As New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposes a ban on large-sized sugary drinks Yianni Papoutsis pushes bottomless Coke, Sprite and Fanta at MEATmarket, the latest spinoff of his trailblazing Meatwagon food truck. The free-flowing fizz reflects the earnestness of the London’s great burger pioneer, not so much in his backslapping of adoring supporters, but in his passion for junk food from the American frontier. Papoutsis approaches the food he loves without poshing it up, without irony. He wants only to do it justice.
With MEATLiquor, a burger joint atypically unfriendly to kids and teens (see: Father’s Office), Papoutsis, partner Scott Collins and their backers defied the laws of location ruling the restaurant and cocktail biz, transforming a cursed corner space under a bleak car park on the back side of Debenhams Oxford Street into the hottest spot in town. Its red-neon sign, spelling MEAT as if viewed through shutter shades, has drawn the hip and hungry like flies to a fluorescent tube.
But it might very well be MEATMarket and not MEATLiquor that endures as a case study marvelled at by future generations of students in property development. Its burger balcony is perched over a sea of I♥LONDON tat at Jubilee Market. Whereas MEATLiquor flourishes as fairground dark ride MEATMarket attempts the same in Covent Garden’s house of horrors – London’s trinket hell.
You can safely enter Jubilee Market from its Tavistock Street entrance and climb a flight to MEATMarket without rubbing shoulders with spotty adolescents from Milwaukee. There’s little risk of their following you up the stairs either: The kid-unfriendly message is delivered to parents by off-colour personal ads displayed in illuminated decorative panels and, less subtly, with the word “DICKS” on the men’s toilet door. (In three visits I did not see even one of the hundreds of teenagers below climb up for a double burger and fries.) Likewise, with protective netting stretching out from the gallery edge you can guzzle all the boozy shakes you want without worry of toppling down onto the flea-market floor. Otherwise, could you imagine the tabloid headlines?
MAN FALLS FROM JUBILEE MARKET MEZZANINE, IMPALED BY CRYSTAL REPLICA BIG BEN
Rising above the riffraff and eating not caviar but sloppy burgers may have its charms. You sit as as an upper cruster in a privileged position, devouring the groundlings’ greasy grub. But is this why Papoutsis and company chose Jubilee Market as the location for what may be the prototype for a chain of MEATMarkets? I doubt it. Irony is not his thing. It’s more likely low rent had something to do with the decision. Or Frank Sinatra: “If I can make it there I’ll make it anywhere!”
In the burger department, my area of focus, the MEATMarket menu features only doubles, all £7.50 (not cheap): The Double Bubble (a standard double cheeseburger), the Dead Hippie (a sensational riff on the McDonald’s Big Mac) and the Black Palace (piled with grilled onions – nice!). My guess is that the “Black” in Black Palace stands for ground black pepper, so indiscriminate is its use. The beef patties in the three doubles I tried ranged from wet pink to dry brown, tender to slightly rubbery. At their best the MEATMarket burgers are not just over-the-top drippy. They’re over-the-balcony drippy, with enough onion soup spilling from the Black Palace to fill a teacup.
If, in conclusion, I’m finding MEATMarket difficult to love it has less to do with absence of consistency than loss of irony – mine – in this, the Great British Age of Great American Junk Food.
MEATMarket’s vanilla milkshake requires the assistance of a Dyson DC25 to suck through a fat straw. That’s amusing, even at £3 for a 10-ounce (.3 litre) serving. The thick truth is it makes you feel like a kid. But my question for food snobs who praise the structure of this or that artisan gelato while debating the merits of Tahitian and Madagascan vanilla pods is this: how can you dig up words of affection for a small cup of sugared brain freeze that tastes of nothing?
MEATMarket, Jubilee Market, Tavistock Street, London WC2E 8BE