In a world of dizzying burger options, there are three American fast food giants that remain the biggest icons of the towering meat sandwich – McDonald’s, Burger King and Five Guys. And in Manchester we’ve now got all three sitting in a sort of burger Bermuda triangle slap bang at the heart of Piccadilly Gardens.
So where better to head to put these takeaway titans to a full burger-off? And we thought we’d do a fries-off while we were at it too.
To fully test the burger experiences we have also reflected on the ambience of the Burger King, McDonald’s and Five Guys settings in their unholy trinity formation at one of Manchester’s busiest pedestrian junctions. We also made sure to note down just how fast each fast food giant took to present us with our goods.
Here’s how we got on at each burger parlor, and how the products all stacked up when put to the taste test. We ordered everything to take away, to dine al fresco on Manchester’s delightful urban oasis of Piccadilly Gardens.
Oh dear, with massive holes broken into the entrance doors and windows, and hastily added boards to cover up the fractured damage, it’s not exactly the most salubrious of welcomes at Burger King on Piccadilly Gardens. I mean, I’ve been here late at night in desperate need of a burger so I know it can be like the Wild West at times but no amount of hangry can make it okay to start pummelling in the windows can it?
In the cold light of day the interiors aren’t looking that shiny either and there’s not much in the way of seating options. Luckily then that the ordering and cooking order was so swift that I could bid a hasty retreat out to the Gardens with our order.
Was there a queue? Not much of one no, so I was able to order within a couple of minutes of arriving.
Time for order? Impressively, it was ready while I was still juggling with my cup at the multi-mix Coke machines – in just TWO minutes flat.
Is the Piccadilly Gardens McD’s Manchester’s most crazy busy fast food outlet? It certainly feels like it. There always seems to be a massive queue of kids outside whenever you walk past here, and at our 12noon visit it’s no different – the queue is out the door to get in.
Amazingly though, it’s all very efficient once inside. I’m swiftly pointed towards one of those digital ordering board things and I’m able to order within a couple of minutes of starting to queue. I collect my receipt thinking I’m in for a long wait.
But imagine my surprise when my number is called within ONE MINUTE of the order. Now that’s what you call fast food.
Was there a queue? Yes, a massive one but everyone was dealt with really quickly
Time for order? An almost unbelievably quick one minute
As the shiny new kid on the block, the fancy new Five Guys on Piccadilly Gardens is predictably the glossiest looking venue out of the three burger joints here. There are comfy red and white booth seats and it’s so glossy and clean that you just want to stroke the tile-clad walls.
Despite being the only people in the queue, we had our order taken with the speed expected from an Aldi checkout, finding ourselves in a panic over the unlimited free toppings but finally settling on tomato, ketchup and gherkins.
In the waiting area, other hungry customers awaited their order, and when they called out number 52, I looked down at our order 58 and realized we could be here a while. Our burger landed in my hands six and a half minutes later, with the milkshake arriving separately another 30 seconds on.
Was there a queue? We were the first in line.
Time for order? Six minutes 32 seconds
To make it as fair a comparison as possible, we ordered a double cheeseburger at each of the three burger restaurants as a takeaway. We also asked for the regular fries option at each establishment.
Now, obviously, with takeaway burgers they never look quite as good as those glossy publicity shots on the billboard would have you believe. But unwrapping our burgers they were a bit of a sorry looking line-up for our pictures.
The McDonald’s Big Mac was a particularly unimpressive example of the oeuvre, the thin burgers slapped in uneven formation with the bun and strands of lettuce poking out all over the place like octopus tentacles – while one gherkin didn’t even make it onto the burger. The bun seemed very dry and the burgers lacking in moisture, but of course it was all saved somewhat by the ever-trusty hit of the classic McD’s Big Mac sauce.
The Burger King double cheeseburger looked fairly compact and a tad joyless, and like the McD’s bun was very dry. But on tasting we both agreed it offered a really interesting flavor hit thanks to lashings of mustard along with the usual cheese and tomato burgery mash up.
However, it was perhaps predictably the Five Guys burger that wiped the floor with its American rivals. Taking it out of their signature foil wrapping it was all a bit squished up, but once we took a bite that didn’t matter.
