A cathedral of meat; that’s what Meatliquor is. I’m unsure whether this came to me in a moment of near-brilliance as I chowed down on my inexcusable fried feast, or whether I pilfered the term from a fellow reviewer. Either way, it sums up the joint a treat.
Everything reinforces the notion, from the dome-like ceiling spattered with scarlet graffiti, haunting skulls and the odd menacing owl, to the slavish devotion rumoured to drive queueing times into untold realms. And they really do wait longingly by the way, and you will too (unless, that is, you like your burgers for breakfast).
The dramatic surroundings are undoubtedly divisive; some will revel in the assault on the senses like it’s a Hell’s Angel’s pipe dream, while others are sure to recoil. Some may question why the latest commodity to earn its own veritable theme park is chargrilled flesh, but that’s one for the cool kids with no reservations to decide.
So we found ourselves sat in this American-diner-come-hick-bar, overlooking the spectacle and feeling a little overwhelmed by the heart-quickening neon and noise that slices through the paint-splattered gloom. I’m served my Dead Hippie on a utilitarian tray, and discover there are few pleasures as wrong yet right as said burger. Though deceptively modest in size, we were floored by over-ordering. (Our lovely and entirely unpretentious waitress kindly tried to disuade us, to no avail). And so to the happily plump, double patties soused with unctuous cheese and their slightly sweet, neat bap, alongside gargantuan onion rings and tangles of super-skinny fries. Then there was the outrageous hot dog which earned my vote for its sheer bullishness. Admittedly it was near-impossible to eat, but the chilli was fragrant with earthy spice and the smokey frank was devilishly tasty.
There are numerous pretenders to the burger zeitgeist’s throne. In my mind, Meatliquor reigns supreme above its peers; perhaps even dear old Lucky Chip. But herein lies the problem. The latter’s higgledypiggledy charm – its willful shabbiness – is born out of the scatty but organic roots of an eclectic location (that being Hackney’s finest, Broadway Market). Admittedly, this location may have its own share of posturing, but its ramshackle surroundings are genuine.
For all its speakeasy leanings, Meatliquor lacks authenticity. Many of the affectations are indeed fitting, like rolls of kitchen paper to dab away unruly sauce and soft drinks served in jam jars. I hear that fans are tattooed (or rather branded) with the restaurant’s name; this is all in keeping with the aesthetic. But I cringe at an eye-watering exchange between father and grown-up son, in which Junior reveals to his Pa that the gents resides behind the door scrawled ‘Dicks’.
There’s a part of me – and I wish there wasn’t – that fears it might all be a tad… well, daft. A rockabilly hipster at the bar definitely looked the part – knocking back sazeracs like he’d just parked up his trailor having escaped the cast of True Blood – but he was well within earshot of the bevvy of West-End shoppers. As he looked on, a well-to-do family celebrated purchases from a local department store in a very middle-class take on the show ‘n’ tell session. And, bizarrely for a place that looks like the aftermath of a blood bath between a goth and a redneck, there’s no shortage of yummy mummies with kin in tow.
It’s not a date place either; the burger is awash with obscene levels of juiciness, and I left with non-specific gloop smeared about my person. I eventually emerged like a newborn, totally bewildered by sunlight. I was also at the mercy of a deep, debilitating meat funk, which robbed me of the afternoon.
So I’d say go to Meatliquor, but don’t stay too long; it’s simply too intense to reclaim your day. But as a place to dip in between too many rounds of drinks, with an almighty feed for two under 30 quid? Spot on.