Monday, 13 May 2013

MEATmarket, Covent Garden

Firstly, a confession: this blog post has been written with the sole intention of self gratification. If you were going to eat a burger at any branch of the, rightly, much lauded MEAT trilogy, it's more than likely you would have queued up with the cool kids and done so by now. And you certainly wouldn't need me to tell you about their juicy, beefy, sloppy deliciousness.

But, as MEATmarket is celebrating their first birthday (50% off for all Twitter followers wishing them a happy birthday today), and writing about miserable meals makes me feel miserable while writing about things I've enjoyed puts a smile on my face (and extra pounds on my waistline), then please just indulge me.

Back in the day having a day off in the week meant, more often than not, grabbing the latest Time Out, jumping on the train to Marylebone and spending an afternoon eating, drinking and making merry. Sometimes I'd meet friends and family, but more often than not I'd please myself, spending a few hours in the National Portrait Gallery, finding interesting new groceries and sweets at the Japan Centre or Cyber Candy, or watch an 'arty' film in Soho. Going on weekdays also meant fewer crowds to wade through, and the illicit feeling that you really should be at work, rather than putting the world to right over a pint or two in a sunny beer garden on a Wednesday afternoon.

While I may be older and (supposedly wiser), I still get a day off in the week; although now it seems to be filled with hum drum things like hoovering, washing, cooking or waiting in for the delivery man. Last week, however, after a distinctly average weekend, I decided to take advantage of my Monday off by heading to the Big Smoke for a stroll in the spring sunshine and a spot of lunch. I debated a while about where to go and what to do, but in the end decided to let fate guide me. And fate wanted a burger...

My wanderings lead me down the Strand and to Covent Garden, a familiar old haunt which I now usually surreptitiously avoid. While it's fine if you have an interest in jugglers, human statues or overpriced chain restaurants there isn't much else to get excited about. Until I remembered MEATmarket, the second bricks and mortar incarnation of the MEAT empire; a skinny little space tucked away on the edge of the touristy bustle of Covent Garden and overlooking the resolutely old school Jubilee Market. If you don't fancy browsing through sets of antique spoons or cheap 'I heart London' tea towels then there's another, much quieter, entrance around the back on Tavistock Street.

The interior and vibe is far more 'fast' food than the other, more 'restauranty' branches, although the menu is broadly similar. This made MEATmarket a no brainer for this solo diner who wanted meat, drink and a bit of peace and quiet to try and finish their book on Seventies politics (far more interesting than it actually sounds...).

I started with a plain vanilla bleached shake (their other two varieties being souped up with maple syrup and bourbon, or Coole Swan chocolate cream liqueur). I can't remember the last time I ordered a vanilla shake, probably because their so, well, vanilla, but I'm pleased to say that this hit the spot. Cold, thick and creamy with just the right amount of sweetness. A simple, well executed, soft serve shake is a very fine start to any burger-based blow out and the perfect chip dip (really, try it).

For the main event I went for the Black Palace burger, their pimped up take on a White Castle slider served with pickles, mustard and steamed onions, and the signature dish here. I was a little dubious, judging from things I had heard/read that the grilled onions would prove a step too far, and pushing what are known to b some of the sloppiest burgers known to man into a new and dangerous territory. 

Sadly my fears were confirmed, after quickly unwrapping my parcel it was already beginning to resemble burger soup; after the first few bites, more seemed to be running down my wrists and chin than reaching my mouth. Flavour wise, however, it was still spot on, and after jettisoning most the overwhelming allium cargo, I greatly enjoyed the beefy, pink patties of charred meat, glazed with gooey cheese and topped with a slick of punchy ballpark mustard and piquant pickle slices.

I find the MEAT buffalo wings with a blue cheese dip are some of the finest in their class. Like the rest of their menu, they're not subtle flavour-wise, having been fried until crisp and doused in a vat of luminous hot sauce. If you find them too fiery, the cheesy sauce alongside provides the perfect palate soother, but I rather like the tingly sensation on my tongue.

These wings make you work hard for your dinner; being small and knobbly, with a decent amount of chew. But for my money they're worth it, far outweighing the flabby, gloopy, overly sweet lumps of protein that masquerade as wings elsewhere. There also the true definition of moreish, and no matter how much I wanted to grab a lid for the container and take a few home for later, I knew that all that would remain was a pile of bones

Like its brethren, MEATmarket is bold, brash and big on flavour. It's also very good fun. On my visit, admittedly on a quiet weekday afternoon, my trucker-capped server was unfailingly polite, offering to bring a lid for my uneaten wings (no chance) and leaving me in peace to read my book after my fast food fest. I even spotted founder, Yianni, himself; rearranging the magnetic letters while plotting his next steps to total burger domination, no doubt. Come hungry, leave happy (and covered in a light sheen of burger grease and hot sauce).

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