The meaty, juicy flavourful burgers came into their own, married with the gherkins, tomato sauce and cheese in the delightfully moist bread bun that sandwiched it all together. Burger perfection that was worth the post-ordering wait.
Five Guys: 5/5
Burger King: 3/5
Whether you eat your fries before or after your burger, dunk them in your milkshake for dessert or munch on them between mouthfuls of meat, they’re an essential part of a fast food meal. McDonald’s fries are so iconic that even Apple have an emoji that looks just like them in a red carton, sans golden M, of course.
But it was the Maccies fries that fell the flattest in this chip trio, offering a lukewarm, limp and lifeless potato stick. It’s fair to say that McDonald’s fries are only palatable when piping hot with a good shaking of salt, but it’s rare they’re served this way, making it a real side-order lottery.
Meanwhile Burger King and Five Guys seem more consistent in their composition, offering thick and fluffy fries that are much more substantial. That said, while Burger King’s fries are pretty moreish, their portion sizes could be bigger for a regular fries, and the flimsy paper bag makes them difficult to juggle with other meal items.
Five Guys had the largest portion of fries smothered in a cajun seasoning for a spicy kick, served in a sturdy cardboard cup. The fries were overflowing from their container meaning we ended up with quite a few ‘bag chips’ on our hands.
But again, it was a no brainer who the winner was here. The Five Guys cajun fries really stood head and shoulders above the rest, with a crisp outer and fluffy, flavoursome potato inside, though it must be said my favorite are the super crispy bits you find in the bottom of the cup.
Five Guys: 4/5
Burger King: 3/5
Five Guys: Cheeseburger (standard comes as a double) £ 8.95, regular fries £ 4.75 (no meal deal option) – our milkshake cost a whopping £ 5.25
Burger King: Double cheeseburger – £ 1.99, regular fries – £ 2.49 (or as a meal deal with a drink £ 4.99)
McDonald’s: Big Mac – £ 3.19, regular fries – £ 1.09 (or as a Extra Value Meal with a drink £ 4.69)
Dianne writes: I’ve long been a fan of the simple calorific pleasure of a McDonald’s takeaway, but in this taste test it was one that disappointed me the most. I’d been impressed with the speediness creating my order given how busy the Piccadilly Gardens restaurant was, but I now think perhaps more haste less speed was needed to create a better looking Big Mac as it just looked in a right old state.
When compared to the burgers of Burger King and Five Guys it simply paled in comparison on taste as well. While both BK and McD’s were rather dry buns, I actually really enjoyed the mustard hit of the Burger King version. Only the McDonald’s sauce gave it anything tasty to savor though.
But Five Guys was the one burger where, although twice as expensive, made it more than worth the investment. I also don’t mind waiting a measly six minutes for something that tastes this darn good.
However on the fries front, for me it was a tie between the Burger King and Five Guys chips which were both tasty potatoey treats – but the expense of the Five Guys fries (£ 4.75) compared to BK’s (£ 2.49) would swerve me more towards the cheaper ones for value. The McDonald’s fries tasted to me what I can only imagine a 3D printer version of a chip would taste like – a sort of bland, wilting cardboard.
Bethan writes: I’d previously been under the impression that Five Guys was an overpriced McDonald’s – but how wrong was I? It seems to me that you really do get what you pay for in this situation, even if they are nearing pub prices and took a while to be prepared. That said, if a burger can be ordered and in my hand within 60 seconds, is that really appealing? I’m not certain.
The Five Guys fries shone compared to the other offerings – although I am partial to a hot, salty McDonald’s fry dunked in a strawberry milkshake on occasion. The burger, though, was meaty, juicy and practically melted in my mouth, which is everything you want at the end of a well oiled night out in Manchester, right?
Between McDonald’s and Burger King was a tougher decision, as Burger King’s fries were superior, but the Big Mac sauce was extremely tasty between the layers of beef and bun. But you can’t just smother a dry burger in delicious sauce to save it, so Burger King just clinched it on quality.
Though credit where it’s due, Maccies remains the cheapest option, and therefore if you’re tight on cash or want a mega quick bite to eat, they’ve still got your back.
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