I’d like to believe that I’m the type of person who is relatively immune to hype. I blame it from my days of working as a music journalist – seriously, if I had a quid for every band who used to send me their demo swearing that they were the ‘next big thing,’ I’d be a very rich lady by now. However, when it comes to food (and especially food in London), I am ashamed to say that I often find myself following the herd. You could blame this on the fact that I live in Liverpool and so am always going to find myself being riddled with jealousy whenever I hear food bloggers raving about places such as Hawksmoor, Bob Bob Ricard and Spuntino (three restaurants that you’re more likely to find on the Moon than you are to find them in the North West of England). Or you could just blame it on the fact that whenever I’m in London, I usually have so little time to spare that I’d rather ensure that I eat somewhere good rather than schlep across the Northern Line for an unappetising Burger and Chips. So, when I found myself in New Cross a week ago, I decided to pay a visit to the legendary Meateasy. After all, it would have been rude not to.
The Meateasy isn’t so much a restaurant as a dining phenomenon – a beautiful conglomeration of word of mouth recommendations, social media frenzy and tasty tasty burgers which was born after some inconsiderate dickslap decided to nick Yianni Papoutsis’s Meatwagon street food van. I’d heard rumours about the Meatwagon from various Londoners in the know over the past few years. How it would mysteriously appear in the carparks of South East London with little-to-no warning (from what I can gather, people were only aware of its existence via chinese whispers and smoke signals). How people would flock for miles around and often wait up to two hours to get their jaws around a cheeseburger. And that it served up possibly the best burgers in London – if not the whole of the UK. I didn’t care if I had to follow a centuries old pirate map and perform a ritualistic dance around a wheelie bin in a Sainsbury’s car park – I had to try one of these burgers.
Actually finding the place was a bit of a feat in itself, seeing as it’s housed at the top of a relatively run down looking pub. Once you’ve walked up a terrifyingly rickety staircase (no mean feat when you’re schlepping a suitcase around with you, I can tell you), you open the door into another world – a world populated by noise, crowds, smoke and a hell of a lot of good looking women banging bin lids (considering they all looked like models with size 8 waists, I guessed that they didn’t eat there very often). Then, when you’re in, you’re handed a ticket and told to wait until your lucky number is hollered through a loudspeaker. And what do you do whilst you wait? Why you drink of course.
I’d heard rumours that I could be waiting an inordinate amount of time before I got fed, so I decided to fully lubricate my jaws before I wrapped them around a huge slab of meat. The bar – run by crack cocktail team Soulshakers – is worth the trip alone. Pick a spirit, and a taste sensation you’re looking for, and they’ll create it for you there and then. Although they weren’t able to satiate my friend’s lust for all things Jaegermeister, they did manage to whip her up a Michelada (a kind of beery Bloody Mary). Salty, spicy and refreshing, it slipped down alarmingly easily and I had to push it away before I gulped the whole glass down in record time.
When I first saw the plates of food which were being plonked onto our table, I worried for a moment that perhpas my eyes were bigger than my belly. I needn’t have worried. Onion Rings the size of a baby’s head were crisp, sweet and terrifyingly moreish – I defy anyone to not eat an entire plateful of these in one sitting. Even better, they didn’t disintegrate in your hands leaving you with limp batter and raw onion. I wolfed a plate of these down in the space of two minutes and immediately regretted not ordering more.
Of course I couldn’t as I needed to leave room for the main event – the infamous Dead Hippy. Modelled after In-n-Out Burger’s legendary ‘Double Double’, this bad boy is two patties of mustard grilled, 100 per cent, 28 day aged chuck steak, placed lovingly onto a sourdough bun and smothered with secret sauce. After one bite, you soon realise that this isn’t so much a burger as a religious experience. A very very messy religious experience. There’s a reason why huge slabs of kitchen roll are placed on each table, and it’s not so you can delicately dab at your mouth after dainty wee bites. As soon as you chomp into this thing, rivers of burger juice run down your arms and chin, making you feel like some kind of cannibal. At first, I felt slightly self conscious about eating something which was so messy and which was causing me to openly make sex noises in public. And then I took another bite. And another. And I saw that people around me were having the same experience. And I decided to just leave my airs and graces at the door and get stuck right in.
