Black burgers made for viral popularity

Charcoal gives the soft buns an almost-black veneer.
Charcoal gives the soft buns an almost-black veneer. Eli Meixler

Black burgers made for viral popularity

A Malaysian chain hits the sweet spot with its young target market, but leaves the pre-hashtag generation in the dark

MyBurgerLab is a case study in social media marketing. The Malaysian chain restaurant’s first Phnom Penh outlet devotes an entire board to Instagram photos of customers stuffing their faces with its signature black-bun burgers, and its Facebook page has more than 24,000 “likes”. Even the name is suspiciously hashtagable: when did spaces between words stop being a thing? It’s a strategy that targets young, middle-class urbanites and it so far seems to be working a treat in Phnom Penh. However, the food may not appeal to all.

The canteen-like space – which opened on Norodom Boulevard last month – has stuck to the script in replicating the metropolitan vibe of similar chains abroad. Furnishings are industrial and an exposed brick wall almost gives the room an artisanal finish – were it not for the slogan “EAT. SLEEP. BE AWESOME. REPEAT” emblazoned in giant letters across it.

The menu’s defining feature is its black burgers – a look achieved by adding small amounts of charcoal powder to the dough. It’s an aesthetic that calls out to be photographed and posted online, but the reality is less exciting – the buns are a bit sugary and foam-like, with little bite on the crust.

The patties, on the other hand, are of a far higher quality than what you would expect from a fast food joint. The chips are also excellent – opt for the “sloppy fries” at no extra cost and you’ll get them served with a hearty portion of chicken “sloppy joe” on top.

Whether you enjoy your meal as a whole will probably depend on how much of a sweet tooth you have. The pulled pork we tried was crammed with sweet red cabbage and apple slices, while the “Hangover” was topped with a hash brown and drenched in maple sauce. I’m not sure whether it would cure me following a night of heavy drinking, and I am unlikely to find out as the doors only open at 4pm.

Food is not cheap – sets with chips and a drink come in at the $7-$8 mark – but the bustling tables at MyBurgerLab on Tuesday night indicated that they have avoided pricing a local crowd out of the market.

It’s easy to see why people are flocking to the place – and giving it so much social media love. Staff are friendly (they’re already greeting certain customers with waves of recognition), tables are spacious, and soda refills are
limitless – a rarity in Phnom Penh.

Whether it will become your standard drop-in probably depends on your age, and whether you find “#eggporn FTW” enticing. If you do, we’ve found your culinary Mecca – it’s conveniently situated just south of the Caltex petrol station on Norodom Boulevard.

MyBurgerLab is located at #160b Norodom Boulevard.