Byron Review, for those who know their burgers
The Clifton Triangle has somewhat of a revolving door when it comes to restaurants, seemingly less stable than both Whiteladies or Park Street. While it houses popular chains like Wagamamas, interesting but mis-sold eateries like YoYo Burger, 'orrible kebab peddler 'The Hunger Hatch', and the seemingly ‘not so bad but we should always be suspicious of all-you-can-eat’, Cosmo. However, in the last year or so, we've seen a new breed coming in and leveling the field with good quality food that isn't necessarily independent, turning the area into a hotbed for new and/or exciting restaurants. While Thai tapas joint Koh is surely holding some kind of crown here, others prefer the likes of Bill's or the newly opened Cau, which, while still chains, are smaller, growing franchises rather than tired old staples. What we're getting at here, is that Byron somewhat surprisingly, is a pretty big chain. While it's only got a handful of places outside of London – the capital is almost over-riden with 30-plus locations across the city – Bristol, is a logical step. The city's got a fairly decent burger following, whether you swear by The Burger Joint on Whiteladies, like many do, or cannot resist the gimmicky, but still tasty, and more importantly, inventive Atomic Burger, or even the more auspicious efforts, like the Start the Bus burger menu, you'll have no trouble finding a great place to get a burger.
Which begs the question, do we need a Byron? Let's find out...
A quick prefix: this trip was truly appallingly timing, having been struck down just a couple of days before with an absolutely crushing cold. Crushing. While the evening could potentially be a delightful assault on the senses, mine would no doubt miss out. I decided to take Simple Lampoon's own editor-in-chief Dan Izzard to help me out, figuring that he could taste the food for me like the lower rung of kingsmen, myself a despotic leader that required all food to be tasted for hints of toxins placed there by disgruntled dissidents. But for texture, well, there'd be no worries there.
Is it fair to review a restaurant when the reviewer can barely taste the food due to a cold? The answer was yes because great burgers are comforting and I was ill, and needed a big juicy, meaty hug. That would be just as good a criteria to judge it on: if this could make you feel better when you're ill just imagine how happy you would be if you weren't ill at all.
Here's what we ordered: One 'Chilli' burger; beef, chipotle mayo, cheese, iceberg lettuce, and freshly sliced green chillies. I asked for extra chillies, thinking it would help me taste something. It did. For a side, I went for courgette fries, which I'd never had before. Dan went for a 'Smoky' burger, which came with smoked cheddar, streaky bacon, crispy fried onions, shredded iceberg lettuce, pickles, and smoked chilli BBQ sauce.
Though they cook medium as standard, I asked for mine medium-rare, which they were happy to do.
"It tastes like the dull ache of sinus pressure, with an aroma of unbalance," I said on first bite. Dan assured me however that his tasted juicy and with the subtle earthy hints present only in the finest, well-fed beef.
The texture however was intriguing. The burger came medium-rare as asked, but the best thing about this... was that it came medium-rare, as asked. Even though most non-takeaway burger joints will now cook burgers medium as standard, more often than not you'll bite into the burger and find an almost uniform profile of light grey without a hint of pink. I expected this one to come medium to well done, but I'd say this burger came just a notch above rare, which was a new experience; exciting and delicious too. The texture was soft and delicate, without being mushy, and warmed all the way through. If you like your burgers pink, then rest assured that Byron will not only do it properly, but do it well.
Byron, puts the lettuce below the meat patty because they know damn well that's the best way to make the lettuce stay in the burger...
The bun was soft, but maintained its structure... just. Which is a great middle ground, too sturdy and it feels a little stale, too soft, and if you've sauced properly, the whole affair falls into the type of consistency that's fit only for a baby. Though I'd like to see those guys handle as many chillies as I did.
Which brings us to the topic of the chillies, and toppings in general. Byron keeps this whole angle simple, but happily gave me a few extra slices, rather than the 'Oh, he asked for more chillies did he, well we'll show him more chillies' attitude that many places maintain. In regards to toppings in general, places like Atomic Burger love to go batshit with toppings – but they're pros at that. Other burger places are prone to go over the top which results in toppings wobbling out all over the shop, made worse by some joker that doesn't know anything about order and tried to put the jalapeños on top of the lettuce like those chillies aren't going to jump ship straight away because the chef didn't have the street smarts to put either the sauce or the cheese in-between to hold it together like some kind of delicious, non-horse derived glue. Byron, puts the lettuce below the meat patty because they know damn well that's the best way to make the lettuce stay in the burger.
You know how you know Byron knows how to assemble a good burger? They don't have to put a big wooden stake, through the heart of the whole damn thing to keep it from disintegrating the moment you take it out like you're some kind of obese Sarah Michelle Gellar.
So, what about the sides. Well. Well well, Mr Courgette Fries, aren't you a delicious little nibble 'o somethin'. Sliced thinly, for full on crunch over soggy disaster, the inspiration is somewhat like the tempura vegetable but smaller in size, and a reduced level of batter also makes them feel a little lighter (even if they aren't). After having a few of Dan's regular fries, it was clear that I'd made the right decision, the regular fries adding little to the experience despite their long, and loving relationship.
The portion sizes were good here too, while Byron charges for sides, and is certainly a couple of quid pricier than most other burger joints in the city (plain burger from £6.75 up to £9.95, while regular fries cost £2.95, courgette fries £3.50), it was entirely reasonable based on our experience. Of course, the beer was ridiculous – both because of its imported weirdness, and the subsequent price tag (from £3.95 to £5.25 for 330ml or 355ml cans), but it was also delicious. The only problem we could foresee with Byron is the pricing and how the lunchtime crowd would be addressed – but this shouldn't effect evening custom, after-all, it's no-more an expense than a more traditional restaurant, and the quality is excellent.
Oh wait, the cheesecake. How did I almost forget the cheesecake, the creaminess... removed of all crumbliness that blighted the cheesecakes we grew up on, the blueberries on the side so the delicate white mixture doesn't drown in a sticky strawberry goo, the thin base, sitting obediently below the thickest cream you could ever hope for. Forget double: it was more like a triple, no, quadruple cream. Unbelievable, and it's not even an exaggeration when I say I've never had a dessert that good.
But Dan had a chocolate milkshake, what an idiot.