My first Byron experience was in 2013 on one of my many trips to London, which I claimed was about seeing friends, but was really about going to go eat burgers. So, shame on Byron for taking this long to get to Birmingham. Salisbury has one and it only has a population of 45,000; York, Harrogate, Exeter and Camberley all have ones. Manchester’s got three Byron’s…but, you know, no Michelin stars, so we’re clearly still winning in that respect. I can only imagine that with a Birmingham-born burger chain already here, they figured they’d come back to us later.
So what of the Birmingham one? Located on New Street, the fact that it means that lovely old building is no longer some sort of gambling-machine arcade is major plus points. Inside the space is well used; there’s an open kitchen it doesn’t feel forced into being the centre of attention and there’s enough interior design that it doesn’t feel like a canteen. Apparently they’ve gone for a Cuban-inspired ‘Havana Good Time’; I’ve no idea quite what that is supposed to mean but the warm, tropical colours are used well. The exposed brickwork and relics of the old cinema knocking about if you know where to look too. It feels like a nice space to be in, warm and inviting, not too gimmicky.
Food wise it’s all about the burgers. Okay sure there are some wings and chicken nuggets and things for starters, but this about the burger. It’s a simple menu, with a regularly-changing special, but there’s enough to keep you interested and back to try different things. And my mum will be pleased because they already specify that you can order a burger without the bun, or a salad if you really must.
I’m re-evaluating my friendship with Jo-ann after she ordered the Smoky burger and swapped the smoked chilli BBQ sauce for Byron sauce…because seriously, BBQ sauce. She did say it was really good although did feel there might’ve been a bit too many crispy onions, but I think that’s just because for once I wasn’t the one who made the biggest mess.
I had the Byron burger because I’d hope that if you’re going to put your name on something it should be good; dry-cure bacon, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and Byron sauce, cooked medium in what they call a squishy bun, with a pickle on the side and then I added some fries. The fries managed to survive being left to go a bit cold as I took photos and didn’t seem to suffer, still holding a crunch. I liked the burger, it is simple but a nice mix of flavours and was cooked medium as standard, which makes me happy. But, I wasn’t blown away by it, and maybe that’s my fault for ordering what’s akin to the house burger. And I’ve been spoiled for burgers.
Drinks wise, there’s something for everyone with milkshakes and soft drinks, as well as beers, wines and cider. They have a couple of own-brand beers, made specially for them by Camden Town brewery, and I thought I ordered a Byron pale ale, but I’m pretty sure what arrived was a lager. I didn’t mention it to the staff because it was actually quite drinkable, even though I don’t often choose lager, which I think is a positive sign.
I’ve warmed to Byron since 2013, largely because I stopped expecting them to be the best burgers in town. Instead, I realised that what they do well is providing somewhere you can go for dinner, that does simple burgers, but feels like going for dinner. Over the years I’ve had some amazing burgers, but they’ve nearly all been in places where it’s all about the burger, and less about the experience. Byron is where I could meet non-food-obsessed friends for dinner and a catch up and not be disappointed, but I doubt I’d convince them to trek to a sketchy part of town, queue for ages and then try and balance a beer and burger, no matter how out-of-this-world that burger is. Byron is about satisfyingly simple comfort food that’s burger-shaped, and I think there’s room for that in Birmingham.
Byron burgers, 92 New Street, Birmingham, B2 4BA