Tuesday, 7 October 2014

REVIEW: Byron, Proper Hamburgers - Highcross Leicester

There's nothing that helps you settle back to being in the UK after a month in the States like an email inviting you to taste some 'proper hamburgers'. Byron Hamburgers had snuck into the Highcross, Leicester, while we were away. They arose from founder Tom Byng wanting to bring back the great hamburgers he had experienced on the west coast of America - doing a simple thing well. I cannot fault the logic and I could not have been more pleased, having just experienced the wonder of the Snooki* at burger. Santa Cruz, to have the chance of a decent burger on my own doorstep.

*A Snooki is a chilli burger with two grilled cheese sandwiches instead of a bun, in case you were wondering.

We arrived on a relatively pleasant October evening and were greeted by a brightly lit, but cleanly decorated facade. Inside, the restaurant has the industrial feel that harks straight back to the East Coast. It is comfortable and chic, and clearly already attracting the crowds in Leicester - the Friday evening that we attended it was absolutely rammed the entire time. Seems everyone is after a proper burger.

We were greeted warmly by the hostess and seated with menus - one for food and one for drinks. They do have an excellent selection available, even though they have clearly purposefully kept the food menu small and select. Our server for the evening, Paris, came over full of friendliness and enthusiasm. She was an absolute asset to the place, full of energy and great product knowledge. She was definitely one of those waitresses who can upsell to you and leave you just feeling like you've just taken menu advice from a trusted friend. She convinced us that having some nachos from the 'While You Wait' section of the menu would be a good idea, and since we know from long experience that it takes us approximately six million years to ever choose what to order, we agreed.

As promised, the nachos were an excellent choice. They were just the same as the ones that you would get (for free) in a taqueria in California, or as an appetizer (which you'd pay for) in a pub-restaurant. Home fried tortilla chips served with a light, slightly watery salsa which shows that it is made inhouse from good, fresh tomatoes - just the right consistency to take the edge from the fry of the chips. We also had the guacamole which again had all the hallmarks of the homemade - a real nod to the Californian here and a great thing for us as the rest of the styling was so very East Coast.

We sampled a range from the drinks menu during our visit. The Boy was particularly excited because they had a 'Craft Beer' section which actually contained craft beers! It sounds strange, but so many places are selling random mass produced beers as 'craft', because they're American or sometimes, seemingly, just because they're not Carling. Byron's selection is very different. 

The Boy tried the Founders All Day IPA (top notch) and the Odell IPA (even better - order this beer). He was also tempted in to a boilermaker by the super-nice manager, Justin. Justin is a great guy and knows exactly why a boilermaker is so named. Go and visit and ask him to tell you, I can't give away all the good material here. However, while the bourbon was excellent, sadly the Byron Pale Ale was a big letdown for him. I think that this is because there are very, very few UK breweries that are getting American style ales right just now. Hopefully the tide will turn on that one. Anyway, according to the website they'll be changing their beer menu every six months, so let's hope that we see some Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale down there soon. Or anything from Lagunitas really, they are excellent.

I tried the Malbec from Mendoza, which was fine, and also the Cabernet Sauvignon from Domaine Grauzan, Languedoc Rousillon which really was surprisingly enjoyable. Sadly I don't know the year as it wasn't on the menu - but this was a deep coloured, heavily fruited nose wine with a warming, tannic and slightly tart flavour. It was full of dark fruit and also the slightest whiff of strawberry, but without any sweetness at all. It had great body and was all in all totally French - no aromatics at all just straight wine and barrel. Nice if you like a good mid-range, but super drinkable French red.

Gosh, I've talked a lot and haven't even started to talk about burgers yet. Where are my manners?

The Boy ordered the signature Byron, with bacon, cheddar and the signature Byron sauce - their take on the classic American burger sauce. Byron's burgers are made with good beef sourced from Scotland and they are served medium. And it shows. The burgers are full of flavour, juicy and really nicely cooked. You'll never want a cardboard McDonalds frisbee again. You shouldn't want those anyway - they're not even food. The buns are squishy and have a shiny brioche top. Served with a slice of pickle on the side, they are gargantuan bundles of deliciousness. The Boy was tres happy. He also ordered monterey jack cheese and jalapenos, to give a bit of additional kick and flavour. You can add lots of toppings to make your dream burger.

