When I filled in my application for Masterchef last year I made a right dick of myself, no wonder I didn’t get on the show. In describing my aspirations for my future in food I described a restaurant that existed in my head – a confusing place at the best of times. The restaurant I described was clean and light, well ordered, and easy. The menu I envisaged was of burgers, chopped salads, and milkshakes in silver cups as big as your head. Maybe there was a beach, and then a hose outside to clean the sand off of your feet, maybe the whole idea was inspired by the diner in Home and Away, either way it seemed like a really tasty idea. I had never been anywhere as good as that diner in my head. No one had come close to feeding me a burger as devilishly complex as those Fergburgers I dreamt of from Queenstown. No one had yet let me order a Dr Pepper float, a mac and cheese – the perfect hangover cure. My idea – an American burger joint doing the worst kind of food the best kind of well – was surely enough to get me into the audition stages of the toughest cooking show on earth?
A couple of months after sending off my application I went to Byron for the first time. Some bastard had stolen my idea from the sacred place within my dreams. A burger joint all american and dirty, but all so Australian (Byron: the name itself is a town in Australia of which I have exceptionally fond memories) and airy and cool, with milkshakes served in silver cups as big as your head. I almost cried – the sobs of jealous joy held back only by the 6oz meat patty, perfectly pink in the middle, that was firmly wedged in my salivating chow hole.
To put things in to context I was brought up in the culinary wasteland of Oxford proper. Probably the place most alarmingly void of culinary goodness considering its other triumphs in Arts, Literature, Music, punting and pubs. I then lived for three years in Durham which makes Oxford look like Paris or Tokyo for all its thick based pizzas and endless piles of sauce covered carbohydrate. Needless to say moving to (near) London was quite a revelation for me, an excessively hungry 23 year old with very few responsibilities other than my stomach.
So visiting Byron was to experience eating in a restaurant that, in my mind, I actually invented. It was a jaw-dropping and heart-wrenching experience – like having coffee with the one that got away and realising that she really is so much better without you behind the stove . It was a feeling that may go someway to explain why it took me so long to return, despite the burger being easily the best I had eaten since Ferg.
Months have passed, and on Saturday I went back to Byron. With the help of slightly hungover friends who ordered twice as much as they intended and an Oreo Milkshake big enough for four I managed to stuff myself to oblivion in a mighty meaty binge.
The Kings Road, South Kensington branch was full of all sorts: the glamourous mother trying to control a crayon weilding prince; the blonde teenager with backcombed hair and school hoody babysitting on her first weekend back after the Easter term; the casual couple, he with melted cheese and fat chips, her with a salad of false hope. Relaxed but buzzy staff with witty t-shirts were slick, smiley and professional.
Courgette fries were thick and well seasoned, retaining a more vegetal texture than a rather whispy version I had at Tinello last year. My burger, served medium, was excellent. The soft bun was a cushioned envelope to crunchy iceberg and a dense beef patty, the bottom of the roll drank up the river of meaty goodness that escaped with each mauling, it was a letter of love from the kitchen to the customer. A quartered pickle punctuated the plate and nibbles wiped the palate perfectly between chomps.
Chips were crisp without being hollow and seasoned well, onion rings started well but seemed greasy at the end, perhaps our own fault for ordering too many. The macaroni cheese was a little on the bland side, it didn’t come close to the ridiculously cheesy, oozy, stringy offering at Spuntino – this was half the price, half the flavour, half the size.
My Oreo Milkshake was ridiculous. Almost a foot tall and containing nearly a litre of iced dairy product I doubt many people come close to finishing one of these as part of a meal. Buy one and ask for three cups, in those portions it makes sense.
Distance from Croydon: It’s a London chain, so there’s hope of an opening in our fine town, but not much hope. As it is you will need to travel to one of the more central places. Soho/Covent Garden/etc.
A burger a side and a soft drink costs about £17