MEATliquor is a cathedral to the burger: admittedly a cathedral in an old car park behind Debenhams. The iconic hamburger’s origins are disputed. A hamburger first appeared on a menu in the US in 1826, though they possibly came via German immigrants from Hamburg, hence the name. Recent years have seen a revival of interest in the common burger in London restaurants, with good versions to be found at Goodman, Burger & Lobster, Hawksmoor and (US owned) Bar Boulud, as well as at the Admiral Codrington. MEATliquor aims at recreating a distinctly US style of burger, and indeed the restaurant has a very American feel to it. The restaurant owner, Yianni Papoutsis, previously had a mobile burger stand called MeatWagon and a room above a pub in New Cross called Meateasy. MEATliquor is not aiming at haute cuisine burgers (no wagyu burger here) but goes back to basics, with its burgers served on a paper tray, with no utensils and rolls of kitchen roll rather than napkins.
The MEATliquor dining room would make a fine vampire lair, as there is hardly any light at all: circular windows, like ship portholes, let in a few rays of sunlight on a bright day, but that is about it. Wooden tables are bare, and graffiti is strewn over the walls. It looks like the kind of room in a horror film where victims are taken to be tortured. Chairs and stools are very uncomfortable, but this is presumably intention to discourage lingering: queues form even at quiet times, and no reservations are taken. Loud music plays, and this is not a place for relaxed conversation.
The menu lists mostly cocktails and beer (£4 for a bottle of Meantime lager) but there are some wines. Journey’s End Shiraz was £35 for a wine that retails at around £11, Kung Fu Girl Riesling also £35 for a wine that costs around £15 in the shops, and Argento Malbec was £15 for a wine that you can find for around £7 in the high street. If you really want to come to a gloomy burger joint and drink champagne then Laurent Perrier is just £35 for a bottle that will set you back £28 to buy. The menu offers a range of burger options such as the “dead hippie” and “buffalo chicken burger”, and there is even a salad (“rabbit food”) and a few sweets such as key lime pie (sweets were £4).
A cheeseburger (£6.50) arrived bulging out of its bun, a sloppy concoction of pickles and cheese topping a burger made from chuck steak, the bun not too sweet and firm enough not to fall apart. It was very enjoyable in a messy way, the pickles giving plenty of flavour, with a jar of ketchup and mustard available. However the beef itself did not seem to be of particularly high quality. It is certainly a good burger, especially by the generally low standards that most London places manage (3/10). Fries (£3) were thin and crisp, and were served in a generous portion (3/10). Service was, well, serviceable, though they did initially bring me the wrong bill. Overall, while the décor and menu aims to be too achingly fashionable for my tastes, the burger and chips were enjoyable, and that is the main thing: good, sloppy fun.
On a second visit I tried the starter “I am lomo” (£4), essentially a miniature pork burger with hot sauce. This was distinctly unremarkable, some cheap pork, complete with a slightly gristly texture in one bite, masked by a one-dimensional hot sauce (0/10). Buffalo chicken (£7.50) is a piece of chicken coated in breadcrumbs, fried and then served in a bun with more of the hot sauce, plus some shredded lettuce and mayonnaise. This was better, the chicken reasonably moist, the bun just about holding together (2/10). Service was pretty flaky on this occassion, and there don’t seem to be enough waiting staff. Overall this is a reasonable destination if you want a good burger and fries and don’t mind the uncomfortable seating, the horror film décor, the loud swamp-rock music and the queue. The burger was the best thing I tried here, but for me was not in the same class as that at Admiral Codrington or Goodman; to be fair it was relatively cheap.