Q&A: Tom Byng of Byron

We mix beer and burgers this week as we have a chat with London’s true Burger King, Tom Byng.


What is the Byng – Byron ethos…

Do a simple thing properly

First beer experience…

Nicking a couple of Double Diamonds out of my Dad’s fridge as a 10 year old and drinking them with my brother behind a bush in the garden. Terrible beer, but it tasted pretty good at the time.

Best beer find of the last year…

SKA beers, we managed to get True Blonde and Steel Toe Stout on to our latest list pretty much exclusive to us

What sounds are to be heard in the office…

I spend quite a lot of time in the restaurants so the sizzling of grills, bubbling of fryers and gentle tapping of ketchup bottles is ever present. In a nice way obviously.

If I wasn’t running Byron I’d be…

About 10kg lighter for sure

Before Byron…

I had a couple of restaurants in Notting Hill for 10 years. The rents doubled so I sold up and started Byron

Favourite thing about what I do…

Getting paid to eat burgers and drink beer is tough to beat.

What drew you to Camden Town Brewery to brew Byron Pale…

Camden not only supply Hells but act as a quasi consultant for the whole list. We have a great relationship, so having them brew our own beer was a no brainer. We wouldn’t have had anybody else do it to be honest.
What have you learnt from working with CTB and vice versa… They’ve pretty much taught us everything we know. We started out as enthusiasts with a relatively low knowledge base and in a year they’ve turned us into something approaching experts. From their perspective, they certainly know a lot more about hamburgers than a year ago! I think also having a big volume customer has been a good test for them in terms of how they set up their infrastructure to support growth.

Greatest achievement to date…

Byron Pale Ale becoming our top seller within 2 weeks of launch. For it to outsell Peroni in a chain restaurant environment was as satisfying as it was unexpected. For Byron generally I think we’ve been instrumental in instigating the burger revolution which has swept London in the last 5 years, the result being that if you like hamburgers there is a now plenty of quality options available irrespective of taste and budget

Brewers I look up to…

Camden Town Brewery, Kernel and Brewdog in the UK. Sierra Nevada, Bear Republic and Lagunitas in the US

Pub heaven…

Big range of craft beer on tap and in bottles with some decent food coming out of the kitchen

Pub hell…


Favourite local pub…

Anglesea Arms, Wingate Rd, W6

Favourite non local pub…

Craft Beer Co, Hatton Garden

Advice for an aspiring startup…

If you’re not shitting yourself you’re not being brave enough. Back yourself and go for it.

What’s on the horizon…

We have 5 more restaurants to open this year (including our first out of London in Oxford), a new burger van for street food events, a full summer festival season for our Shack, a Chilli Queen burger special for the Jubilee and a new beer list for September.

Next week the Q&A takes a techie turn with Greg Avola, the beer brain behine Untappd

Q&A: Tom Byng of Byron

New York: Prime Burger, 5 East 51st Street btw Madison and 5th Avenue

“What’s good?”

“Err [waiters eyes roll upwards, but he stops short of slapping his forehead]… The clue is in da name… We’re Primeburger. We do burgers. We’ve been doing them since 1938… [leaning forwards] Y’know, we’re pretty good at them by now.”


To be fair the menu is extensive but we take his point and order two cheeseburgers. They are simple and no nonsense. Plain bun, good meat patty with your selection of toppings. As the waiter tells us “at Prime Burger, everything is a la carte”. It’s well regarded but probably not going to top any foodie best burger lists but for me the charm of Prime Burger would put it firmly on mine.

If proper New York banter isn’t enough, then the opportunity to live out a Mad Men fantasy should tip the balance. The 50s / 60s original decor could be lifted straight out of the show with Don Draper sat drinking coffee and contemplating life over the days second packet of cigarettes. It’s an authentic slice of New York which shouldn’t be missed. If you are not sold at this point I’d suggest the nearest Wendy’s and ask you never to darken this blogs doorstep again.



Prime Burger, 5 East 51st Street btw Madison and 5th Avenue

New York: Prime Burger, 5 East 51st Street btw Madison and 5th Avenue

Giant Robot, 45-47 Clerkenwell Road, EC1

Giant Robot, a Bar come diner, sits on the site of what was Match cocktail bar. It should be just what’s required after an impromptu Clerkenwell crawl, with it’s classic American diner menu. It’s 10pm on a Wednesday when we visit and as they close at 12am we’re well in time for a few more drinks and some food.  We’re told to wait by the bar while a table opens up. Although we can  see one uncleared it doesn’t seem to register with the staff. We dutifully wait. The beer selection is somewhat limited with a small selection on tap backed up by  a Brooklyn Brewery bottle selection, which is perhaps a nod to the origin of such a bar come diner concept.

Finally seated our waitress provides menus and on returning to the table politely and apologetically hurries us along, as we are told the kitchen is closing. After what seemed like an unnecessary wait for the table and hurried service the first impression isn’t great. English and I go for a burger. It’s become a strange habit borne out of years of dining together that we seem to have synced in our choices. As much to stem any jealously when the other has made a superior choice. After a further wait and glances into the open kitchen to see not much going on our food is an anticlimax. The sweet bun is over toasted, flakes covering the plate as we eat, the burger is pretty standard and sin of sins; no gherkin.

