Bilby Bites - the food blog from Bilby Marketing

Byron Hamburgers Exeter

Once again, things have slipped outrageously with my blog posts. It has been a very long time - 10 months in fact - since I posted a review and I’m too embarrassed to say how long it has been since I posted a recipe. I have my excuses. Earning money and paying the mortgage clearly have to take precedence over my crazy love of food. I’m keen to get things moving again and have plans (who doesn’t?) to ramp things up, time permitting. One thing that carries on despite the ebbs and flows of Bilby Bites, is that restaurants come and go. If you want a burger nowadays you don’t have to walk too far to find one. Much like the rest of the UK, we here in Exeter are in the midst of the burger joint phenomenon and new kid on the block is Byron Hamburgers. This week they were kind enough to invite me along to try their wares.

First things first, founder Tom Byng knows his marketing and branding stuff. The restaurant looks terrific. Previously La Tasca, the space used to be surprisingly cosy and warm with dark colours and hidden corners. La Tasca did their best to bring a little bit of Spain to Devon. Byron have transformed the space into something cool and slick with bright yellow tiles, white painted brickwork, retro furniture, the obligatory booths - I love a booth - wooden floors and industrial touches. The branding is strong, from the 50’s diner style logo to the yellow and black colourway, from the fonts on the menus and feedback form to the funky black and white outdoor furniture. With 30+ locations in London and 9 outside of London they know their stuff and have the format down pat. Tom spent 4 years in the US and during this time he ate burgers regularly, in particular, at his favourite diner, the Silver Top in Providence, Rhode Island. So, now onto the food.

Each member of staff we had contact with was very friendly and helpful, always a good start. We took a table close to the kitchen so we could see the action. There are a range of different seating options which keeps things both visually interesting and practical. Each area of the restaurant feels different, separate, but not remote. No mean feat in such a huge building. Over the past 12 months I have made an important change to my diet in a bid to feel a bit less ‘off’ and that is to go gluten-free. I definitely don’t see this as a huge problem with regards to burgers as most places allow you to go ‘bareback or skinny’, sans bun, although it obviously reduces your options. JC went for the Classic burger, a 6 oz hamburger with lettuce, tomato, red onion and mayonnaise and a side of fries - he is a simple man at heart. He enjoyed it very much. The burger was juicy and slightly pink, which is perfect in my book. The beef is always Scottish in Byron restaurants, and I was told, the reason for this is because Scottish cows have plenty of room to roam around, making the beef less stressed. The climate is also ideal for beef farming.

I opted for the Chicken Skinny which technically doesn’t actually exist, but the waiter and kitchen were good enough to oblige. So essentially I ate a chargrilled chicken breast that was very tender, baby spinach, tomato, red onion and tomato mayonnaise with a decent side salad and a side of homemade skin-on chips which were very good. I love the skin-on chip and I’m always fascinated when people leave their potato skins. Of course it’s about personal choice, but the added texture, flavour and the bonus of some extra fibre, is a winner for me. Our attentive and jovial waiter pointed out that the courgette fries, which I had been told by a friend were very good, were not gluten-free and so sadly, I wouldn’t be trying those. I also ordered the coleslaw which for me was a little too mayonnaise heavy and seemed to lack punch. I thought there was an absence of sweetness, saltiness or sourness, which left it tasting creamy and not much else. Oh and I must mention the pickles that come on the side with the burgers, as these are lovely and sweet, not the vinegary pickles which I find too harsh.

The drinks menu is sound, with a heavy American-style slant as you would expect, but with a good smattering of British boutique beers. I was impressed by the list of six bourbons, including Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve and Maker’s Mark, although apparently I am not a ‘true’ bourbon drinker. I like mine with mixer - blasphemy! - and these are served as authentic shots. As this was a Tuesday evening, I went for the more sedate beer option, a Byron Lager, one of 11 craft beers on offer. This lager was brewed at the Camden Town Brewery and put me in mind of a number of boutique beers I had tried in Australia. It was perfect, on what was a lovely Summer evening. There are also ciders, wine and some bubbles to choose from in case you are not a beer person and don’t fancy chugging shots of bourbon. The stand-out beverage however, was JC’s vanilla malt milkshake, which came served in a ‘proper’ American stainless steel malt cup. It was seriously good. So thick your cheeks meet on the inside and great flavour. I had been told that the Oreo milkshake was a winner, but obviously biscuits and gluten-free people don’t mix and as I mentioned, JC likes things simple, so the Oreo option was a step too far. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it sums things up here. Other non-alcoholic options include the American A&W Root Beer or Cream Soda and Snapple Ice Tea in Peach or Lemon.

After a brief kerfuffle with our lovely waiter over what options on the menu were gluten-free, I decided it would be a good idea to order a Strawberries & Cream Sundae consisting of poached strawberries, meringue, vanilla ice-cream and cream. With hindsight, I’m not sure this was a great plan, but I was out, enjoying myself and it all seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s easy nowadays to spot the gluten and gluten-free menu options as they tend to be pretty obvious - chocolate brownies and cheesecake for example are generally out. Sundaes are all about the ice-cream, topping and sometimes nuts so they are a safe bet. Sadly, as it’s strawberry season I was expecting fresh strawberries in a kind of Eton Mess homage, despite it clearly stating on the menu that they were poached strawberries and the sickly sweetness was too much for me. It was actually quite a nice dessert in isolation, but in the context of what I’d already eaten I’d gone a step too far.

All in all, I really enjoyed my first visit to Byron. I’m sure it won’t be my last. A friend of mine who has spent a good deal of time in Texas eating burgers, had been the previous week and was impressed, so I had high hopes and I wasn’t disappointed. Byron are doing a lot of things right and in a prosperous city like ours, full of relatively well-heeled students and affluent shoppers, they should do very well. Burgers are priced from £6.75 to £9.25, with a limited edition Ronaldo double burger at £12.95 currently on the menu for the World Cup. The burgers, sides and milkshakes are also take-away in case you don’t fancy eating in. Now, if only they sourced their main ingredients locally … chains rarely do I know, but surely Red Ruby beef is as good as Scottish beef?