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'I order four or five burgers at a time': Mark Wahlberg shares a taste of the new Wahlburgers in Covent Garden

Wahlburgers Covent Garden
Mark Wahlberg and the staff at Wahlburgers in the kitchen at the new Covent Garden location

Mark Wahlberg is reclining in a cosy armchair in London’s Rosewood hotel and recalling a heated family discussion. “My brother and I had already opened a restaurant, Alma Nove, and he came to me and said, 'Hey, I want to do this burger concept and I want to call it Wahlburgers'. I said, 'we're absolutely not doing that.'” 

Eight years, 31 Wahlburgers branches, and 10 seasons of a reality TV show of the same name later, it’s safe to say that Mark lost that argument. 

The actor is in London ahead of the launch of the newest Wahlburgers, in Covent Garden, on May 20. It will be the first of the chain’s venues in the UK; the first Wahlburgers, in fact, to open outside of North America. 

Wahlberg has flown in for one day only (between shoots in Ohio and Paris for his new film, Good Joe Bell), and confesses to being incredibly jetlagged. Still, that doesn’t stop him enthusing about how much he hopes UK diners will love his restaurant's classic American offerings, such as Sloppy Joes.

Mark Wahlberg is thrilled for UK consumers to try Wahlburgers' Sloppy Joes for the first time

“Oh, dude! They are so good! It's unbelievable how good those things are," he tells me. "People are going to discover a lot of things they didn't know and they're going to fall in love with all of them.” 

There might even be a few special menu items just for the UK restaurant, he hints. “My brother [Paul] loves to do different items for each specific location, so it'll be interesting to see what he does here.”

While the better-known Wahlberg brothers, Mark and his eldest brother Donnie (a founding member of New Kids on the Block, now an actor and producer), provide the PR-friendly face of the brand, the business is a family affair. The food is overseen by executive chef Paul Wahlberg, the fifth of nine siblings, who bases his menu on family favourites cooked by their mother, Alma (who has a pivotal role in the large Wahlberg clan, not to mention the addictive Wahlburgers TV series), when they were growing up. 

After finding success in their own fields, Paul, Mark, and Donnie rejoined to create Wahlburgers Credit: Mark Wahlberg

Launching Wahlburgers was one of the best decisions they ever made, Mark explains, putting paid to any suggestion of sibling rivalry. “I think it’s brought us closer together. Donnie and I were always the closest when we were young, but then we were all off doing our own things, and living on different sides of the country. This has brought us back together.” 

There’s certainly a homely charm to the Wahlburgers US menu, which flags up which dishes are the brothers’ favourites. The house burger with government cheese (a processed cheese provided to welfare beneficiaries in the US) is Paul’s choice, while Donnie favours the spicy jalapeno-stuffed BBQ burger. 

“I've always loved the Thanksgiving burger," says Mark, "but I do find myself ordering four or five burgers at a time to try a bit of everything because it’s all so good.” The Thanksgiving burger – turkey, stuffing, home-made orange and cranberry sauce, and roasted butternut squash all packed into a brioche bun – will be served in the Covent Garden branch, and (having tasted it at the preview launch) is filling, fresh and absolutely delicious.

Mark's favourite burger on the menu crams everything Americans love about Thanksgiving into one brioche roll

But what about Wahlberg's famous fitness regime, which caused consternation when he posted his schedule on Instagram in September 2018 (it involved a 2.30am start for a day lifting weights, showering, and eating, before bedtime at 7:30pm)? How do heaving burgers and Sloppy Joes fit in with that?

"Well, that was a routine I did for five months,' he explains. "Everything I do is basically whatever the film I'm doing requires. Right now, I'm trying to lose as much muscle as possible. I'm running, but I'm eating anything and everything, so if I can eat pasta and burgers and all that stuff I love, then I'm going to enjoy them."

Wahlburgers is not the first American burger chain to cross the pond. In recent years, Five Guys and Shake Shack have both been established in the UK to considerable acclaim, so how will Wahlberg's menu stand out from the crowd – especially considering those two competitors both have branches within five minutes' walk of the Wahlburgers site? 

“We have such a large offering,” Wahlberg argues. “We have a full bar, huge menu, and I imagine we'll end up doing breakfast in Covent Garden. It's just such a different experience.” 

A full bar and a range of cocktails helps Wahlburgers stand out from the crowd Credit: Jack Rear

That much is true. While other US imports have focused on fast-food, Wahlburgers is a hybrid operation. In the US, most of the branches only offer a sit-down experience, with takeaway only available in specific locations. 

Still, the venue itself follows a distinctly fast-food mould. The space that Wahlburgers will occupy was formerly home to a Covent Garden institution, Maxwell’s Bar & Grill, which traded on the site for 25 years before moving round the corner.

The formerly warm, relaxed space is now almost entirely unrecognisable. Bright-green plastic chairs, wipe-clean tables and stark overhead lighting make the restaurant feel more like a McDonald’s than a family dinner spot. It’s a shame because the space feels at odds with the homely charm of the menu.

Still, the great advantage of a celebrity founder is that fans will flock there regardless. And there’s plenty to enjoy. The restaurant is filled with posters from Mark’s movies, the ceiling covered in the names of the family's various film and TV projects. 

The names of films that Mark and Donnie Wahlberg have acted in and produced cover the ceiling Credit: Jack Rear

When it opens, there may even be the chance to hear directly from the restaurant's founders, through the Virtual Visitor system – another thing they hope will set Wahlburgers apart from competitors. Basically a variant of Skype, the software will allow the founders to drop in to video-chat with customers while they eat. 

“If somebody has a special occasion or whatever, someone might pop up on the screen and give them a little message,” explains Mark. “I literally put my brothers on a schedule, and my mom, too, when they're going to appear in what restaurants, and when they're going to talk to people.”

With the UK menu still being finalised and the venue due a few touch-ups, the future prospects of Covent Garden Wahlburgers is yet to be realised, but according to Mark, finding success as a restaurateur isn’t so different from show business.

“The key is don't pretend to know everything, don't be afraid to ask questions, and learn and grow.”  

READ MORE: I spent 24 hours following Mark Wahlberg's insane fitness regime, and I've never been more miserable