In Search of Perfect Buns at Byron

Call me radical but I like a good old fashioned burger bun – sweet, seeded and soft. One of my favourite examples comes, somewhat controversially, from McDonald’s. Yes, really. When I saw this post about Haché back in June, I was reminded of my loathing for the trend of sandwiching a burger with an inappropriate bun. Ciabatta? For a burger? No.

I commented on the post that I thought it would be a rather interesting experiment to take a Maccy D’s bun and put it either side of a proper burger. I resolved to make it happen and put the idea out on Twitter where the lovely @byronhamburger jumped in and offered to make my dream a reality. So it was that I found myself in McDonald’s a few weeks later asking, “could I just have three plain buns please? No nothing in them, just plain.” “OK” the guy said, “but you’ll have to pay for the full sandwich.” “You what?” I countered, “but how can they be worth the same when there’s nothing in them, can’t you just charge me for one?” Apparently, there was nothing he could do. In fact, he was so resolute about it that he just kept repeating the same phrase in a slightly scary robotic fashion. “OK, thanks anyway,” I said. “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do,” he replied.

Burger King on the other hand, were more helpful. Three buns, toasted – £1.99, and I got a few funny looks thrown in for free. I stashed them in my bag and toddled off to meet Lizzie, Ollie and Chris for the bun-off. Tom Byng, the MD at Byron was waiting and oh my giddy aunt if he hadn’t had their bakers (Miller’s) make up a selection of buns for us to try! “Have you got the er, you know?” he asked me, referring to the BK buns. “The dark side has indeed passed the threshold,” I replied. He’d even made up tasting sheets. There were 9 buns in total and for each we first tried the bun au naturale before moving on to bread and burger combo. This was serious business.

Here’s the pick of the bunch. First, the BK bun. On its own, too dry and bready but with the burger? Great. Sweet flavour and the all important robust structure – there’s nothing worse than being reduced to eating a burger with a knife and fork. Shockingly good.

Next, the brioche, a strong contender for my favourite too; sweet, buttery goodness, which complemented the meat perfectly. I loved it at Hawksmoor and I love it still. The only problem here is structural – it tends to wrinkle up and deflate somewhat on top. Oh and it needs seeding.

The worst bun on the night (no surprises here people), was the ciabatta – just too much effort to eat. Ciabatta is an event in itself, it is hard work, has a strong, yeasty flavour and it hogs the limelight. I think I’m right in saying that none of our party even took another bite after dusting off our floury faces.

Others included a wholemeal version (just plain wrong), onion sour dough (too much sourness competing for attention), sesame seed (pretty damn good, more sweetness needed) and the plain white (the Byron standard, actually very good, simple, doughy but lacking seeds). So my dream bun then? Well, it would combine the structure and seeds of the BK offering with all the sweetness and fluffiness of the brioche. Operation bun – phase 1 complete. Now I just need to work out how to make this ‘ultimate’ version. Any tips will be hugely appreciated.

A massive thank you to Byron for making the whole thing happen in the first place and entering into it with such enthusiasm. I didn’t confess this on the night, but I’d actually never been to Byron before. I cannot tell you my relief when I bit into one of their burgers – perfectly pink and juicy with plenty of beefy oomph. Fresh, crisp salad and carefully considered saucing. An absolute pleasure to try, all nine of them. You can see what a good time I had by the state of my tasting sheet above. I can’t wait for phase 2 – recipe testing. I’m going to be eating a lot of burgers this summer…

300 King’s Road
Tel: 020 7352 6040
There are other locations: see website for details

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    Reply Chris August 14, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Great writeup of the evening – and what a pleasure to be there. I reckon I’d still go for the brioche over anything else despite its collapsiness – but I can see where you’re coming from. Very funny about the “There’s nothing we can do” man.

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    Reply The Graphic Foodie August 14, 2009 at 8:20 am

    Great idea. I must admit I had my 4th ever McDonalds burger last week (I was desperate and in Eastbourne at midnight with a cooker in the back of my little Fiesta.. but that’s another story).

    I really didn’t like that the softness of the bun made the whole burger one mushy, sweaty texture. Not good.

    Agreed with you on the ciabatta bun though – who the heck came up with that one?! Too dry and it’s bad enough trying to get a burger in your mouth with some sort of decorum at the best of times without the flour obstacle!

