David Nicholson compares two of the city’s ‘posh burger’ outlets – and discovers that it’s about much, much more than just the food…
There should be little to choose between them. “Gourmet Burger Kitchen is all about the burger”… for Byron the slogan is even more direct: “Proper Hamburgers.”
But the dining experience could not be more different.
At GBK it’s the understated clean-lined canteen style of their Lendal outlet. After all, it’s all about the burger, isn’t it? So why worry about minor details, such as ambience.
Just a five-minute walk away, in High Ousegate, the brash upstart Byron has other ideas; there’s a party going on, and everyone wants in.
The GBK chicken burger and the Byronburger. Click to see a bigger image
Byron focus on just eight main choices: Classic, Cheese, Byronburger (with bacon and cheddar), Chilli, Skinny, Chicken and Veggie (mushroom, red pepper and goat’s cheese), plus this season’s special, the Miami Slice (6oz burger with salami, American cheese, pork scratchings, in a sourdough bun).
In contrast, GBK offer a dozen beef choices, five styles of chicken burger, three interesting veggie choices (bean patty, falafel, and goat’s cheese and aubergine), plus three speciality choices (cod, lamb or buffalo).
Normally we’d praise a tighter menu over a wider-ranging one, on the assumption that fewer choices usually means higher quality and more focus.
But GBK seem to have the range about right, and our trio had little trouble in finding something to suit three very different tastes.
We chose Camemburger (Camembert, hash brown, with truffle mayo), Falafel (with cucumber raita and chilli salsa), and Chicken Pesterella (with mozzarella and rocket pesto).
Side dishes of rosemary fries, sweet potato fries and regular skinny fries were accompanied by fizzy elderflower cordials (£2.35, but generously topped up free on request).
At Byron the tighter choice made us take longer to decide. Eventually, we went for Chicken (chargrilled breast, baby spinach and red onion), Classic, and Byronburger, with sides of Skin-On Chips, and standard French Fries.
Beer (Peroni) was served in a super-chilled glass, a nice touch.
There was genuinely little to choose between the food offerings at both venues, but our table vote went – but only just – to GBK whose medium burgers seemed more succulent than the Byron medium.
The wider choice also scored well for GBK, and their drinks offering of craft beers from smaller breweries, was a definite plus.
At neither location did we need a dessert. (Byron was offering Banoffee Mess, Cheesecake, Caramel Sundae or Brownie for just under a fiver or ice cream at £3.95; GBK’s limited choice of three desserts – Greek Yoghurt, Frozen Yoghurt or ice cream – were more modestly priced at £2.50.
Atmosphere and service
But which restaurant did we enjoy more? Byron edged it.
So it may be the only time this reviewer will be in agreement with Chancellor George “man-of-the-people” Osborne who famously opted for the posh burger fare.
The verdict was all down to the difference in atmosphere.
There’s none of that drab GBK decor of slabby colours that were cool in the 1980s but which look so tired and dull these days.
Byron, housed in the premises that was the Danish Kitchen for the last 36 years, is stripped back to the building fabric, but with warm colours, and shelves of produce, all suggesting an impromptu get-together in a shabby-chic warehouse.
There’s none of that GBK rigmarole where one of the party has to go to the counter to place the order and pay.
Byron’s table service is exactly that: service at the table… and with a smile.
That’s not to say that GBK staff were anything other than friendly and helpful, but it just doesn’t feel particularly relaxing when you have to do part of the waiting job yourself… even if you do get free monkey nuts at GBK, (but it’s a faff to scoop them up and balance them on the walk back to your table).
The Byron venue style is distinctive and lively. The open kitchen is a main feature, and adds to the bustle and excitement. GBK’s “open kitchen” seemed somewhat in the shadows by comparison.
At GBK the music was subdued 1970s and 1980s; Byron’s vibe was distinctly more up-to-the-minute, with the accent on lively beats, but not so loud that it prevented conversation.
The place was packed with young people paying much more attention to each other than the food, which is what this kind of burger experience is all about.
On price, there’s a scarcely any difference between the two on like-for-like comparisons. GBK’s Classic 6oz (West Country beef) with house mayo and relish is £6.75.
Expect to pay around £15 a head for mains, with a side order or two and a soft drink; £20 a head if you choose beer or wine; £23-25 if you need a dessert too.
The Byron Classic, also 6oz (Scottish beef), with lettuce, tomato, red onion and mayonnaise will hit your pocket for exactly the same sum.
Value for money
Of course, the ideal solution would be for Byron to offer the range that features on GBK’s menu. But until that happens – or GBK get a charisma implant – Byron gets the vote.