The beef,* my friends, is in Central London, just off of Oxford Street on a little side road called Welbeck Street in a dirty little dive called Meat Liquor.
N heard of the restaurant as many others had–via word of mouth. As a matter of fact, the roaring success of the place has been based mainly on word of mouth (friend of a friend), blog posts and a well placed review in Time Out and the Evening Standard. Their website is beyond ambiguous and leaves everything up to the imagination when it comes to food, atmosphere and whether or not the place is even legal (believe me, it’s so good it shouldn’t be). But all of the mysteriousness is a huge attraction for a lot of people. For N and I, we both spent the week leading up to our Meat Liquor date googling furiously and checking out blog reviews and photos. There was something fun about that and the anticipation levels were huge and Meat Liquor definitely delivered. But we’ll get to that in a second.
Let’s start with a (brief!) history of the restaurant, its unique location and that whole “no reservations” policy.
Meat Liquor is the brainchild of Yianni Papoutsis and Scott Collins (and what a lovely child it is!) of Meatwagon fame. Sadly I missed out on the Meatwagon train, but I’ve heard nothing but amazing things. Anyhow, after loads of misfortune, Meat Liquor was born. Check out Papoutsis and Collins detailing the history of their coupling and their burger ventures.
Meat Liquor is situated in the perfect locale… right beneath a car park and right above a strip joint. The stag nights practically plan themselves!!! All jokes aside, Meat Liquor’s neighbors only lend to the curiosity factor making it even more of a “gotta check that place out” kind of joint. And I love that Meat Liquor avoids all of the pretentious, expensive and simpering qualities of Oxford Street which I probably hate more than any other place in London. Except Chelsea… maybe.
Queuing is part of the Meat Liquor experience. Right now, it’s new, it’s different and it’s still vaguely “underground,” so expect people to come out in droves, especially on a Friday night. They do not take reservations… it doesn’t matter who you are. Will and Kate would have to wait outside with the rest of us to get a table. It is that kind of a place. I like that. Luckily enough, N and I went on the evening before Christmas Eve around 6pm and we were lucky enough to score a table straight away. Even so, the place was absolutely packed out.
The decor (I don’t even want to call it that… it sounds too posh!!) is fantastic. I’d kill to have a flat that looked like this place. Directly across from our table, which wasn’t a table but some barstools up against an unfinished wooden plank, were a big pair of boobs. Because why not?
The lighting was like some sort of sexy strip joint, nothing but bare red bulbs. The music was loud, thumping and alternated between old classic rock and bluegrass. I was personally tickled to death when they played the acoustic version of Motorhead’s Ace of Spades. That’s all my kind of music and it only enhanced the atmosphere. Sure N and I had to yell above the music to hear each other but hey, when you’re on the House Grog (more later) you don’t really care to yell anyhow! Besides… once you get the food, talking’s not a priority.
And what of the food, you ask? Why, that’s the most important part! Except for maybe the alcohol, which is a close second. N and I both had the “House Grog” which you’re only allowed to order two of per person. There’s a reason for that. The stuff is deadly.
N and I had, as I mentioned, done our research ahead of time and we knew exactly what we wanted. Yes. We are sad like that… but then again, it always pays off to have a game plan! We ordered: two House Grogs each (served in jars! I’m so ditching our glasses), chili cheese fries, fried pickles, hot wings and two Dead Hippies (my kind of hippy!). It was a lot of food but we did split it all, with the exception of the Hippies as we’re both really fat people and couldn’t abide by the thought of sharing a burger.
Meat Liquor don’t skimp on the place settings… they just choose not to use them! You’re given a fork and a roll of paper towels and your food is served on a big metal platter. Cue the Chelsea ladies, gasping at the lack of a salad fork and linen napkins. It was proper American diner style, and being a native I can absolutely vouch for that. It was like being served at a truck stop dive in the south. It was a little slice of home.
Let’s start with the starters.
Last summer, I tried fried pickles for the first time at a place back home called Shenanigans. Oddly enough, it was slightly pub-esque rather than a Kentucky bar kind of place. Anyhow. Where had this delicacy been all of my life? How could I call myself a true blue Southern gal without every having had fried pickles? Fried Twinkies… sure, that’s kid stuff. But fried pickles!? God’s gift. And Meat Liquor’s are the best I’ve had. There’s no sogginess there… the pickles still have that satisfying crunch when you bite into them. They’re just breaded. And fried. Ohhhhh God. Amazing. There’s just no describing it.
The hot wings were really, really good. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to screw up wings but believe me, loads of places in London have succeeded in mucking it up. The meat was tender, they were baked and not fried (because, you know, I’m health conscious) and the hot sauce wasn’t so hot it left you in pain but it wasn’t mild either. Perfect mix; Goldilocks would be proud.
Ohhhh the chili cheese fries. The stuff of legends. The fries, American ones, not these potato chunks the Brits are so fond of but actual fries (!!!!), were all smothered in chili, jalepenos, cheese, onions and mustard. Holy, holy, holy moley! As if I couldn’t have died with the pickles, the chili cheese fries were about to be my undoing.
N and I tackled those bad boys with vigor and, with proper pacing, lots of house grog and a few hearty belches, we managed to finish our starters. Next came the Dead Hippy burgers, Meat Liquor’s most lauded and exalted menu item.
Like they said in the video above, Meat Liquor doesn’t stand on ceremony and their burgers aren’t meant to be looked at–they’re meant to be devoured with hedonistic pleasure. They aren’t pretty to look at but holy hell this was, and I can honestly say this being the burger fan that I am, the BEST burger I have ever had. Ever. In my life. Probably forever. And the thing is, there was nothing crazy/unique about the burger. There were no avocado pastes or salsas or pineapples like you get in other burger joints. No. The Hippy Burger is simply: two beef patties with melted cheese, lettuce, pickles and a secret sauce all on a sweet bun. Ohhhh those buns were sweet indeed!
N was a trooper and the real winner of the evening… he managed to finish his half of the sides and his Dead Hippy. I kept up close with him but when it literally came down to the last bite of the Dead Hippy, I couldn’t do it. I honestly had gorged myself to the edge of a cliff and one more bite of that meaty goodness was going to send me over the edge. I politely excused myself to get some much needed fresh air and left N to pay the bill which was actually a modest £60… not bad for four cocktails, three sides and two burgers. I’ve had worse meals for a lot more!
Meat Liquor was definitely a winner and I know, without a doubt, that N and I will be returning as soon as we’ve fully recovered. And next time, we’ll be bringing reinforcements! In the meantime, I’ll have to salivate over the menu further… though I have a feeling the Dead Hippy is going to be a stable fixture for me. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
My only regret is that I didn’t get to try the Crack Pie from the dessert menu. Definitely next time though… there will be a next time.
Meat Liquor earns a resounding five out of five stars in my book. The only thing that was lacking was the service which was a bit slap dash but the servers weren’t rude at all–just a bit ditzy/forgetful. In the end, the food made up for that and then some. Besides… my mouth was too full of Dead Hippy to actually complain.
* I realize that not all of my readers in the UK (and around the world) might not be familiar with the phrase “where’s the beef.” It comes from an old Wendy’s commercial from the 80’s with a group of old ladies looking for, you guessed it, the beef. It’s a classic bit of Americana.