After the delights of #Meateasy and the real deal in Brooklyn, at places like Dumont, Giant Robot just doesn’t deliver as expected. Their not alone. I’ve had similar experiences at Diner in Shoreditch and Essex Road where the concept is good but the delivery is lacking. At £20 each for beers and burger you’d expect them to import the full formula to make this work which is just as much about the service as it is about the food.

Giant Robot, 45-47 Clerkenwell Road, EC1M 5RS

Giant Robot, 45-47 Clerkenwell Road, EC1

#Meateasy, Goldsmiths Tavern, 316 New Cross Road, London SE14

I’ve come to the Meatwagon late. In fact so late that it’s been stolen. The South London burger wagon that became a food cult was stolen in December and it looked like I’d never get to taste the meaty goodness I’d heard so much about. I was just going to have to live with it. At least until the birth of the #Meateasy. This pop up venture above the Goldsmiths Tavern in New Cross is looking to raise funds for a new Meatwagon. This is their second chance and my meaty redemption.

It’s just English who responds to my #Meateasy invitation and like me I think he’s considering his choice days in advance. As we arrive at Goldsmiths Tavern we know we’re in the right place but all the same its not giving us any clues. The barmaid, looking the two suits up and down, has the answer: Meateasy? Thru-the-back-turn left-thru-the-door-up-the-fire-escape. She’s obviously said this a few times over the last few weeks. Peering into the back and a darkened dancefloor it looks unlikely to lead anywhere but we obediently make our way to the back. And this is how I find myself stood on a dark dancefloor in New Cross, with English; as Rhythm is a Dancer pumps through the speakers. It’s a bizarre moment to say the least. Then to the left, a chink of light and we’ve either found it, or the bogs. It’s raining as we ascend the fire escape from the beer garden. A family pass us on the stairs and straight faced tell us that it’s not too busy. I don’t get my hopes up as the meatwagon queues were legendary. My caution is well placed as we are greeted with a smile, given a raffle ticket and told that we will order in around two hours. There’s no question of leaving – we have tickets and we have a bar – what else do we need?

The room is busy with expectant punters sat, stood and perched; the kitchen looks to be working at full capacity and the front of house staff are screaming. Raffle ticket numbers to call people into the order queue and names for those about to be served. As time passes voices start to strain and the loud hailer comes out. At the bar its as hectic with a choice of cocktails and Meantime London Lager and Union. At £3.50 a bottle its not going to be the cheapest of nights but then they hardly need to push cheap beer to pull the punters and to be fair the atmosphere is better than any bar in Central London which would charge the same or more.

As food leaves the open kitchen necks are strained, usually followed by ohhh I might have that, or that, ohh no that. We hardly notice the wait, which is pretty much the 2 hours predicted, though coming later seems to be the best tactic for a shorter wait. Before long our numbers are called and we are in the queue having to make choices. Not everything at the #Meateasy is easy! With the French Dip and Philly Cheese Steak sold out I opt for the Dead Hippy as much for the name as for the fact that it’s what Big Macs should taste like with its double patty and special sauce. Onion Rings, Fries and Buffalo wings accompany – I mean it would be wrong not to wouldn’t it. I can honestly say that I could have closed my eyes and been in Brooklyn. Its the best burger experience i’ve had in the UK and perhaps anywhere.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

The Goldsmith Tavern is due a Capital Pub Company makover shortly and #Meateasy is open now until March. My advice is to get in while you can. When the Meatwagon returns a fleet may be needed to satisfy fans old and new.

Pics courtesy of Tehbus

#Meateasy, Goldsmiths Tavern 316 New Cross Rd,  London SE14 6AF

#Meateasy, Goldsmiths Tavern, 316 New Cross Road, London SE14

Obligatory Burger Post: The Luxe, Commercial Street

 There was a time, pre Crunch, that lunch was often more than just a sandwich from Pret. These days lunch is homemade, but once in a while I just need my burger fix. I’m not talking Burger King. I’m not talking Gourmet Burger Kitchen. I’m talking about something a little more upscale. For me this is The Luxe…  it’s pretty much a Friday thing but given a bad morning and no salad in the fridge and Tuesday is suddenly Friday.

It seems to be de riguer for a blog to have at least one burger posting but to date I don’t think I’ve heard enough about The Luxe, which seems strange given its link to John Torode and prominent Spitalfields location. Maybe the proximity to Hawksmoor; which gets the foodie vote with a fervent blog and Twitter following is a reason, but their burger lunch special at about £5 more just didn’t outshine the Luxe for me. That last sentence for some may be sacrilige. I just hope i’m not put on a foodie watchlist and barred from entering Hawksmoor (as the steak is something I dream and drool over). 

We’ve now stopped checking the menu on visits to Luxe as it always comes back to the simple burger. You can opt for egg and all the fixings but for me it’s about keeping it simple; as if the absence of a fried egg and bacon can justify a glutonous lunch washed down with a pint or two. It doesn’t fail to please, built around a great burger, a brioche bun and just the right amount of crisp, well sized chips. Oh and not forgetting the generous pickle. Can’t forget the pickle. What more could you you want?

109 Commercial Street, E1 6BG

Obligatory Burger Post: The Luxe, Commercial Street