Tuesday, 15 November 2011
There's a very real chance that every single person reading this post already knows everything there is to know about MEATLiquor. If you think #MEATEASY (the short-lived but bright-burning dive bar above a pub in New Cross) was overexposed then the storm of anticipation unleashed by the announcement of the latest venture will have you pondering emigration. But before you do, please consider this: hype, in this case, is not a cleverly constructed PR campaign, nor is it a Snakes on a Plane froth of zeitgeist whipped up by delighted and undeserving protagonists. Londoners are going crazy for MEATliquor because it really is as much dirty, greasy fun as you can have with your clothes on and because the food and the drink are astonishingly good, and astonishingly cheap.
So you've braved the queues, you've found yourself a table and you're sipping on a Lagerita (yes, that's the forced marriage of lager and a margerita; it's surprisingly successful) wondering what to order. The short answer, and without a hint of irony, is everything. I've worked my way through most of it in the last week and anything I've not ordered from Wellbeck St I've had either at #MEATEASY or from the Meatwagon itself and it's all, without exception, without question, excellent. The deep-fried pickles, new to MEATLiquor, are crunchy on the outside and sweet and sharp within, served with a blue cheese dip that contains nice big chunks of strong salty cheese in tangy sour cream. And it would be silly not to also get a portion of Buffalo Wings, also expertly fried to crunchy/moist perfection and coated in an addictively tangy hot sauce (though not, as it turns out, the usual Frank's - this is a custom order from somewhere in deepest Peckham, details of which are, in the traditional Meatwagon style, kept well under wraps).
And let's not forget the burgers. The Dead Hippie is the MEATLiquor's take on a Big Mac, but that glib description does it no justice at all. A heaving, juicy pile of two beef patties soaked in luminous yellow cheese and encased in a glistening soft golden bun, it is doused with their own version of the special sauce (mayonnaise and ketchup, perhaps, with chunks of white onion) and is absolutely glorious. No less glorious is the chilli cheeseburger (if the phrase "butter-fried chillies" doesn't get your pulse racing, not to mention your arteries hardening, nothing will), the bacon cheeseburger (the bacon is boiled, pressed then fried on the hot plates, making it crumbly and crunchy and intensely porky) and the Double Bubble double cheeseburger, so fresh and sealed with such intense heat that you could make a soup out of the juice that pours out of it on every bite.
The draw of MEATLiquor doesn't end at the food, of course. Cocktails, provided as in New Cross by the enormously talented SoulShakers, are, just like everything else, inventive, delicious and surprisingly good value. I can particularly recommend the English Breakfast martini which comes with a pickled quails egg on a stick coated in some kind of bacon-flavoured breadcrumbs, and spare some room too for the Lagerita's cousin the Ciderita, the ingredients of which I'm sure you can take an educated stab at.
But you know all this, everyone does. You've heard it all before. The fact they can still come up with the goods on a much larger scale with such a high level of consistency is delightful, perhaps, but it's not news. But let me just tell you about one more thing - the Buffalo Chicken Burger. Deep-fried chicken breast coated in some kind of crunchy batter, soaked in the Buffalo sauce, smothered in mayo and encased in those same glossy, firm rolls, it is unbelievably good. The chicken itself is juicy and, for want of a better word, very "chicken-y" - these are no KFC broiler animals - but it's the coating that makes it, crunchy and caramelised like bubbly tempura, but fiercely flavoured with vinegary hot pepper. The mayo mellows out the hot sauce without being sickly, and the only salad is some shredded iceberg to add colour. It's a work of art, a true masterpiece, my latest all-consuming obsession. It is also a tantalising glimpse of a larger menu that will be rolled out in the coming weeks (there are fevered rumours of something called "Dirty Fried Chicken").
Just as there are those who claim they don't like the Beatles, who have never seen Star Wars and who think Shakespeare is overrated, you will hear people boring on about how they can't see what all the fuss is about MEATLiquor. These people will, most likely, be the ones rolling their eyes dramatically at every mention of the place on Twitter, huffing and puffing about herd mentalities and - yes - "hype", and stubbornly avoiding heading to that strange, dark place under the car park round the back of Debenhams in mortal fear they might actually enjoy it and their entire world will collapse around their shoulders. But you know what? That's fine. MEATLiquor isn't for everyone - it's noisy, brash, calculatedly seedy and, just like #MEATEASY, there's a good chance you'll have to queue. It's also completely and utterly brilliant. I'd say that was worth a bit of a wait, wouldn't you?