Byron makes an eminently likeable burger. That the UK chain of hamburger restaurants uses a mix of rump, chuck and brisket from traceable, grass-fed, 21-day, 100% Aberdeen Angus beef makes for interesting reading while you’re waiting for your burger to cook. But commendable sourcing is no sure indicator of a good result. The mince must be ground to the proper fineness, shaped to the desired proportions and compactness, cooked over intense heat for a set period of time and matched to the right toppings and a compatible bun. Byron’s does those things fairly well.
The average-sized burger, soft to the chew but not mealy, is cooked within the acceptable margin of error (the one in the above-left photo was ordered medium-rare but seemed closer to rare). The globules sopped by the soft, slightly porous buns prove that the ground meat is sufficiently fatty and, crucially, that the grill cooks do not flatten the burgers and thereby squeeze out the precious juices with their spatulas.
The one thing holding Byron down is an inclination to avoid extremes and pursue a middle ground: Theirs is the Lib Dem of burgers in the UK: though admirable and well-intentioned no one knows what the patty stands for and few think it’s ready to lead. Beneath the constellation of George Nelson bubble lamps there’s everything to like, including good fries and shakes, and nothing to love or hate. Byron is a concept, not a passion.
The extreme burgers
There are two kind of burgers which, at their best, get me really excited. One I identify as the burger-joint burger; the other, as the chopped steak burger. Both are untidy, implosive sandwiches you shouldn’t eat without a stack of napkins at the ready.
The burger-joint burger is a specialty of diners, drive-ins and lunch counters. Its meat patty (or patties) tends to be thin, flat, gray, greasy and drippy. Its magnetism is in the amalgamation of fatty juices, oozy cheese, indiscriminate onions and other toppings and runny condiments.
The chopped steak burger need not be massive but it should be at least an inch thick and you shouldn’t be able to hold it in one hand. The plump form leaves open the possibility of a burger that is charred to a caramelised mahogany black colour on the crusty exterior yet left deep pink, tender and juicy inside.
The ideal of the crusty hamburger is one that eludes London, even as the city experiences a better burger boom. In search of the perfect mince mix, accomplished kitchens are testing different cuts, grinds and combinations. Very laudable. Still, when you lift the lid off a medium-rare London hamburger the surface between the lightly charred lines is almost always a gray area.