I am ashamed to say this as a foodie, but until now I have not yet had the pleasure of tasting a ‘Meat Wagon’ burger, believed to be one of, if not the best, burgers in London. Yianni Papoutsis has been parked up on an industrial estate near Peckham serving burgers, Philly cheese steaks and chilli dogs to London foodies searching for something that little bit different in this crowded marketplace. You may have seen Yianni’s wagon most recently on ‘Jamie’s Great Britain’ when Britain’s most-loved chef Jamie Oliver popped on by for a burger.
Yianni’s ‘Meat Wagon’ is part of the eat.st collective, a gathering of like-minded ‘meal on wheelers’ bring the wacky, weird and down-right wonderful to our streets. Yianni has openly admitted in interviews that he used to be scared of the thought of opening a restaurant, especially after seeing Gordon Ramsay’s shows. But now, it seems that the half Greek, ballet mechanist, burger fanatic is making a U-turn as today he opened MEATLiquor, a restaurant with solid bricks and mortar foundations.
MEATLiquor is situated in the heart of the West End, between Bond Street and Oxford Circus, a location at completely the opposite end of the spectrum to the car park in Peckham. The 100-cover restaurant initially reminds me of the back streets of New Delhi with exposed cables overhead, dangling lights and graffiti covered walls. It is clear that a lot of thought has gone into the ‘random’ design of this space, with every single square inch of wall plastered with some form of logo or script creating a dark and almost sinister atmosphere.
Anyway, enough of the design and onto the most important aspect, the food and drink. The long cocktail list is full of quirky concoctions (some might say a little too quirky, for example the ‘Full English Martini’ served with bacon dust and eggs) but I settle for the ‘Louisiana Jam’. A shot of Southern Comfort swizzled with apricot jam, fresh lemon and mint served in a jam jar. The cocktail had just the right balance of zesty lemon, sweet jam and fresh mint and it went down a treat for a Friday evening.
My waitress for the evening explained the simple but very effective menu, recommending the ‘Dead Hippie’ burger. It wasn’t exactly hard choosing! Even though I am sure the aptly named ‘Rabbit Food Greek Salad’ is delicious, it wasn’t exactly what I was craving. The ‘Dead Hippie’ burger is a mixture of 2 big, fat, juicy patties with all the trimmings, including the delicious pickles. With a side of slaw and fries (not chips the menu stresses) it’s a real American Diner experience, just brought forward a few decades!
At first I found it slightly strange when I looked over my shoulder and saw a huge metal cage full to the brim with kitchen roll, but then my burger arrived and it clicked. The burger oozed meat juices everywhere leaving a large pool on my tray liner, which subsequently acted as a perfect sauce for my fries. The slaw I must admit was slightly disappointing, with an over-powering mustard taste rather that the creamy slaw we are used to, but it was fresh and crunchy nonetheless.
The service was, as expected, extremely casual with staff wearing all sorts of different clothes and plenty of guys sporting their styled Mo’s. It became more and more evident throughout the evening that this place is going to be popular not only for people wanting burgers, but also with social drinkers and party animals. There was a perfect balance of loud music, great food, sumptuous cocktails and relaxed service, creating a trendy but casual atmosphere.
It dawned on me suddenly that the place had only been open 45 minutes (in its total lifetime) and yet people were already waiting for tables. I couldn’t help but think you have to take your hat off to Yianni who has set up a restaurant in one of the most expensive locations in London (one block off Oxford Street) yet the most expensive item on the menu is only £8.00. My cocktail, burger, fries, slaw and a bottle of beer came to a very attractive £24.00 – an absolute bargain in this territory for such good quality.
There is a wealth of meaty alternatives available nowadays in London from the up-market Hawksmoor and Gaucho to the more quirky Red Dog Saloon and Bodean’s. I am fundamentally a carnivore at heart, but more often than not I find myself disappointed when I order a burger in a restaurant, usually thinking I can either make one or buy one in the supermarket of the same quality. However, MEATLiquor has reminded me how great the humble burger can be and I am sure I will be returning shortly. I have no doubt that MEATLiquor will succeed, with its huge viral and guerrilla following, I am confident that customers will continue to flock here as they did with the ‘Meat Wagon’.