Meat Liquor N1

A good burger, let down by its seasoning and outshone by amazing sides.

Next in the series of Monday-burger-meet-ups I’ve been doing was Meat Liquor N1, the latest location in a fast-expanding network of high-end, highly stylized craft burger eateries. The N1 venue is new, not busy on a Monday, and confusing in the extreme; tucked away in a back-alley, made to look like a converted auto-garage from the outside (maybe it is?), and very easily confused with some kind of dystopian post-apocalyptic meeting spot. The décor and atmosphere instilled excitement, but perhaps it was just literally years of hype on how great Meat Liquor was that got me worked up about it.

Burger source:

Founded by Yianni Papoutis in a street food truck in 2009, the “Meat” brand has grown from strength to strength; starting with a residency in a pub, moving into pop-ups and, since 2011, with real locations in London and beyond. The N1 site is the newest in the family, and carries an amazing atmosphere; something like an ‘end of the world’ party being hosted by a bunch of people who have a dastaradly apocalypse escape plan, drinking cocktails and eating dead cattle even as the zombies horded down through the alleys of Islington, in search of human prey. A kind of ‘restaurant at the end of the universe’, but with stylings of 90’s video game Resident Evil (not the 2000s movie franchise). Anyway, I loved that aspect of it.

The order

Determined to keep trying the ‘specials’ and excited at the prospect of the mustard-based sauce in MeatLiquor’s ‘Dead Hippie’ burger (I’m a big fan of In-n-Out’s ‘Animal Style’ burgers), it was the obvious choice. Meat Liquor’s menu describes it as: “2x French’s mustard-fried beef patties, Dead Hippie sauce™, lettuce, cheese, pickles, minced white onions).” Apparently French’s sponsors it.

I’d also heard beyond-mad ravings about Meat Liquor’s Monkey Fingers – fried chicken breast strips in a crispy batter, rolled in a good amount of buffalo sauce. And of course, fried pickles, onion rings and chilli fries were hard to resist.

Not being a beer fan, I washed it down with a ‘Space Gin Smash’ – perfect for a Monday night – Bombay sapphire gin, fresh lemon juice, apple juice, elderflower cordial, mint & grapes. Suffice it to say that for a man of my (sweet, sweet) tastes, it was delicious.

The meat of it:

The two patties weighed in about 3-4oz each, were fried to a perfect medium, and made from a fairly lush meat blend that melted in your mouth. The bun, a muscular white roll, has the perfect combination of softness and bite. The pickles – a good amount of tartness but managing that elegant balance between crisp and pliant.

And that’s where it went wrong.

I *LOVE* the In & Out Double Double Animal Style, on which I have read this burger is styled. However, whether I had a poor experience on the night or there’s something gone wrong with the recipe, I could not say. A repeat experience may be called for to provide a more scientific basis for my assessment. The ‘Dead Hippie’ sauce lacked for flavour, the minced onions were barely evident, the cheese relatively flavourless. A perfect textural experience was let down by inadequate seasoning and flavour combinations. The ineffable Mr Knock tells me that the French’s sponsorship may have let the side down, but again – I am not qualified to comment.

It felt like the American cheese let it down; like some crisp bacon was needed to umami-up the experience and make it something more than it was. As it was – after all the hype (Meat Liquor in many ways has defined the burger renaissance London is experiencing today) – it was a disappointment. I had food envy for Damo’s bacon cheeseburger, and I almost never envy Damo anything. So this was, indeed, a shame. Don’t get me wrong, the burger wasn’t bad – perfect meat, perfectly cooked, excellent bun, good pickle. But the overall burger flavour was disappointing.

IMG_0592
Monkey Fingers in Foreground (YUM!) and circlets of oniony goodness bringing up the rear. Dead hippies in soft focus.

However… the sides told a different story, on the whole. The monkey fingers – delicious. Buttery and slick with buffalo sauce yet somehow incredibly crisp, they had an excellent balance of heat and crunch whilst maintaining perfectly cooked, juicy chicken breast strips within. The blue cheese sauce was a thick, delicious moderating influence on the mild heat.

The onion rings arrived with a satisfying crunch covering a thick circlet of sweet white onion. The chilli fries were less impressive, a bowl of likely once-proud, once-crisp fries drowned somewhat in a (respectably) spicy, somewhat gungey chilli. I suspect it was an excellent example for what it was, but didn’t add a great deal to the meal for me.

