Monday, 13 October 2014

Byron Comes to Bristol

With new eateries popping up all over the place at the moment, Bristolian foodies have a lot to be excited about. One such new arrival rocked up on the Queens Road at the tail end of last week, so - it being Friday and us being in a bit of a weary, end-of-the-week type mood - we decided there couldn't be a more apt time to trial its take on the classic American diner experience. 

A new addition to Queens Road
Byron Burger might be new to Bristol but it's been keeping Londoners stocked up with proper burgers since 2007 and now has branches across the capital as well as outposts in other cities across the UK. Back in '07, the vogue for gourmet burgers was in its infancy, and Byron was a pioneer in reclaiming the meat patty from the dingy recesses of the fast food industry. By combining quality ingredients with an artfully retro dining experience, Byron Burger helped to reposition the burger as THE cool thing to chow down on. Fast-forward to 2014 and gourmet burgers are now firmly featured on the food map and the Byron model isn't quite as revolutionary as it might have once seemed. But a good burger is still a joyous thing and with lots of imitators but few real masters, we were interested to see if Byron remains at the top of its game.

Slightly nicer decor than McDonalds
The food is very good and reasonably priced. A standard burger is £6.75, with accompanying fries at £2.95, and portions are just the right side of big. We ordered some extra courgette chips (perhaps a vain attempt at injecting something healthy into our carb 'n' protein fest) which were absolutely delicious; other sides include coleslaw and onion rings. The menu is, as you'd imagine, rooted in the classic American diner experience, though you'll find more contemporary alternatives if you fancy trying something a little more modish, from a bun-free 'skinny' option to a 'Chilli' burger(our choice) packed with green chilies and chipotle mayonnaise (not to be underestimated - while delicious I had to turn the heat down a little by removing a chilli or two.)

Burgers 'n' BIG gherkins
We ate with our two children and Byron makes the usual accommodations for younger diners (colouring sheets, kids menu, etc.) and they have booths! All kids (and most grown ups too, actually) love a booth. The kids menu comes in at 2 courses for £6.50. Particularly helpful (and not something I've seen at a restaurant before) is the indication of portion size. Kids menus vary greatly and it's sometimes hard to judge whether a child size portion will suffice for the age of your child. At Byron it's clearly stated that theirs are designed for 6 year olds and under so you know where you stand. I also liked the fact that you can buy your young 'uns smaller-than-standard cokes, helping to assuage any parental guilt you might feel about giving into requests for fizzy drinks. 

Byron Burger for kids
Kids burgers come well done and you can request the same for older kids having an adult burger or for yourself if well cooked is how you like it. Our burgers were plump and juicy, and accompanied by a proper bun and perfectly cooked skinny fries. Oh, and a proper full size gherkin on the side - the perfect final flourish for a gherkin aficionado like myself. Puddings keep with the American theme - think cheesecakes, brownies and old-school knickerbocker glories. 

American-style good service is clearly something that Byron feels strongly about too - obviously you'd expect super-friendly service in those first days post-opening, but I got the feeling that the company prides itself on a casual but efficient service and that staff are keenly aware that it's not enough to have a cool concept and a hip interior - friendly, slick service is what keeps customers coming back. 

If you really do love your burgers you can join the Byron Burger Club to receive exclusive invites to previews of hamburger specials and new openings, and to get priority access to one-off Burger Club events. 

Find Byron Burger at 62 Queens Road, BS8 1RE. For other branches and more info visit the Byron Burger website here.


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Affordable Art

A couple of weeks back the Affordable Art Fair made its annual visit to Bristol and I was invited to take a look around courtesy of Smithson Art Gallery. Bristol's a creative city and galleries and print shops abound, but what's great about the Art Fair is being able to see a variety of stuff in one huge place. This time around some 55 galleries were in attendance, taking over the vast space that is the Engine Room at Temple Meads station. The fair rolls into town each year, as well as taking up residence in two locations in London, Hampstead and Battersea. If you missed the Bristol event and don't want to wait until next year to see what the fair's all about, the next event takes place at Battersea Evolution on 23rd-26th October. 

So, what exactly is meant by 'affordable'? Unfortunately most of the pieces that caught my eye were very much out of my budget (a particular favourite came in at £1700) but in proper art terms this does constitute a reasonable price point and if you're a serious art collector you'd find plenty to tempt you. For amateur art fans like myself, it's perhaps less about investing in a piece and more about dipping a toe into the contemporary art scene, seeing which artists catch your eye and perhaps leaving with a print to brighten up a bare wall.

What I enjoyed about it was being able to browse at ease - it's a different experience to stepping into an empty gallery and feeling a bit self conscious about looking around with no real intention to buy. There was also a huge range of styles on offer, from edgy photography to quirky screen prints, unusual sculptures to nostalgic watercolours. After a bit of deliberation I came away empty handed but there were plenty of pieces I hesitated over, none of them coming in over my pre-set budget of £100. But with no obvious space to fill on my walls and other more pressing financial obligations needing attention, I decided to hold off making a purchase. 

If you can't get to London and don't want to wait a whole year for the next Art Fair, this month signals the beginning of the autumn arts trail season in Bristol, with the West Bristol artistic community hosting their trail on the 11th and 12th October. Taking in private homes and studios around Clifton, Redland and Hotwells, it's a good way to view local talent across everything from jewellery making to ceramics. Find out full details here.

Then in November, North Bristol takes up the baton, with one of the biggest trails in the city covering areas such as Bishopston, Horfield and St Andrews. I've been visiting the trail for the last couple of years and love the idea of popping into different homes and studios, meeting with the artists and browsing original pieces of art that usually have a very affordable price tag. Find out more about North Bristol Arts trail here. 

Finally, you can also browse affordable art without even leaving the house thanks to I came across this site thanks to brilliant blog The Frugality. There's a lot on this site so you may need to do some sifting to unearth something that rocks your boat, but there are handy filters to help make the job easier, and the prices are very wallet-friendly if you want to buy something a bit more unique than a ubiquitous Ikea print but don't know where to start.

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