These days, burgers are big business in London (lobsters too, but that’s another post). As the humble beef patty stages a comeback, MEATliquor is one of a number of burger joints across the capital to bask in a storm of hype. And while reviews to be found online are decidedly mixed, this place definitely lives up to all it’s acclaimed to be.
True to its name, MEATliquor promises two things – plenty of beef and just as much booze. As well as a selection of simple burgers done well, its menu features an impressive array of unique cocktails and a notorious house grog that’s so strong they won’t serve you more than two glasses! But if one thing defines the restaurant’s reputation, it is its queuing policy which goes along the lines of ‘if there is one, get to the back of it’. They won’t seat incomplete groups, so if your mate is stuck on the tube, either you’re waiting outside for him to arrive or he’s joining the end of the line and pulling up a place at your table by the time you’re at dessert. It’s a system that is designed to be fair though and, while stories abound of arrogant staff, on our visit we had no problems – even if the wrist-stamping (designed to deter queue jumpers, who won’t make it through the door even if they do try their luck) does join the blacked-out windows in completing the nightclub feel to the place. And while we weren’t queuing for very long at all (easy enough to say on a warm August evening; I might feel differently if it were January), the free onion rings and deep fried pickles that come around on a tray make it even easier to put up with.
Once you make it to the front of the queue outside, expect to be led inside, kept waiting a little longer by the door and then directed to the bar to wait to be seated. Of course this is a clever way to get a drink down you before you’ve even had a chance to think about starters, but that’s no bad thing and it does make the wait go by a little more quickly. The busy bar, and the mix of patrons sat at the large, stripped-down wood tables and those standing to wait for a table, works well with the almost-club-volume music to create a lively, buzzing and distinctly young atmosphere – grandmas, stay at home. It’s not quite loud enough to be mind-numbing, as TripAdvisor might have you believe – but you might come away with a sore throat from having to raise your voice one too many times. (Nor is it quite so dark inside, as TripAdvisor would also have you think, that you need to use your mobile phone for light to read the menu.)
The cocktails deserve a double mention. MEATliquor’s bartenders are clearly skilled at what they do, and everything here comes down to a great mix of quality and style – right through to a huge hunk of uncut ice, about as big as a small TV, sat in a vintage white butler sink and waiting to be hacked down into cubes or crushed as required. The Louisiana Jam – Southern Comfort, apricot jam, lemon juice and mint (it works) – comes served in an all-but-overflowing washed-out Bonne Maman jam jar; look out for the red and white checked lid being used as a token if you want to open a tab at the bar. Other cocktails include the Silver Angel, made with Finlandia vodka, peach, passion fruit and sparkling wine and served up in a martini glass; and the Donkey Punch (more on that later), which certainly packs a punch with its vodka, lime juice and ginger beer and finished with absinthe rinse. Cocktails come in at between £7.50 and £8.50, about the same price as the most expensive burgers on the menu.
The Mushroom Swiss burger (£7.50), packed with two beef patties, Swiss cheese, mushrooms, red onions, pickles, lettuce, mustard and ketchup, was a heap of sinful goodness, bursting with flavour. I had been torn between this and the halloumi mushroom burger, but I’m glad I went the way I did because I still got the ‘shroom hit, and this was a beef joint after all! Forget cutlery or even plates – all the food comes out on one massive yellow tray, chips and coleslaw (£3 each) in cute ceramic tins that are a bit like handle-less saucepans; burgers, onion rings (£3) and chicken wings (a generous serving of 12 wings for £8) all plonked directly onto the tray. Either eat it straight from there, or improvise with a paper towel pulled from the bargain-budget kitchen roll on the table. The burger needed extra ketchup, but that’s right there in bottle form too – for somewhere serving up such top-nosh grub, it’s pleasingly down-to-earth and no-frills about accompaniments and service. Needless to say my kitchen roll ended up beautifully soiled with the wonderous grey juice from the amorous liaison between the mushrooms, the fat in the burger and the heaps of butter and oil that I dream went into cooking the whole lot. The coleslaw meanwhile, although good enough, was nothing mind-blowing.
For somewhere that occasionally gets slated for the supposed arrogance of its staff, service was outstanding. One or two waitresses did seem to exhibit a bit of an attitude problem as they made their way through the crowds at the bar to deliver food to hungry customers, and one threw her hands up in exclamation a little when she brought drinks over and one of our group told her we’d work out what was whose – though whether that was in an effort to be funny, rather than out of rudeness, wasn’t quite clear. But our waiter for the night, Kurt (how often do you even get to know your server’s name?) was a star. One of our group described his waiting style as very American, in other words working for tips big time (and he earned them, no doubt about it); he sat at our table for about fifteen minutes while taking our burger order, chatting about the place, the food and the Chanel modelling shoot he’d been at earlier in the day. He also went hard-sell on the booze, in the best way possible, convincing us that drunk customers were the best kind and that he would look prettier if we were tipsy. The fact that he was very gay and already very cute only worked in his favour. On ordering another round of cocktails, conversation eventually turned to sexual positions, ‘donkey punches’, ‘turkey slaps’ and ‘pirates’ (no you’re not getting explanations here!) – which, with cocktails like the ‘Below Job’ on the menu, should have come as no real surprise. No wonder the place bars kids after 6pm – which also leads you to question whether they cover up the ‘no w***ing, heavy petting or gerbils’ sign at the bar during the day.
Along with great food, cool interiors – think corrugated iron along one side, and murals on the rear wall – and a photo booth providing entertainment towards the back (a few people seemed to be enjoying themselves rather too much in there!), the atmosphere works well as it changes from a hyped-up restaurant feel to a bar-come-club as the night goes on and the pressure on tables eases. But if one thing made the evening memorable and guaranteed that it won’t be the last time I visit, it was Kurt and his service.
MEATliquor, 74 Welbeck Street, London (Bond Street tube)
Open Monday-Thursday, 12.00pm-12.00am; Friday and Saturday, 12.00pm-02.00am; Sundays, 12.00-10.00pm