Cambridge is not a great place to have dinner. There are plenty of places to eat, sure, and a burgeoning selection of really good places to buy fresh produce if you’re cooking. But the actual choice of restaurants is poor, and heavy on chains.
Byron is a chain. But it’s a small one, and it isn’t photofit Italian, so it’s worth a mention.
The menu is pretty simple, as you’d expect from a business trading heavily on the idea of doing only one thing and doing it well. “Proper hamburgers” is the shtick, and the selection offers little else. Pick a burger, add some extras or choose a pre-set combo, add sides, and enjoy with an excellent selection of craft beer. It works.
They believe strongly in not overloading the burger, so you get a solid, juicy slab of meat grilled medium (or you can choose) in a soft bun with the merest nod to lettuce and tomato. The sauces you can add are pretty standard with a good range of cheeses, and the chipotle mayo on their chilli burger is sensational. It’s rich and smoky without being too sweet or sticky to compensate for the heat, and they serve the chilli burger with thin shreds of fresh green chillis.
This last touch is genius. Jalapeños are more usual, but they’re too squishy, too wet, and the vinegar doesn’t always work. I love them, don’t get me wrong. I’ll eat jalapeños straight from the jar. But in a burger they can be a miss-step. The mild green chillis here added a freshness; it’s a good call.
Their signature burger is the Byron – beef, mature cheddar, cured bacon cooked crisp. Again, common mistakes were avoided. The bacon was of quality, and dry cured to give a solid background savoury note, rather than being smoked into oblivion, or worse just an insipid sliver of nebulous pink. No, this was done just right, and the cheddar nudged in just enough sharpness to offset the whole thing.
Despite the burger focus, I’ve been with a vegetarian, and someone who prefers chicken burgers. I am assured that both were tasty, and indeed they looked great. The veggie option is the now-omnipresent grilled portobello mushroom. But here it’s with goats’ cheese and aioli, which balance beautifully without being too heavy. The chicken was arguably on the dry side, but the spinach leaves are a nice touch, and I’m told the tomato mayonnaise ties it all together well.
For me, though, the star of the show is the onion rings. They’re probably the best I’ve had.
They’re giant, covered thickly in a rich, crisp batter, and arrive in a main course sized portion. The batter has a little zing to it, as well. There’s definitely cayenne there, and perhaps a dash of onion powder. In fact, there’s a cliché-Cajun note through it, but in absolutely a good way. These fuckers are delicious.
Overall, Byron reminds me most strongly of Meat Liquor but without being to achingly over-posed. The food is a pretty close match – quality burgers, quality sides, simple presentation. But it doesn’t have the style-over-substance ambience. I love Meat Liquor’s pose; I buy into that shit. But the dungeon-level lighting, blaring music, and pervasive ambient smugness will alienate some diners.
Byron isn’t doing that. It’s not trying to be somewhere to tell your friends you’ve been, it’s trying to be somewhere you can go to get a burger. And it’s doing it pretty well.
Go. Go with a group so you can order all the sides without suffering profound digestive tragedy. Get a chilli burger, get onion rings, try the courgette fries, be braver than I was and venture the Mac & Cheese, and wash it down with something hoppy as balls from Kernel.
Addendum – the best burger?
Thinking about it, I should probably keep a ranking of the best burger places in town. Although that could very easily turn into a rant about the shabby service and table reservation policies at the Kingston Arms, so maybe best not.
I think Byron tops the list so far, but it would be fun to find out.
Rants notwithstanding, where else should I get burgers?