There’s very little I can say about this burger that hasn’t be said by others already. About the perfect crust and char of the meat which manages to pack it full of flavour without losing any of that key moistness. About the fact that it is served up perfectly medium rare. About the sheer heft of that bun, which manages to soak up all of those divine flavours without disintegrating into a pappy mulch. But in the end, they’re just words. This is a food experience that really need to be tried to be believed.
Another highlight was the truly immense looking Chilli Dog that was served up to one of my friends. This wasn’t so much a Hot Dog, as a Hot Wolf – a huge hulking beast of mustard, chilli, melted cheese and a lone frankfurter looking slightly forlorn underneath it all. It seemed to be almost impossible to pick this up and eat it with your hands, but we somehow managed to succeed by passing it around the table and gently cradling it from person to person between bites. The dog itself was perfect – firm, smoky and juicy, a far cry from the rather forlorn looking things my Nanna used to pluck out of a tin when I was a kid. The authentic bean free chilli was spicy and rich without being overwhelming and provided the perfect foil for the mountain of thick yellow American cheese it was covered in.
Buffalo Wings were rich, sticky and crispy, reminding me of the type of wings you often get served up in dive bars in America. Whilst the blue cheese dip was a bit too funky for my tastes, I put this more down to the fact that I’m not a great lover of blue cheese rather than any fault on the part of the dip. If I’d not already consumed a large burger and my own bodyweight in chilli, I could have easily demolished a good few portions of these.
The only low point of the Meateasy for me were the fries – weedy, inconsequential little things which didn’t appear to be totally capable of standing up to the mounds of chilli they were saturated in. It would have been nice to have tucked into some slightly crisper specimens rather than ones which tasted like they’d come of the deep fat fryer a fraction too early.
After all that, you might have wondered how I managed to fit in a large portion of dessert. However, I undid that belt buckle, rubbed my belly and decided to take one for the team. Solely in the interests of research of course. Thankfully, the Fudge Brownie Sundae was a delight – a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream which sat proudly atop a dense, cakey brownie and had been smothered in a delectable fudge sauce. It reminded me of a more grown up version of the sundaes you tend to find in American diners (and that I used to beg my parents to buy for me when I was a kid). The vanilla ice cream cut through the rich sqiudgey brownie perfectly, combining to form something which was almost obscene after all of that grease and meat. I could practically feel my arteries turning into tubes of coagulated fat whilst I was eating it, but by God it was worth it.
There’s a certain rough and ready charm to the Meateasy, and it’s impossible not to find yourself getting wrapped up in its raucous spirit. And whilst some may baulk at the idea of plastic cutlery, drinks served in jam jars and people openly licking their fingers after a good meal, to me it felt that this was what good dining should be about – good food, good booze and good times. As I waddled down the road back to my friend’s flat, I genuinely couldn’t remember the last time I’d enjoyed myself so much whilst dining out. Best of all, a meal there won’t break the bank either – a shedload of food and two rounds of cocktails only came to £30.
Indeed, I’d happily go back there in a flash if it wasn’t for the fact that the Meateasy is closing its doors on 16th April (that’s THIS Saturday) so that the pub it’s housed in can be fully gutted and refurbished. So, if you live in London and you haven’t been yet, you need to go before this place passes into folklore forever. Hopefully this isn’t the last we’ll see of Yianni and his brilliant burgers. And, when he does make a reappearance, I’ll be travelling down from Liverpool in homage. Take my word for it, Meateasy is a very special dining experience indeed. Believe the hype.
The Meateasy, Goldsmiths Tavern, 316 New Cross Road, London.