When Kerby Craig ran his first burger pop-up nearly two years ago, the entire menu sold out within 45 minutes. In fact, whenever he staged one of these events from Ume, his hatted restaurant in Surry Hills, there would be lines down the block. And in June, when his last pop-up coincided with intense storms that caused flooding across the state, there were still massive queues and, despite all the severe weather warnings, it was a record-breaking success for him.
So perhaps it's no surprise that Craig has turned his fine-dining restaurant into Bar Ume, which focuses on Japanese-style burgers - with a drinks menu of Japanese beers, whiskies and sakes to match. It's also a forerunner to the Ume Burger outlet he'll be opening at Barangaroo next month.
Sydney is in no danger of running out of burger joints - in fact, we've even started importing outlets, such as Ze Pickle and Brooklyn Depot Burgers and Brew from Queensland and Royal Stacks from Melbourne - but Bar Ume stands out for many reasons.
It's not serving cliched fries and patties - and the standard-setting menu is by a team of one-hat talent (remember that Craig famously got a chef's hat tattooed to his neck after he first scored the honour at Koi restaurant and continually maintained that status at Ume).
Here, he has collaborated with award-winning pastry chef John Ralley (from Textbook Patisserie) on the bread, to create the Hokkaido-style milk bun. The pickles, tartare and special sauces are all house-made and there's a strong Japanese accent shot through the menu (don't worry, that doesn't mean there are questionable sushi and sashimi burgers on the menu, though).
Craig has retained popular items from his pop-ups, such as the signature Ume burger ($15) and the top-selling Ebi burger ($15), made with prawn katsu wedged between slathered Japanese tartare sauce and shredded cabbage. Don't assume that bacon cheese burger ($17) is a carbon copy of the classic American staple; here it holds rice vinegar pickles and a special sauce bolstered with Japanese mayo and other Asian ingredients.
His head chef Joe Siahaan is experimenting with a variety of vegetarian burgers, using kakiage tempura (which is ridiculously good, by the way) or broccoli cheese instead of bun-fattening patties; there's also a sweet potato curry and provolone flavour that Craig would like to resurrect from an early pop-up.
Other menu items include koji fried chicken ($9), ultra-addictive hot chips with umami salt ($5) and the Japanese approach of bumping up your burger menu with lots of interesting sides - such as Brussels sprouts with sake lees vinegar dressing ($8), fried Jerusalem artichokes with nori mayo ($8) and Japanese-style potato salad ($5).
Craig will be working across Bar Ume and the about-to-open Ume Burger at Barangaroo's Wulugul Walk, which will have some menu cross-over (as well as special items, like a tonkatsu burger). It's no doubt that either outpost is worth attending, even during a severe storm (but you don't need a weather warning to go - just bring your appetite).
Open Mon-Sat 11am-10pm; Sun 11am-9pm
478 Bourke Street, Surry Hills, 02 9380 7333, umeburger.com