As the venerable poet said, ‘I like a beef-steak, too, as well as any’. Anyone except vegetarians, that is, and nobody listens to them. Contemptible bunch, vegetarians. Even the word sounds preachy and mealy-mouthed, like chewing a muddy parsnip. It took man tens of thousands of years to get to a state where he could eat flesh regularly. All those long millennia of hunting and rearing, that tortuous shift from quarry to livestock. It’s just rank ingratitude to chuck it back in the hungry, hairy faces of our Neolithic forebears. And don’t get me started on that ‘Eastern’ nonsense. If you want to eat like the Nepalese, put butter in your tea, and soy you later. Meat, meat and more meat got you where you are. Quite literally, it’s your DNA.
So anyway, Byron liked beef. As do we, especially when it’s ground, grilled, and bapped. I’ve always said that the hamburger’s the apogee of sandwiches. The Mohammed-Ali-greatest, simply-the-Tina-Turner-best. BLT, club and PB & J: they're all honourable, but there’s nothing like a burger. Bloody and beefy, sweet, juicy, grill-scarred and fat, blackened and blistered, chewy of bun, crunchy of gherkin, splashy of mustard and ketchup.
Byron is a newish chain of high-end burger bars. You might say that London doesn’t need any more high-end burger bars. You might say, in fact, that London needs another high-end burger bar like it needs a pandemic or Jimmy Carr. But we’re stuck with them. I was kindly invited by Chris to an evening hosted by the manager of the chain, Tom Byng. Also present were Niamh, Martin and Caitlin. The obligatory disclaimer: I was, of course, sweetened and swayed; my favourable opinions were bought the instant beef crossed my palm, and my corruptibility was assured with every big, boozy slurp. With that in mind…
We ate more or less everything on the menu. Tortilla chips are crunchy and light, and though the guacamole is overpuréed and slightly underseasoned, the salsa is excellent, particularly for the time of year. Courgette fritters have a crunchy, almost pankoey batter, but are flaccid and slightly slimey. Macaroni cheese – a fine accompaniment to any burger, and I salute those who order it – is magnificent, and infinitely better than the one I had in the overpriced and hateful Bumpkin last week. Slaw is vibrant and crunchy and I want the recipe; and the ‘iceberg wedge’ (an American concept, like extraordinary rendition) is one of the most horrible dishes I’ve tried in a long while. A quartered iceberg lettuce, that Lada of vegetables, slathered in soured cream and scattered with chewy spits of bacon. A salad for people who don’t like green, for £4.50. The chips, you’ll be glad to hear, are superb, bronzed and sizzled, and pace just about every other food blogger, I like the extra flavour from the odd snippet of skin.
Here’s the beef. A mixture of rump, chuck and brisket, in proportions Tom wouldn’t reveal. All bloody good and bloody bloody, as you can see from that charred and beautifully leaking specimen above. Not overminced, exactly the right size, and pinkly, perkily cooked. I also ordered the signature Byron, which was a mistake. One of the difficulties the chain has is that, while it offers a quality product, it has to cater for people more used to the golden arches. The patties are cooked to medium as standard, but some customers refuse all meat that isn’t grey. The restaurant thus suffers a constant struggle between credibility and appeasement. The Byron sauce turns out to be thousand-island dressing, a catch-all sop to those ignorant consumers. But it’s still a fantastic burger, with a lovely X of bacon and melting, unctuous cheese. Sourcing, incidentally, is careful and clever: Aberdeen Angus, aged for three weeks, a ‘fourth-generation East End baker’ for the buns.
After a delicious knickerbocker glory – don’t ask me how I found room – I toddled home. A brilliant place and a wonderful evening. With several litres of pinot noir sloshing inside me, not to mention a stout dose of Brooklyn lager, I was distinctly merry. I almost thought I could feel a presence, strange and benign, watching approvingly from above. Who was it said the best of life is but intoxication?
Byron, 300 King’s Road, London SW3
Tel. +44 (0)7352 6040
See on the TFYS Map
Cheeseburger and fries costs £9.50, excluding service.
Other branches at Gloucester Road, Guildford, High Street Ken, Kingston and White City.