To paraphrase Lord Byron, when this restaurant opened, I thought, “Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life, nom nom”.
It’s been a while since I had a burger, and there was a flurry of activity online when this social media savvy chain opened its first Scottish restaurant, with queues around the corner and down the Royal Mile.
(The last time I saw such hyper excitement was when another kid looked up Mr Wimpy’s skirt at my birthday party, circa 1983).
As well as this place, there’s another imminently opening on Edinburgh’s Lothian Road, a branch in Aberdeen’s Union Square and another in Glasgow, not to mention the 37 already existing in London and 19 scattered around England.
"Does this place compete with all the Central Belt independents? Erm, nope."
In an already saturated market, I’m not sure what their USP is or why they’re called Byron, though their owner, Tom Byng, unoriginally cites US diners as his inspiration, and they like to say “proper hamburgers” a lot.
Still, cynicism aside and anticipating popularity, I booked early, though on this weekend lunchtime, the huge premises, once a bank, were almost empty.
Maybe it’s the scaffolding that currently clads the building, which obscures the entrance somewhat.
The service is American-style effusive. “Have you been before?”
“It’s so wonderful to have you here.” “Let me talk you through the menu.” Some may find it OTT, but I’m a sucker for niceness.
Unlike other Edinburgh and Glasgow burger joints, the menu is rather short and not particularly imaginative, though there’s a good drinks list with craft beers and they do a special now and then (we were too early for the Asian style Bun-zilla).
Our burgers, narrowed down from a choice of eight, were good – soft, grill scented and medium rare. Everything is very uniformly presented, as if the chefs had used a measuring tape and spirit level, as well as some Brasso to polish the golden buns. Others might prefer a more generous and feral take on the genre.
The smoky (£9.95) consisted of a 6oz meat patty topped with crisp not soggy streaky bacon, pickled gherkin, a chilli barbecue sauce and loads of fried onion, like a shower of crushed cornflakes, all stuck to a layer of melted cheese on the top. Good. While, the B-Rex (£10.50) had a similar arrangement, except with a puffy battered onion ring, like a hair scrunchie, balanced on top and more heat, courtesy of chopped green jalapeños.
The classic chicken (£8.95) in a bun was OK, with a bun sandwiching a good piece of cross-hatched charred breast, pesto and a bit of salad on the top. Simple, but effective, though it’s still the booby prize when compared to the red meat options.
Though burgers are all around the tenner mark, French fries (£2.95) aren’t included. We got some of these – skinny, OK. We preferred the thick and frog-green courgette fries (£3.50), with a polenta topping, and a globulous though small portion of macaroni cheese (£3.95).
Sweet stuff was provided by a salted popcorn and maple milkshake (£4.95), which was like a cold vat of pleasingly sweet and sodium tinged melted ice-cream. Par-tay.
The Oreo cheesecake (£4.95) was decent enough, topped with powdered chocolate biscuit on the cheesy lid and a fridge solid base.
That was a decent burger fest. However, beyond the hype, does this place compete with all the Central Belt independents, like Meat, Burger Meats Bun, El Perro Negro, Bread Meats Bread and their ilk, most of whom undercut Byron by a few quid? Erm, nope, it doesn’t have the soul.
I’d love to tell you if it’s better than the chains, like Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Five Guys, but I don’t frequent those places.
It is, though, way better than Wimpy, circa 1983… though the skirt incident was pretty funny.
Lunch for three, excluding drinks - £44.75
29-31 North Bridge, Edinburgh
(0131 556 3444, www.byronhamburgers.com)