Why Is A Restaurant Like Meat Liquor Rarer Than Tartare?

by timchester

Where were you when you first heard about the Meat Wagon? I was here, in front of my computer, and reading Cheese & Biscuits. It was May 2010, pre-van theft, pre-Meateasy and at a time when the gales of hype were just an area of high pressure somewhere far away.

A few months later I got to try the actual thing at a Dalston pop-up (believe) and joined the cult. And so when a tweet went out two days before #MEATiquor (as it’s known to its weak-kneed, slavish followers) opened, reading “hungry carnivores might find themselves in luck if they pop down tonight”, I was there.

Meat Liquor Entrance

Forty five minutes after they opened the doors and their dark den of flesh and booze was a hive of status updates, phone photography and furtive twittering. I’ll get my food blaggger’s contractual obligation out of the way now:

Meat Liquor is utterly amazing / worthy of the hype / the best burger place in London (delete according to your propensity for hysteria). My first visit involved their bacon cheeseburger, that now iconic blend of ground chuck steak, charred piggy, French’s mustard and of course that brilliantly bland America cheese fused into the whole thing by the steam of a cheeky squirt of water onto the hotplate at the last minute, and some headband-sized onion rings piled into a little volcano of battered joy. Add a double absinthe Memphis Steamer to wash it all down while the Yardbirds, Blue Oyster Cult and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins yell into the gloom and you have one hell of a place to get your burger and booze on and kick-start your evening.

A second visit saw a static queue that sent me packing so you’ll have to rely on others for more. Food Stories gives the history and a decent review while Cheese And Biscuits probably knows their wares the best. Hamburger Me is pretty comprehensive too, while Burgerac’s the best on the decor, a “dark, clandestine and rebellious” place according to The Perfect Trough where, in the words of Spoonfed, you can try their “slutty” burgers in a “dive bar slaughterhouse“.

The most startling thing about Meat Liquor, though, is the sheer scale of its popularity. There’s been buzzy openings before (Russell Norman’s revered quartet of Polpo, Polpetto, Da Polpo and Spuntino and the Hawksmoor three spring to mind), but this is something else. Forget talked-about, Meat Liquor has been bellowed about from every rooftop and smart phone in the city; I don’t seem to know a single person that hasn’t eaten there when it was their little secret unknown baby, DJ’ed at a party there, worked with the designer or delivered Yianni’s post back in the ‘90s.

Meat Liquor Ceiling

This one’s transcended food geek speak. The Evening Standard’s been, Time Out’s made a video with the owners, and even that guy at work who thinks the Gourmet Burger Company represents the sharp end of London’s gastro-scene has knocked back a couple of Dead Hippies. For many Londoners, 11/11/11 wasn’t Remembrance Day or Black Sabbath Friday or fun for binary nerds, it was the day Meat Liquor saved the city. Queues after 5.30pm move slower than the cogs in Tram Lady’s bigoted head.

The hysteria tells us three things: Meat Liquor is a restaurant of rare quality, serving arguably a top five burger for the capital at a recession-friendly price in an effortlessly cool room backed with inventive cocktails and an insouciant charm; Londoners love being there first – they just can’t help themselves; there’s a dearth of similar places elsewhere.

It’s the last  one that’s most worrying. Why is Meat Liquor such an unusual beast? Burgerac proves on a weekly basis that good burgers aren’t that rare (although the best are cooked semi-rare), great places to drink are ten a penny if you look hard enough and London has more than its fair share of thoughtfully-designed spaces. Somewhere that combines all of the above, though? That’s harder to find.

Surely there’s plenty of keen food enthusiasts and budding chefs with good taste in music and decor, and a similar understanding that popularity through fairly-priced quality will make you as much money in the long wrong as overcharging for crap. So what’s holding them back? The initial funding? The risks?

Hopefully the fervid devotion shown by Meat Liquor’s endless queues and platoons of unpaid promoters will show anyone thinking about giving it a go that the rewards can be handsome. This place is great, but we could do with a few more of them.

Why do you think Meat Liquor is so rare / popular? Have you been? How long would you wait?


MEATliquor on Urbanspoon

{ 3 trackbacks }

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Hugh Wright November 30, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Not been and absolutely no intention of going, having never felt any affinity with or interest in the brand or premise, but am genuinely delighted for those who do love it – and of course there are many – that somewhere so exciting has come along. Which leads me to ask, is it actually such a bad thing that places like this are so rare? Wouldn’t it be rather boring & predictable if you could get a hysteria-inducingly good burger everywhere? Surely the fun, for those who consider it fun, lies in the very lack of availability, the whole ‘cult’ feel of it? I remember when Byron was the new kid on the block and was getting burgerphiles worked up into a frenzy (though nothing compared to the #MEAT guys) but now that there’s seemingly one on every corner they’ve dramatically fallen out of fashion.

No, better and more interesting I think that true one-offs like this one remain just that!

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timchester December 1, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Interesting. Especially that you’re not bothered – have you tried their bugers already? Does the hype put you off?

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Hugh Wright December 1, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Hype-aversion, impatience and just not really being bothered about burgers all mean I’ve never felt any inclination to buy into the #MEAT brand. I just don’t get it. I know others do, which is why I don’t slag it off – no-one wants to be a buzz-kill – but it ain’t for me!

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timchester December 6, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Fair dinkum

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Hungry December 1, 2011 at 10:04 am

“Queues after 5.30pm move slower than the cogs in Tram Lady’s bigoted head.”
Wonderful!

I’m no massive burger afficionado – i can go months without one and then be more than satsified by a Byron burger fix (yum), but I may well have to check this place out..

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Rachel December 13, 2011 at 11:15 pm

It’s a hamburger all you wanna be Americans! That’s all it is. Meat Liquor is not a speakeasy or dive bar either. It only thinks it is.

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DC December 16, 2011 at 8:49 am

I went for the bacon cheeseburger which was outstanding. Great atmosphere, loved the decor: I just hope that they don’t dilute the experience if and when they expand.

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Daniel Walker February 3, 2012 at 11:49 am

I’m put off by their douchey website.

1) They call it Qing not queuing. Dicks.
2) They make you queue.
3) No meeting friends in there; i.e. continually shuffling to the back of the queue until your straggling mate turns up.
4) They have no menu online.

All this leads me to believe: they clearly treat their potential customers with a level of disdain that shouldn’t be seen this side of the Channel.

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