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There are a couple of things worth considering on outings such as this. Firstly- attire. Stretchy, forgiving, and sensibly coloured is the connoisseur’s outfit of choice.
And secondly – lunch. In so much as arriving at what can most aptly be described as London’s newest den of gluttony- MEAT:mission – on a full stomach, is pure folly, but arrive half-starved and you’ll barely make it past the first blended cocktail before you start to worry you that you may not be able to do the menu justice. Needless to say, I chose to ignore my own sage advice and rocked up in pale pink and stiff denim, ravenous after forgoing food all day, and anxious to find out what the Masters of Meat themselves had come up with this time.
This third ‘static’ offering, brainchild of owners Collins and Papoutsis, arrived without the fanfare of MEAT:liquor and its Covent Garden equivalent, MEAT:market. After all, we know what to expect by now; the brand damn near created the street-food-gone-gourmet trend that’s had Londoners reaching stickily for the kitchen roll like never before. Besides, this is old news… isn’t it all about lobster now? Well, the pair are clearly on a mission (excuse the pun) to prove that their dirty meat offerings remain a force to be reckoned with.
So, what’s the deal? Well, in a nutshell, it’s meat. A lot of it, served up in a former mission and ragged school in one of the trendiest corners in East London. I can spare you the history lesson, seeing as it’s been so helpfully provided on the back of the menu itself: something that scores guaranteed bonus points from me as I’m a sucker for a drinks list with some historical substance. With two successful venues under their belt within just over a year, you could forgive the brand for resting on their laurels, but it seems such a unique venue was too good an opportunity to pass up. Collins professes: “We’ve always had a penchant for interesting spaces… just like MEATliquor and MEATmarket, we weren’t actively looking for a venue at the time, but as soon as we walked in there, we knew we had to do something with it. It was just a matter of deciding what. And how.”
The end product is impressive, to say the least. Like a church gone bad, they have retained enough of the building’s original character to evoke that same sense of veneration one might have experienced in its former incarnation, but it’s warped, somehow, and gritty: tainted with that same sense of immoral excess that’s become synonymous with the brand. A perverse depiction of The Last Supper, resplendent in stained glass (and featuring hog ‘disciples’ and an owl ‘Jesus’ to boot) looms overhead, and the lighting is as dim and red-tinged as any backstreet Soho joint of ill repute. There’s something pleasurably pulse-quickening about the whole affair, lying somewhere between the borderline-blashphemous décor, the unashamedly trashy soundtrack (Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and the like) and the smiling, engaging ‘burgerettes.’ MEAT:mission isn’t taking itself too seriously, which makes it immediately more likeable than most of its try-hard neighbours.
The restaurant itself is carved in two: the Downing Wallace Hall (no reservations, communal dining, and prime position next to the bar…) and the more intimate half, designated solely for those with the foresight to book. Yes, book. Because these guys are bucking the (frankly, rather irritating) ‘no-reservations’ trend. Why queue an hour and a half for lobster when, with a bit of forward planning, you can have a Dead Hippy in your hands in a jiffy? That said, one of my few gripes lies in this very set-up; the dining hall is the perfect reflection of the brand’s essence, and exemplifies what it does best… it’s noisy, messy, chaotic, and the décor has attitude. The reservations-only half is cosy, intimate and awkward. The two-tops are impractical and unnecessary – no one comes here for romance – and the food (still thrown haphazardly onto a cheap plastic tray – just how I like it) barely fits. I had to resort to stowing my New Cross Negroni down by my ankles in a bid to keep my deep fried pickles intact… which, by the way, are my new favourite thing. Sold to me by our waitress as ‘worryingly addictive’, she was quite right. After all, you need something to cut through all the grease, and they have the added bonus of doubling up as a vegetable: a rarity, within these walls.
The menu has pigeonholed itself less than its predecessors. There’s a wider range of meat on offer, though with a couple of familiar favourites (it would be folly to cut the aforementioned Dead Hippy, and they still need that token vegetarian offering, I suppose). But there are newcomers. Never been particularly enthused by idea of breaded chicken strips? Me neither. But try the Monkey Fingers… crisp, light, gourmet chicken fingers gone dirty, and slathered in a Franks-esque hot sauce. The Green Chili Cheeseburger was everything it should have been: soggy, salty and mouth-wateringly spicy. The fries were… fries. As good as ever, and in artery-clogging quantities. The only offering that left me slightly underwhelmed was the Peckham Dip, named for the brand’s humble beginnings in this less-than salubrious nook of south London. For me, the Bovril-like gravy lashings were all too reminiscent of old school dinners, though sadly, not of the improved Jamie Oliver variety.
I’ve always regarded the group’s cocktail offerings as something of an ace-card for the brand, when so many start-ups still see them as an afterthought. And with more on offer than ever before, MEAT:mission, with SoulShaker in tow, have retained a strong focus on getting people sozzled. My pick of the bunch (and boy, did I have a bunch…) was the Largerita. It sounded vile. I will admit I tried it only out of sheer morbid curiosity, staunchly believing that nothing concocted from beer and tequila could taste good. It was like a frozen, malty margarita- something I probably could have made out beforehand, had I paid more attention to the name. It could have been an accident – a fortunate one, like Penicillin. In fact the drink was much like something out of an American Frat party: a slushy machine, a bottle of Mexico’s finest and leftover beer coming together in some kind of unholy trinity.
As I’m sure you have by now garnered, I like it here. This is in spite of the fact that everything about the place induces self-loathing; cross the threshold, and you will inevitably eat too much, drink too many cocktails, and emerge on to the cobbled streets of Hoxton bloated and mucky. Some may pooh-pooh the stubborn dominance of the gastro-burger and meat trend, and others may snidely- claim that the brand is too try-hard these days. I say cheer up. Because for these guys, the future is looking pretty bright. What’s in store? A world takeover, one burger at a time? ‘We’ve never spent much time planning too far ahead. It allows us flexibility and lets us take advantage of any opportunity that might arise. It’s important to be dynamic in this economic climate,’ says Collins. And the secret to their success? ‘Find a good business partner with complimentary skills. One that you can trust.’
Well, they’re clearly doing something right… not many places can boast a queue at 6.30pm on a Tuesday in February, and a loyal following of meat die-hards. MEAT:mission – count me in.
words Aimee Hunt