IMG_0593
Deep fried pickles. OMG.

I feel I need to return to Meat Liquor, to try a different burger or perhaps even resample the Dead hippie and establish if this one-off experience was an anomaly; after all, there are many who continue to rave about the burger as the best they’ve ever had. To me, it’s a distant runner-up to Lucky Chip, Dirty Burger, and even the White Ferry House’s fayre. But those are reviews for another day…

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 5/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste – 2.5/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 4/5. £20 a head with a cocktail felt reasonable.

Burger rating – 3/5 I’m going back. But it’ll be hard to order the Dead Hippie again; I may have to chance the Bacon Cheeseburger or even the Buffalo Chicken Burger next time around.

The deets

There are Meat Liquors all up and down the country now. Find your local one here, or visit the N1 one here. They Tweet here.

Lucky Chip @ The Old Queen’s Head

The best burger in Islington, if not the world! After all, did not Samuel Johnson say:

“When a man is tired of Islington, he is tired of life.”

No? Ah well, close enough.

I have a new semi-regular Monday tradition, which takes the edge off the prospect of four more days of work: Monday night burgers. We’re currently eating our way through Islington, which seems to have an unusual density of great burger places including Five Guys, Meat Liquor and more, and we started with Lucky Chip, resident in the Old Queen’s Head pub on Essex Road.

It being a Monday, the burgers really were the focus of the evening, and we weren’t disappointed by what they had on offer. Especially not, when given the opportunity to flip a coin for a free burger, I called it and got my ‘Dirk Diggler’ monthly special for free.

Burger source:

Lucky Chip was started life in a food truck, by Aussie import Ben Denner, who apparently ended up living in London ‘by accident’ – which is pretty good news for us, because the fast-spreading Lucky Chip serves up some remarkably delicious food.

The order

The burger itself – my ‘Dirk Diggler’ – is “35 day aged long-horn beef patty, braised beef short rib, American cheese, pickled coleslaw, Sriracha Kewpie mayo and spicy BBQ sauce.” Alongside it, I just had the house fries (the lucky chips, I suppose?) and a pint, there wasn’t much else needed… though given how good the burgers were – when I go back – the hot wings need to be tried.

IMG_20160125_192544.jpg

The meat of it:

LuckyChipDirkDiggler.jpg

The Old Queen’s Head is one of those pubs that retains old world charm, but with none of the stifling airlessness I used to hate about “old man’s pubs” pre-smoking ban. Remarkably, it also seems to avoid the sometimes offensive pretentiousness of gastropubs. I guess it probably belongs to the extended ‘Shoreditch Chic’ set that seems to be doing the rounds these days.

The bar staff were very helpful, the coin toss for a free burger was a great gimmick (I guess effectively a BOGOF offer to pull people in early in the week? It wasn’t advertised and one of our group didn’t get offered it… haha, Matt), and the food was served quickly in baskets to the table.

The burger build was perfect – no ‘Falling Down / Can anybody tell me what’s wrong with this picture’ moment. I’d feared somewhat that the fillings would be overpowering; I’ve had (non-bacon) meat as a topping on burgers before and it often a) makes a mess and b) presents a really confusing set of flavours and textures. However, the balance is perfect; the combination of the amazingly tart pickled slaw complementing the spicy mayo and BBQ sauce, the short rib adding a chewy saltyness which complemented the (well-melted) American cheese and the perfectly cooked (to medium) burger patty, which I would guess weighed in at 6-7oz. The bun, not a brioche but a sturdy but pliant seeded roll, held up amazingly well given how juicy the burger was. The combination was a taste sensation and it is now ranks categorically as the best burger I’ve ever had. Whilst I’d feared it wouldn’t be enough food – the burger is substantial but nothing compared to some of its ‘gourmet’ counterparts – it proved both delicious and filling.

The chips were fine – a good, crisp texture to them, well seasoned and authentically rich in potato flavour. Gimmick free and tasty, there’s really not much else to say about them.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 5/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 6/5. Even if I’d had to pay the list price of £9.95 for the Dirk Diggler I’d have considered it value at – if not twice the price, then certainly as much as a third more.

Overall – 5/5 My best burger ever.

The deets

Find your local Lucky Chip now! Lucky chip is in residence at Birthdays in Stoke Newington and has its own venue in Dalston (w/ Fine Wine!) as well as the Old Queen’s Head. They Tweet here.