Wednesday, 12 January 2011
#MEATEASY, New Cross
I read somewhere a while ago that the most requested final meal by death row inmates is a cheeseburger and fries. I used to think that this was a bit of a wasted opportunity - if you could ask for anything, literally anything, wouldn't you either go a bit more heavy on the expensive ingredients (the lobster tail and steak chosen by this rather unsavoury character seems suitably decadent) or alternatively treat the privilege as a chance to pull one final prank on your captors - "A large bowl of curried cormorant tongues and a plum on a doily please." But a cheeseburger? Really? Don't convicted murderers have any imagination? Of course, that was before I tried the Meatwagon Bacon Cheeseburger.
It remains not only the best burger I've had anywhere in the world (and yes, that includes these guys), but has become nothing short of an obsession. I dream about its salty, beefy goodness (a special blend mince, never frozen, precisely 15% fat), its crispy bacon topping (boiled, pressed and crumbled above the beef, adapted from a method used in Hodad's in California), the slick of melted yellow "cheese" (from a secret supplier). I tracked the movement of that silver van around London like a man possessed, turning up first in the queue at as many showings as I could possibly manage (though avoiding North London, obviously - I do have some dignity). I once, and I'm not proud of this, ate three of them in one sitting because I was worried I wasn't going to be able to make the next date he was in town. In fact, sod it, I am proud of that. And if you're shaking your head in disbelief and wondering how on earth any foodstuff can be worth that kind of devotion, then you've not tried it. Simple as that.
But then, disaster! The Meatwagon, burger van of dreams, mobile purveyor of beefy heaven, was stolen, and the future availability of my bacon cheeseburgers (and yeah, I suppose, the sole income and livelihood of owner Yianni Papoutsis, whatever) was cast into doubt. I was inconsolable, but a brave appearance of the van-less Yianni at the Florence a few days later, manning hired grills in the freezing pub garden like the trooper he is, demonstrated that the concept of the Meatwagon can live on even without the existence of the van itself. Which brings us to a soon-to-be-renovated old boozer on the New Cross Road, and the glorious birth of #MEATEASY.
For a limited time only, in fact barely a couple of months, Yianni has access to a proper kitchen, a small but efficient group of waiting staff, and a fantastic cocktail bar run by Soul Shakers, in a temporarily but remarkably effectively decorated function room above the Goldsmiths Tavern. The space and equipment has allowed him, for the first time, to do proper fries, and bloody good they are too, crunchy outside and soft within, gently salted and of correct proportions (ie. thin). Buffalo chicken wings, which made frustratingly rare appearances on the Meatwagon's menu, also appear at #MEATEASY - simply slow-roasted in (I believe) Frank's Hot Sauce and deep-fried, they have remarkably crispy skins despite not having any breadcrumb coating, and knock out of the park the poor efforts I've had elsewhere in the capital; onion rings are so cleverly cooked you can bite off chunks without having the onion draw out of the middle of the batter like a rubber band, a feat not even Hodad's themselves could manage; the sensational chilli dog uses a firm and flavoursome beef sausage inside a soft bun, topped with rich chilli and melted cheese; and the chicken burger was a revelation - crispy and moist in all the right places, dressed delicately with sweet mayonnaise and lettuce. Like every other item on the menu, it is meticulously researched, perfectly constructed and unbelievably delicious.
And, of course, there's the bacon cheeseburger. Loose, pink minced beef soaked in American cheese, topped with a layer of crunchy, salty pig and shredded lettuce, all inside a fresh sourdough bun that never loses its shape or collapses despite the frankly astonishing amount of beef juice that gushes out with every bite. I hoovered up the buffalo wings and chilli dogs and fries with the enthusiasm they deserved, but the bacon cheeseburger will still be my first love; I ate it in rapt silence, alone in my own little world, savouring every second.
That you should make every possible effort to visit the #MEATEASY while you can is beyond doubt. My hyperbolic endorsement has the usual caveat - Yianni's astonishing attention to detail and devotion to the end product come with the kind of timescales that stretch the concept of "fast" food somewhat - but you know what? It's bloody worth it. So grab a seat, kick back, grab a dry martini, place your order and I absolutely guarantee that the first moment that bacon cheeseburger touches your lips all will be forgiven.
#MEATEASY opens today, 12th January, and will be above the Goldsmiths Tavern on New Cross Road until mid-March. I visited on a preview night and didn't pay, but the burgers are about £6 and other items similarly reasonable. Yianni has teamed up with long-time supporter Scott Collins of pub group ‘The Capital Pub Company’ and the building will eventually
be completely refurbished and reopen under its original name ‘The New Cross House’.
Thanks to Lizzie of Hollow Legs for the pictures of the chilli dog, wings and onion rings, and Euwen for the shot of the bacon cheeseburger.