#MEATEASY in New Cross to sample what could be described as London's current "it" burger...
For any readers that haven't yet heard of #MEATEASY, or of the guy creating the burgers there, Yianni Papoutsis, let me bring you up to speed... Papoutsis has garnered no small amount of fame over the last year or so among London's burgeoning burgeratti through manning the Meat Wagon – a burger van from which he's been selling burgers so good that people have been known to queue round the block to get one. Sadly, the Meat Wagon disappeared off the face of the earth (it was stolen) in early December and, thanks to the support of his friend Scott Collins of Capital Pubs, his burger-vending enterprise is now ensconced, temporarily at least, in the upstairs room of The Goldsmiths Tavern, New Cross.
The place only opened the other week but has been inundated with visitors keen to sample its fabled delights. An article in The Evening Standard last Thursday has also stoked the fire of #MEATEASY's legend so we weren't all that surprised to find there was a queue outside. It took 20 minutes just to get in. It would be another two hours before we even placed an order...
Inside, #MEATEASY is basically a dive bar with an assortment of wooden tables, chairs and stools, with sofas and low tables along the far wall. The place is lit by candles, fairy lights, and light from the streetlights outside the windows, giving it a warm cosy vibe. And it's absolutely rammed. Credence Clearwater Revival is blasting out through the speakers and we were encouraged to get a drink at the bar (which we did from a refreshingly friendly barmaid) while we waited for Scott – Yianni's right hand man in the #MEATEASY venture – to hand out numbered pegs which would eventually allow us to place an order. About an hour later and we spotted Scott dishing out pegs. Pete went over to get a couple but Scott would only give out one per person. So, I had to get up too and get one of my own. When we compared pegs, one was numbered 32, the other, 41. When our peg numbers are yelled out that would be our cue to go and place an order. Scott shouted out "THREE AND FOUR". It was gonna be a while before our number was called so we got another couple of beers and waited for some people to vacate their chairs so we could sit down.
About an hour and a half, and several beers, later, 32 was finally called out. We thought that seeing as there were just two of us, we could ask to cash in both pegs at the same time so we could at least eat together. But, despite our plea to place two orders together, Scott refused point blank to let us do that. Instead, he said we could order a maximum of three items per peg. So we ordered two Bacon Burgers with cheese and some fries on peg number 32 and ditched peg 41 altogether. The triple cooked fries of which Yianni is so proud, had run out so we had to make do with ordering onion rings instead. After dedicating a whole evening to our quest to taste #MEATEASY's offerings, this was, of course, hugely disappointing. Back to the little table we'd managed to commandeer for yet another round of beers.
I was so hungry when our burgers finally arrived, I hardly looked at mine before taking the biggest greediest bite I could possibly muster. Fuck me, it's good. I'd been eyeing up everybody elses burgers so I didn't need to pay much attention to the presentation of mine. Fortunately, Pete took the trouble of taking some photos (shown). It wasn't until I'd finished my burger I got to wondering where the hell our onion rings were. We had to ask about them and only then did they appear.
"Tell me more about the burger!" I hear you cry. Well, the truth is it's quite hard to assess. I don't think I've ever eaten a burger I know quite so much about. I know, for example, Yianni's beef patties are made from well hung 28 day aged prime chuck steak (about 15% fat) course ground earlier in the day.
I also know he's been working with a local south London bakery for over a year to get his burger buns just right. And, I have to say, all involved should be congratulated - the bun isn't covered in flour (hooray) but egg glazed. It also has a sweetness and bite to it that is almost akin to that of a really soft New York bagel. You know - the kind that you only get in New York. It is slightly wider than the contents too which means it keeps everything in the right place as you eat, and even though the height of the ensemble really pushes at the upper limits of bite capability - it's do-able. And at no stage did it fall apart.
Additionally, I know that Yianni makes bacon patties from boiled smoked bacon to include in his "piggyback" bacon burgers - the idea being that a patty delivers an even baconyness in the way that rashers can't. However, piggyback burgers weren't on the menu so we ordered Bacon Burgers with cheese. Pete's burger, he tells me, has all the bacon concentrated on one side so the first two bites were all smokey bacon and then no more. After that his taste buds were overpowered by the slices of gherkin that were only placed on the other side of the burger. I can't quite work out, bearing in mind Yianni's quest for even-ness of flavour distribution, why he includes gherkin cut into 3mm thick discs. Two slices of gherkin cut length-ways would give a more even flavour distribution than a few circular discs of, admittedly juicy and delicious, gherkin.
My burger is, to be perfectly clear, totally awesome. It's super-tasty - and I love the crisp lightness that shredded iceberg lettuce brings to what is essentially a great big lump of stodge. A small criticism would be that the red onions are a bit too bountiful in that the burger's predominant after-taste was onion above anything else. It is, in fact, the aftertaste that reminds us that we had an order of onion rings to come. When they came, they were good – but no substitute for the triple cooked fries we'd hoped to sample.
The bottom line is this: a burger is a fast food classic. It's a functional ensemble you grab when you've got limited time to eat a meal. You might opt for a burger when you're hungover and need some comfort food. Or, after several hours boozing on an empty stomach, a burger is the perfect food package to eat on the way home in an attempt to minimise the inevitable hangover. Yianni's burgers are doubtlessly made with love and a whole lot of thought and care. I have an enormous amount of respect for what he and his small but dedicated and hard working team are doing in the name of producing exceptional burgers – burgers that would work brilliantly in any of the above grab-a-burger situations. But grabbing one, sadly, is not an option...
The #MEATEASY is, truth be told, a victim of its own success and the kitchen and food-ordering system can't really cope with the droves of burger-lovers that are visiting it. If you want to sample Yianni's fare, (and we wholeheartedly recommend that you do) then you're going to have to apply some forward planning (get there early) and have several portions of patience in reserve. Fare thee well, fellow burger tourists.
First Floor, Goldsmiths Tavern,
316 New Cross Road
London SE14 5AF
Open 6-11pm Tuesday - Saturday
(check website for latest opening hours)
Tel: 07747 751201 (mobile)
Meal for two with drinks: around £30