When Byron started (around 5 years ago) the demand for burgers was already growing, with chains like GBK et al offering affordable meals at a step up in quality from the real fast food giants. We have since moved to a state of affairs in which burgers are deified in a seemingly endless parade of individual restaurants that have legions of dogmatic followers across the social media landscape. Byron is somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, and has remained largely unmoved in its approach since its inception.
The food is good – a minimum requirement, and one which is easily met. The burgers are cooked to an attractive pink medium, seasoned well, and are unfussy in their style and toppings. The Scottish meat is allowed to shine without an overload of sauces or eclectic additions; the pickle is even served on the side. Fries can be fat, thin or courgette, the traditional options both very good and the courgette surprisingly delightful. Salads, veggie burgers and a few sides mean that you can come here with boring people and they won’t be massively short changed. Deserts are heavy on American nostalgia and pleasingly bad for you, but even better is the ridiculously good Oreo cookie milkshake, which is embarrassing for an adult to order but well worth it. Things are kept interesting with a fairly regular roster of specials – recent ones have included the self-explanatory Triple Cheesemas and the cheddar and pickled onion topped Mo burger. It is fairly safe to say that Byron does not produce the best burgers in town (they cannot compete with the more fetishist elements of the restaurant trade), and the menu is lacking in deep-fried-stuff-with sauce-and-cheese wow factor, but in terms of quality, consistency and price there are few that can match them.
The attention to detail in the food is matched with their drinks list, which is short and accurate. Drinking wine with burgers is frankly idiotic (unless you are Miles in Sideways in which case it’s funny) but if you must, Byron have helpfully split the few they have into categories of ‘Good, Better, Great, Best’. There is also some decent bourbon which makes a lot of sense, but it is the beer list which needs to beer good here, and it is. The second most appropriate drink to have with burgers (after Coca Cola), beer is given the correct amount of thought here; there is some washing-it-down lager for good measure, but also some really good craft selections from home and abroad. The USA has a lot to contribute in the beer and burger stakes, and some real classics are currently available like Bear Republic Racer 5, Sierra Nevada Pale and Brooklyn Lager. Some excellent stuff for the UK is provided by Kernel, Camden Town and Brewdog, and they even have their own hoppy and fresh house ale, Byron Pale (brewed by Camden Town). This list is considered and then changed fairly regularly to keep things exciting, showing their dedication to good beer. The only disappointment is the lack of draft options, as both cost and freshness can be a concern with bottled beer.
Often with chains (even small ones) the downside is conformity of style and environment that makes them dull and devoid of character and a sense of place. This trap is avoided by Byron, as the individual restaurants have their own personality and a sense of where they are – the Soho branch is small and eclectic, Camden is cool and functional, and Kings Road a bit more formal. Even the shopping centre locations are bearable. However they do share a common trait – most are bright, welcoming, comfortable and pleasant – which are not often words used to describe the new brigade of trendy gourmet fast food joints.
The concept of a restaurant group that focuses on serving basic, affordable food with a good drinks list in comfortable surroundings may sound a touch dull for the modern London diner. And it can be said that these places are not revolutionary, nor are they world beating. Yet while the focus remains on quality over convenience, and food designed to be enjoyed not instagrammed, Byron’s popularity will continue to grow, not just amonst the young but across all social and economic groups. Chains tend to have a bad reputation because there are simply so many bad examples out there, but here is at least one exception that proves the rule.