    Can’t wait to hear the final result!

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    Reply Hazel August 14, 2009 at 8:49 am

    I haven’t tried them, but Deb’s recipes are usually pretty good – I reckon you could adapt this recipe with your preferences…

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    Reply tehbus August 14, 2009 at 8:54 am

    I went to Hache recently and thought the buns were much softer than your regular ciabatta. I do agree though, in principal, ciabatta is wrong, seeds are good and a bit of sweetness to complement the beef is always welcome. If you find/make that “perfect bun”, let me know!

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    Reply An American in London August 14, 2009 at 9:00 am

    If I hadn’t read your rather scientific tasting results, I’d say brioche is a no-no for burgers as well, but you make a persuasive argument for it. : ) Brilliant idea going to the fast-food masters for the bun.

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    Reply kavey August 14, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Such a fun idea. And I agree on the ciabatta. I went to Hache a few weeks back and I just left the bun. Too heavy really, and to much work. Decided to leave it aside and have more space for the lovely fries and burger itself. Ciabatta just not right for bun.
    Loving brioche idea, as I love brioche.
    Oh and as I much prefer BK to McDs am happy their buns came out so well!

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    Reply nina August 14, 2009 at 10:02 am

    This just proves my theory that the inside of a MD burger taste like cardboard…… great write up!!!

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    Reply Kerri August 14, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Great idea! I agree on the need for seeds but otherwise I think Byron’s buns are pretty good.

    We’ve perfected our burger recipe and our next step is the buns, will be interesting to see how you get on.

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    Reply Helen August 14, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Chris – that brioche was amazing. I reckon just that brioche with seeds and a bit less wrinkling and perfection will be achieved.
    The Graphic Foodie – Yeah the ciabatta bun is SO WRONG.
    Hazel – Yes I was actually going to make those to take along! I didn’t get around to it though.
    Tehbus – Oh, I will find it don’t worry!
    An American in London – It works amazingly well, honestly!
    Kavey – Yeah, way too bready.
    Nina – Yeah the meat is not worth it. Nothing to it.
    Kerri – You must keep me updated on your progress, we can swap tips.

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    Reply Dan August 14, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Helen, Hilarious – I knew you had a thing about ciabbata buns on burgers but never realised you’d taken it to such extreme lengths and in such a scientific way. Very interesting indeed – will be following the results of the recipe tasting closely!

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    Reply James August 14, 2009 at 11:45 am

    What fun. You went into McD’s? You must have a real innner strength!

    Love the brioche – but you’re right – how can you have a burger bun without sesame seeds.

    The carrot and cumin burger buns I made a couple of weeks (Dan Lepard recipe) were great. The mix was so moist it made super soft buns, and the paprika gave it a kick too.

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    Reply mark August 14, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    That’s really cool! There is something very familiar about the chewy sweetness of a macdonalds bun that I kinda love.

    The bun is oh-so-important and there’s nothing worse than a big, horrible, dry, floury bun around a good burger.

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    Reply powerfulpierre August 14, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    I agree about the seeded bun, you may recall I did a blog on my ultimate burger and since then I have discovered french seeded baps and they are perfect, made by a company called Harrys and based in Belgium I think, they are soft, sweet and freeze well, Mrs.Powerfulpierre does not like them so I freeze em.

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    Reply Helen August 14, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Dan – Oh yeah, I never do things by halves…
    James – Those carrot and cumin burgers sound nice! I’ll give them a go. And yes, I have mighty strength within!
    Powerfulpierre – Hello! Agreed, seeds are essential. I was also pleased to find French’s mild and sweet on the table 🙂

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    Reply Simon August 14, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    Yes, the reason you couldn’t just pay for a bun in McDonalds is they are (supposedly) a fast food joint, not a bakery. And the reason they were talking to you in a robotic fashion is beacause that’s how people talk when they are dealing with someone a bit simple…

    By the way, eating McDonalds buns is like eating bun shaped cotton wool.

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    Reply youngandfoodish August 14, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    I’ll have my brioche bun lightly toasted.