And so to my order. I had the Smoky. Smoked cheddar, smokey bacon, crispy fried onions and a chilli BBQ sauce. Also delicious. I added emmenthal and sliced avocado, which is why it ended up so massive. I'd happily request medium rare next time as the meat is so good and the toppings are all fresh and full of flavour.

Look at that mass of goodness. Well cooked, definitely not overly greasy. I can truly agree that this was a proper hamburger. And in the background you can see we ordered a selection of sides, mainly because we wanted to know what they all were (we took a lot home in a box and ate it with dinner the next day, we wouldn't waste food.) I loved the homemade skin-on chips - slightly chunky, really nice and crisp and excellently seasoned. The Boy was after the french fries, which were perfectly acceptable (I don't know what's good or bad to say about skinny chips, they am what they am and these were cooked fine). We also got the macaroni cheese to test its calibre against the American offerings (for sure my favourite side in the US) and it was delicious - a smooth, thick sauce with perfectly unctious mac, covered with a gooey cheese topping, it's fab. I could probably go and just eat that to be honest, if for some weird reason I wasn't in the mood for a burger. Finally there were the courgette fries - thick cut strips in a light batter - also delicious and definitely not a healthy option - hurrah!

I have to say at this point, while the food was excellent and our server was wonderful, there are clearly some teething problems with the communication between the waiting staff and the kitchen. There were what I would term 'significant' mix ups with our order. I shall try to explain in bullet point form:
  • We both ordered an extra specialty cheese to top our burger, and these toppings cost £1.25 each. However, we received our additional cheeses instead of the cheeses advertised with the burger and not as well of. I missed out on the smokey cheddar (gutted).
  • The jalapenos were put on my burger, not The Boys. I am not a fan of spicy jalapenos and once the problem was discovered there was much pulling apart of burgers and swapping of ingredients.
  • I asked our server if I could get a tiny pot of the fried cheese, which currently features on the Shady burger (awesome, a super special burger which changes every few months). However, it was not served separately, but put on my burger, in place of the fried onion bits. Tasted great, but means my experience of a true 'Smoky' is actually limited as half the ingredients were missing.
  • I think the request for a tiny pot of fried cheese, for blogging purposes, caused more confusion than we realised, as we were also brought 'an extra fries', which I think may have been a misreading of the ticket. We already had 4 sides between two people, we definitely did not need more fries!
To emphasise again, this was definitely not our lovely servers fault. We gave a complex order and she repeated it to us with every detail absolutely spot on, even repeating some elements to ensure she had them down correctly. It definitely wasn't the kitchen's fault, or the waitress that brought our food to the table - everything was certainly for our table and was cooked to absolute perfection. There must just be some teething issues with how orders are received in the kitchen, not irresolvable by any means and definitely not anything that spoiled our enjoyment of the evening.

Finally, we had to try pudding. It would have been rude not to and without dessert I wouldn't have been able to give you, dear reader, a full account of the menu. The chocolate brownie was rich, dark and waaaaaarm.... served with chocolate sauce and a beautiful vanilla ice cream. Drool. Drool.

Then there was the white chocolate cheesecake with blueberries. It was barely set and absolutely melt in the mouth but still with a lovely texture from the base. The blueberries were just scalded and they gave a wonderful contrast to the smooth cheesecake topping which had just the right amount of white chocolate for you to be able to taste it perfectly without it being at all sickly. Until we were really, really, really full, then it did taste a bit sickly, but that was our own fault.

A wonderful evening was had. This little East Coast inspired joint does everything it does on the tin - excellent, yet simple ingredients, cooked to perfection. A great drinks selection, which just had us wishing that they had a little fabricated bar in there to sit at instead of just tables. Wonderful staff, who can answer any menu question with confidence and will make you feel like they have been reunited with an old friend. Thanks so much to Justin for finding me a 'Proper' tshirt. As someone who grew up in the north west and said proper far to much as a teenager, I shall wear it, and it's Byron branding, with pride. In fact, we've already been going on about Byron's to all our friends far too much. So happy to have found a small part of the American Dream right here, in little old Leicester.

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