Monday, 25 November 2013

Burgers and Booze, Shoreditch

MeatMission - burger purveyors housed in an ex-mission in Hoxton - is the third location of the wildly popular MEAT collective, and, unlike its brethren, is bookable for both lunch and in the early evening if you care about that sort of thing. (You’d think the debate about no reservation restaurants was so 2012, but yet it still rumbles on and on.)

For what it’s worth, I’m not adverse to a bit of queuing (having spent far too many minutes waiting for tables at Hurricanes in Sydney, Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong and Burger Joint in Manhattan – all worth it) and don’t really mind as long as you can go and get a beer and a call back when your table’s ready, although I usually plan an early visit if I don’t want to hang around. 

I do fully understand why restaurants do it, though, so if you don’t want to wait, then reserve somewhere else and quietly let others freeze their sockless hipster ankles off waiting for a Tayyabs on a Friday night.

Thankfully, MeatMission on a Monday evening was a pretty peaceful prospect, although the walls are loud enough on their own. This place must have one on the most Inatagrammed ceilings in the whole of the Capital and it’s certainly something to behold; with its fluorescent colours that look like the unfortunate result of a burger feast chased down with a few too many of their house grogs.

I kicked off proceedings with a Lagerita, a cunning mix of tequila, lime and beer, served in slushy form. I loved it, the girls, thankfully, not so much, meaning I was left alone to drink it in peace. Luckily, the Ewing was a big fan of her own beverage choice, the Cydercar, a West country twist on the Sidecar. A recommendation from our waitress, this saw Remy Martin combined with Cointreau and lemon, finished off with a cider top.

Stealth with her Tipping the Velvet; 'I don't care what's in it, with that name I'm having it'. It turned out to be a rather jauntily-hued mixture of Remy Martin, lemon juice, raspberry, blackberry,strawberry, palm sugar and Velvet Devil merlot.

Next we moved onto the meat, ordering a trio of their famed burgers - for me the Dead Hippy, for Stealth, the fearsome green chilli; and for the Ewing, the classic cheeseburger. All three were requested, and came, cooked nice and rare; the double patties served with each burger saturated with bloody juices and beefy, greasy funk that dripped into our enamel dishes and ran down our wrists.

The green chilli cheeseburger came heaped with roasted strips of jalapeƱo, providing a decent slap of smoky heat. For even more meaty version, the red chili burgercomes with a liberal application of the stew we know as ‘con carne’ on these shores; tasty, but even messier, eating. For those with more simple tastes, the Cheesburger is pretty hard to beat; the layer of flimsy gooey plastic cheese being properly fused to each patty; while the bacon cheese features the correct use of the smoked streaky variety.

The infamous Dead Hippy, by now, needs little explanation; two mustard coated patties, grilled on the flat top and served with hippy sauce, lettuce, pickles and chopped white onions. This is, in my limited experience, a better burger than the In’n’Out burger served Animal Style, on which it is loosely approximated; there being less pesky salad in the Dead Hippy for a start. 

I would, in my own private burger heaven, prefer slightly thinner, wider patties, even if it was at the expense of some of that glorious bloody pinkness, but overall this is a masterful burger.

The signature dish at Meat Mission is the monkey fingers. Like a boneless version of their bingo wings, these are battered strips of crispy chicken doused in a vinegar based hot sauce and served with celery, carrot and blue cheese dip. 

Like deep fried goujons of crack, these salty, spicy crunchy morsels were almost impossible to stop feeding into my open maw, and possibly tasted even better when they cooled down a bit, rendering the batter gloriously sticky and soggy.

Fries (not chips) are good; thin, crisp and well salted. Those with a death wish can also have them augmented with molten cheese and meat chilli; crispy grilled onions and Hippy sauce, or as part of a ‘garbage plate’ drenched in roast beef, gravy, cheese, onions and horseradish. 

The ‘Meat’ style of burger is pretty close to my beef in a bun nirvana. While they are on the sloppy and greasy side (the original meatburger, is cooked in butter, after all), the combination of oozy plastic cheese the crisp edges of the griddled meat and a liberal application of pickles and condiments is surely what a good burger is really all about.

Our second round of cocktails included Jamie's Marvellous Medicine Pernod absinthe, fresh raspberry, coconut cream, fresh lemon juice, crushed ice; Donkey Punch a vicious blend of Finlandia, lime juice, ginger beer with an absinthe rinse; and my Game Over, six liquors including vodka, gin, rum, tequila, absinthe, Pisang Ambon and fresh lime juice and topped up with Mountain Dew and limited to two per person. 

While I had clearer photos to illustrate this potent brew, I don’t think I have one better than the one above to illustrate that this is a serious beverage.

A shout out, too, for the staff, especially the two waitresses who served us on our visit. Granted it wasn’t busy, but they were charming and chatty and very helpful, cocking a snook at all the brusque, too cool for school East End Hipster nonsense you constantly hear bandied about (I had taken care to wear my red trousers though, just so I wouldn't stand out too much).

