A beer and a burger. A humble staple of pub menus across the land.
Some have taken that simple pairing of juicy meat and palate-tingling beer and made something exciting of it. Every city has a local champion, but in London, Byron is the king. Their beer menu puts half of the capital’s pubs to shame, never mind the restaurants. It’s a weird sort of anomaly on the graph of good beer in restaurants, sitting out on its own in an area marked ‘burgers and stuff, but not street food’. I think it’s street food and pop-ups that have derailed this otherwise promising trend. Street food vendors would more than likely sell quality beer if they had the license to do so, however, so maybe this is an area where having a roof wins every time.
Before I’d ever heard of Byron, I’d been to Gourmet Burger Kitchen. It was clearly all about the burgers – big ones – and a choice of decadent toppings and sauces. I remember having a hunk of beef quite rare and covered in blue cheese. It was exciting, and delicious, but the beer was just an afterthought. I think I had Budvar.
Now, of course, in a country besieged by new breweries and people interested in what those breweries make, it’s simply not good enough to just have a couple of lagers below the wine list. To GBK’s credit, they do stock their ‘own label’ Organic Pale Ale made by Laverstoke Farm. I haven’t had it, but the thought counts. Alongside that and the standard couple of lagers, a new beer has been welcomed onto the menu: Harviestoun’s Bitter & Twisted.
Harviestoun’s Bitter & Twisted is a zesty, likeable blonde beer that suits bottles very well. It has a lemony, citrusy, even peachy hop character that’s kept in balance with some floral Noble hops too. Whilst it’s a pale ale, it reminds me a bit of Sam Adams Boston Lager, in a good way. GBK have about fifty restaurants now, so in Harviestoun they’ve picked a brewer that can handle the distribution demand, and fill the vacancy on their menu for new ‘craft beer’ that people will find interesting but accessible. B&T is a great beer, but it’s not like it’s Racer 5 or anything else on Byron’s beer menu. It being stocked at GBK is still a good thing though of course, because it points toward a more mainstream acceptance of having great beer in high street food outlets.
Wednesday saw the launch of B&T at the GBK in Angel, Islington. It’s a nice place to eat, with interesting lighting, and it uses a soft touch when it comes to hipster décor. The whole restaurant was given over to the invited guestlist between 5.00pm and 6.30pm (a potentially risky move given the place’s proximity to a Vue cinema on Orange Wednesday). Free bottles of B&T were brought to the table, along with sliders/mini-burgers of a few different varieties from the menu. It was a much more informal kind of beer launch than I’m used to. At no point did a Harviestoun person get everyone’s attention and chat about the beer (or it’s pairing potential with burgers), which was a bit of a shame. The only other irritation was that some burgers made to some tables, but not to others. I had a couple of the wild boar burgers, and a couple of the chicken, Camembert and cranberry variety (pictured above), both of which B&T went with excellently. The chicken burger in particular seemed to bring out all the best bits of the beer – a balance of sweet and tart alongside the cranberry, whilst also cutting through the chicken and gooey cheese.
There was also some chips and dips doing the rounds, including hunks of grilled halloumi with a green chilli dip that the B&T paired with very nicely indeed, sitting on top of the chilli on your tongue and gradually turning it sweet.
The event as a whole was fun, but too informal and casual to land any messages about the brand and why it’s there. Other than that, it was a fun evening of food and beer. It also reminded me of what a lovely beer Bitter & Twisted actually is, so in that regard, it was certainly a success. Hopefully, we’ll see more interesting beer listings in GBK and other places like it in the future.