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    Reply Andrew Sartain August 14, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Yawnnn………..i lost interest after about two sentences as i dont eat burgers unless i make them. cos you can never buy a good one esp outside of London. Its okay for you mere mortals but you must remember i am a God.
    The bun analysis read like fun however, i am far to arrogant and obnoxious to have undertaken such a task.
    I will agree with Ciabatta, suitable for fat english & fat americans though, being dough boys………..
    I like a mcdonalds occasionally, or rather did when i was a practising alcoholic. Now however, i have taste buds and can only scowl at those who inhabit such joints. Not that im a hypocrite or any thing. It is truly an american invention. only a fat bastard could think of such a eating concept.
    And finally for those ready to stop following me after reading this thanks for the chance to allow me to abuse you.
    FS. I think your a star keep up the good if not ever so slightly childish work i look forward to more

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    Reply Lizzie August 14, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    That brioche bun was SO good. it was the only burger I could contemplate eating the next day. Well done in organising it – it was educational!

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    Reply aforkfulofspaghetti August 14, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    I was going to post a comment, and then Sarty beat me to it. Now I’m completely floored from laughing…

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    Reply Chris August 14, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    Which bridge did all these trolls crawl out from underneath all of a sudden? Simon: Being insulting and completely wrong at the same time is a surefire way of not having anyone respect your opinion. Andrew Sartain: Ditto.

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    Reply Karrie August 14, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    The worst I’ve had was a nice thick, juicy burger in a….tortilla wrap….ugh…horrible!

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    Reply Oysterculture August 14, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    What a great post and I love the scientific research that went into the bun comparison. I agree ciabatta is a troublesome choice for a bun, my jaw usually aches from the effort by the end of the meal.

    This topic certainly seems to have brought out a passionate response, especially considering you were not tackling the entire burger but just the bun. When you do go for the meat portion, I’ll be braced for anything but love learning what others, and in this case you think on the subject.

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    Reply Ollie August 14, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    The ‘there’s nothing I can do guy’ – you’ve got to smile…

    I’ve still not got over the fact that Burger King’s was my favourite too. On its own, completely inedible. Mixed with the burgers, exquisite. So weird.

    Lovely write-up, as always. Mine’s on the way.

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    Reply binky August 15, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Nice work. I agree 100% with your bun predelictions it sounds like. English muffins can work okay — better than standard supermarket burger buns, which are usually too …crumbly? dry? weak?
    I was recently served a burger on focaccia. Unbelievable. I love focaccia, but it’s just so obviously a bad idea for a burger I despair of even having to explain. Strong olive & rosemary flavor overwhelmed the burger. Stupid. Pretentious and stupid. I almost complained. Oh and you should check out aha that’s where I got the english muffin idea!

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    Reply Helen August 15, 2009 at 10:07 am

    Simon and Andrew – Thank you – you’ve both made me giggle.
    Young & Foodish – Have you tried the Hawksmoor burger?
    Lizzie – thanks for coming! Yes I agree the brioche was amazing. A little improvement in structure and it will be perfect. We should go to Hawksmoor and get some brioche making tips!
    A Forkful of Spaghetti – He’s a comedian alright.
    Chris – Again, thanks for making me laugh. You are jealous of my trolls really though. I know you want them 😉
    Karrie – Are you SERIOUS?! That is the worst crime against burgers I have ever heard.
    Oysterculture – Yes I haven’t even got on to the burger yet! I am quite clear that it should be just meat though – although I do like the idea of enriching it with bone marrow and other lovely bits to get a more intense flavour and I prefer the chopped approach to the minced. Oh dear..I feel a blog post coming on.
    Ollie – I know! SHOCKER! Thanks again for coming along, it was such fun 🙂
    Binky – Focaccia! Argh!! It’s just such a clear sign that people don’t know what they are doing when they try and eff about with something as classic as a burger. That is so confused I just don’t know where to begin. Think yourself lucky though – poor Karrie was served one in a tortilla!

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    Reply Helen Yuet Ling Pang August 16, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    What a fun experiment! The bun is just as important as the filling, creating the perfect combination. Are you going to start making the perfect bun now?!

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    Reply Christie @ Fig & Cherry August 17, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Love the grease splattered paper, makes it a very authentic looking taste test 🙂

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    Reply craig Conlon October 2, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Can somebody please tell me, where you got the brioche bun, Thanks

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