MEATmission on Urbanspoon

Our next stop, Nightjar, sounded, on paper, about as Hipster Hoxton as you can hope to be. While the opposite side of the Old Street roundabout hosts the Nelson’s Retreat, a large, bright, wooden-clad pub offering a menu of all day cheese toasties and a staggering array of florescent shots and alcoholic slush puppies, Nightjar is little more than a hidden door between the chicken shops of City Road at street level.

But, after having your name checked off on the clipboard and the bouncer has radioed down to announce your arrival, you descend into a ‘hidden slice of old school glamour’ that quite belies the grim concrete of the Old Street above.

To be honest, the idea of a hidden prohibition-era speakeasy, complete with rules and reservations, sounds - on paper at least - like one of the least appealing ways to spend an evening. Thankfully, there was an instant a laid-back appeal, devoid of hipster pretension, that made it easy to be charmed by the place.

Our first round of drinks, from the Pre-prohibition section of their menu and accompanied by dishes of spiced popcorn, saw the ladies already plunged into cocktail envy as my hip flask full of Waldorf Gloom Lifter (Auchentoshan 3-wood single malt beeswax infusion, Comte de Lauvia VSOP Armagnac, Nightjar Grenadine, Fresh lemon, Constitution bitters) – adapted from the Waldorf Astoria bar book - came embedded in cherry-studded crushed and dry ice. This is one to sip straight from the flask, although they will provide a clean glass and soda if you want a longer, less potent drink. Waldorf Gloom Lifter 

Stealth chose the spicy Baltimore eggnog (Woodford Reserve bourbon, Hennessy Fine de Conac, Diplomatico Reserva rum Nightjar fortifed wine, Buttermilk, 'Old Tom' clotted cream, Umami foam, spices) the perfect winter warmer, served garnished with a chocolate wafer curl and the Stars and Stripes for an extra dollop of patriotism.

The Ewing had a classic Delicious Sour (Hennessy Fine de Conac, crab apple infusion, Nightjar Umesu, fresh lime, bee pollen syrup and buttered oolong foam) complete with a cute and seasonal toffee crab apple garnish.

Next our waiter suggested I moved from Pre-prohibition to the Nightjar classics with the (Kenko Teki Swizzle - Nikka whiskey from the barrel, green coffee bean infusion, fresh lime, Akashi Tai sake, matcha green tea, buckwheat rice syrup, alfalfa) This came served in a hollowed out bamboo ‘glass’ and had deeply savoury umami notes, amplified by the Marmite rice cracker and wasabi peas served alongside. 

In fact the whole thing had a toasted barley and oat scent that smelt rather like a branch of the Body Shop circa 1994, where my friends and I would buy little hessian sacks of the milk bath soak and pots of face mask that resembled porridge. Luckily it tasted far better.

Stealth had the Naked Lady (Santa Teresa Claro rum, Fresh lemon, Nightjar Umeshu, Nightjar grenadine, egg white) from the prohibition era selection. To be honest, I can’t remember too much about this, other than it came with a garnish of Mini eggs - carefully placed inside a real eggshell - that, along with the pretzels on the Ewing’s Jerez Fizz (Ysabel Regina (Spanish brandy), Harvey's pedro Jimenez, lotus tea infusion, longan and jujube vinegar, fresh squeezed orange and lemon, lime curd and soda), I was not given a chance to sample. 

After making a joking aside to our waiter about the unfairness of sharing my wasabi peas and gaining nothing in return, I soon had my own dish of chocolates and pretzels. Top class, enthusiastic and knowledgeable service (I was even given a great pack of cocktail themed playing cards) that proved cherry on the top of what was already proving a great evening.

We had time for one last drink for the road - this time the Ewing chose the show stopper with the Flaming Painkiller. Anything that come to the table on fire (see the Simpson’s Flaming Moe) has got to be good; just remember to keep flammable items away  from your face(and try not to exhale near by if you’ve already drunk a few). Barrel Aged Painkiller - Virgin Gorda rum, kraken dark rum, wray and Nephew overproof rum, solerno blood orange liqueur, fresh pinaepple juice, sparkling coconut water.

My Sweet Dreams- Appleton estate Rum(cacao butter, Mozart Dry, banana blossom infusion, pineapple juice, coconut yoghurt, coconut blossom sugar, plantain foam) was a little more restrained, although it did come served in a hollow metal chicken. Nice, but I’m not sure fresh mint does it for me in drinks any more, after several too many mojitios binges (Caiprinhas are my new favourite – spirit, sugar and lime; no pesky greenery).

I don’t know if Stealth had any idea about what she was imbibing by this point –it was a Jungle Bird  (Brugal Anejo rum, Ceylon arack curry leaf infusion, Campari, papaya, butternut, cantaloupe juice, coconut blossom sugar, aromatic lime, sarsaparilla root beer), but it seemed to be having the right effect (bar the sporadic outbursts of amusing curmudgeonly-ness).

From the friendly welcome to the comprehensively compiled, decently priced and pleasing strong, drinks menu, to the adorably geeky service, Nightjar was a lot of fun. I can’t say quite the same about getting the night bus home afterwards (the Ewing’s flaming painkiller wasn’t quite true to its word come the morning).

1 comment:

  1. MeatMission: roof looks cool. Burgers sound good. One for when we visit the big smoke, perhaps.