buns, making milkshakes, cooking chips, etc. The only hiccup was when I spotted the large sign at the register: “CASH ONLY”. Having become used to places refusing to accept cash lately with the COVID precautions, this was a bit of an about-face, and I had to call Mrs Snot Block & Roll in from her waiting spot outside to give me some cash. That sorted, by the time I got to the cash register the professional production line was perfectly synched and the woman there confirmed my name and order before handing it over and taking my money.
Burger, chips, and shake acquired, we walked down to the nearby jetty on the Georges River, under Tom Ugly’s Bridge. This is the traditional location to sit and eat your burger, and there were several other people down there doing the same. The local silver gulls obviously know about it too, as there was a large collection keen to try to nab a chip or a dropped morsel of burger bun.
The chips were a rich yellow colour (I presume the type of potato), unsalted, but with a few packets of salt so you can add to your own taste. They weren’t crunchy at all, but rather soft and fluffy. They could definitely have used an extra fry to make the outside crispy, and so were fairly mediocre.
The burger was generous, well constructed, and actually less messy to eat than I’d anticipated, helped by the expert wrapping of paper and the super thick paper bag that it came in which I used as a tray. They’ve obviously put thought into how to wrap their product to assist the eating experience. The flavours on this burger are simple: beef, tomato, lettuce, bacon, egg, cheese, beetroot, onion. The only hint of sophistication came in the special sauce that I’d ordered as an option, and which was nice, although restrained in its presence, since there was simply so much volume of other ingredients.
It’s a traditional Aussie burger, for sure. Nothing fancy or gourmet about it. You get what you order. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s a flavour of a simpler time, sunny summer days in the 1970s, when every corner shop and milk bar made a burger like this. It’s good, it tastes great… but it doesn’t taste like a sophisticated 21st century Modern Australian dish. I’ve had burgers with more taste-bud tingling flavour sensations, like duck patties and caramelised mushrooms and Szechuan sauce. Ones you’d go out of your way for. Paul’s burger? It’s good, great even – absolutely nothing wrong with it at all. But it’s a comfort food from days of yore.
Canine Snot Block & Roll thought it smelt pretty good.
The peanut butter crunch milkshake was decent – pretty much exactly as expected. My main wish was that it came with a thick shake option, as I felt that the thin liquid milkshake didn’t do as much justice to the peanut butter flavour as a rich, thick, ice-creamy shake would have done.
Overall… well, it was a good feed. A very filling lunch. And the burger, yes, it was pretty darn good. Just not amazing.
Paul’s Famous Hamburger: 8/10
Paul’s hot chips: 6/10
Paul’s peanut butter crunch milkshake: 7/10