I’ve come to the Meatwagon late. In fact so late that it’s been stolen. The South London burger wagon that became a food cult was stolen in December and it looked like I’d never get to taste the meaty goodness I’d heard so much about. I was just going to have to live with it. At least until the birth of the #Meateasy. This pop up venture above the Goldsmiths Tavern in New Cross is looking to raise funds for a new Meatwagon. This is their second chance and my meaty redemption.
It’s just English who responds to my #Meateasy invitation and like me I think he’s considering his choice days in advance. As we arrive at Goldsmiths Tavern we know we’re in the right place but all the same its not giving us any clues. The barmaid, looking the two suits up and down, has the answer: Meateasy? Thru-the-back-turn left-thru-the-door-up-the-fire-escape. She’s obviously said this a few times over the last few weeks. Peering into the back and a darkened dancefloor it looks unlikely to lead anywhere but we obediently make our way to the back. And this is how I find myself stood on a dark dancefloor in New Cross, with English; as Rhythm is a Dancer pumps through the speakers. It’s a bizarre moment to say the least. Then to the left, a chink of light and we’ve either found it, or the bogs. It’s raining as we ascend the fire escape from the beer garden. A family pass us on the stairs and straight faced tell us that it’s not too busy. I don’t get my hopes up as the meatwagon queues were legendary. My caution is well placed as we are greeted with a smile, given a raffle ticket and told that we will order in around two hours. There’s no question of leaving – we have tickets and we have a bar – what else do we need?
The room is busy with expectant punters sat, stood and perched; the kitchen looks to be working at full capacity and the front of house staff are screaming. Raffle ticket numbers to call people into the order queue and names for those about to be served.As time passes voices start to strain and the loud hailer comes out. At the bar its as hectic with a choice of cocktails and Meantime London Lager and Union. At £3.50 a bottle its not going to be the cheapest of nights but then they hardly need to push cheap beer to pull the punters and to be fair the atmosphere is better than any bar in Central London which would charge the same or more.
As food leaves the open kitchen necks are strained, usually followed by ohhh I might have that, or that, ohh no that. We hardly notice the wait, which is pretty much the 2 hours predicted, though coming later seems to be the best tactic for a shorter wait. Before long our numbers are called and we are in the queue having to make choices. Not everything at the #Meateasy is easy! With the French Dip and Philly Cheese Steak sold out I opt for the Dead Hippy as much for the name as for the fact that it’s what Big Macs should taste like with its double patty and special sauce. Onion Rings, Fries and Buffalo wings accompany – I mean it would be wrong not to wouldn’t it. I can honestly say that I could have closed my eyes and been in Brooklyn. Its the best burger experience i’ve had in the UK and perhaps anywhere.
The Goldsmith Tavern is due a Capital Pub Company makover shortly and #Meateasy is open now until March. My advice is to get in while you can. When the Meatwagon returns a fleet may be needed to satisfy fans old and new.
I must be getting on now as although Brick Lane is literally on the doorstep it’s less and less becoming a place where I chose to drink. Apart from the odd gig the only thing that draws me in is Rough Trade, Beigel Bake or Fika. The nearest I get these days is Redchurch Street. The imaginatively named Redchurch Bar is an old favourite with an extensive stock of liquor and a cocktail list running to over 10 pages; though its always a pint of Sierra Nevada which is my go to. When I want shades of a cook Williamsburg (Brooklyn) bar this is where I head. Change is afoot with new additions to the strip running between Bethnal Green Road to the East and Shoreditch High Street to the West (where strip can beused in the literal sense)with; Mason & Taylor (see imminent post), technically on BGR and The Owl and the Pussycat which having hung on for a number of years finally succumbed to the march of Shoreditch gentrification last year. In its previous life The Owl and the Pussycat was what some would term an Old School Boozer. Shabby but without the chic it had erratic opening hours and service which was comic; unless it was being inflicted on you when it became infuriating. I first heard of its refurb from Cheese and Biscuits and a post which seemed to polarise foodies in their comments and drew a direct and convincing defence from the management. There was more than a hint of the gentrification debate in that post which I will touch on only briefly. My view put simply is that things move on. People love to have someone to vilify when it comes to East London whether it’s the Nathan Barleys in the early and mid noughties or more recently the Suits as the City swells outward. Pubs need to continue to be relevant to theirchanging clientele and cannot be preserved in aspic. The Old School Boozer tag in itself can itself be an excuse for bad beer, service and décor; the latter of which I can forgive, the others I can’t.
As we arrive Edwyn Collins is playing, which is a tick on English’s mental checklist. The décor is the Shoreditch jumble sale chic which comes as no surprise. It’s relaxed with a comfortable bar area and more formal dining upstairs. Run by the team behind The Fellow in Kings Cross it’s sure to be a winner. First impressions were mixed with only 1 of the 4 ales on; the other draft choice being the likes of Becks and Heineken. That said the fruity Ringwood Boondoggle was on and sustained us through 2 rounds. Whether it becomes a regular haunt remains to be seen. Mason & Taylor was the intended destination (though closed due to their Christmas party) and my thoughts are that if half as good as their Duke of Wellington in Dalston, The Owl and the Pussycat may continue to be just a fallback.
Citizen Smith could easily have been dismissed in our search for a pub, slating itself as a “Drinkery”. The day to this point had been spent with Lou, her mum and sister; while watching another participate in the Head of The River. It was early evening and we literally needed a stop gap before the weary rower arrived after team drinks. Located opposite Putney Rail Station its main appeal was that it wasn’t the nearby Wetherspoons and it had plenty of free tables. Hardly a ringing endorsement but we just needed a pub. Looking like a venue for a girls night out of overpriced cocktails and Tom Cruise wanabee barmen, as opposed to a meeting place for the Tooting Popular Front, I wasn’t hopeful, but it was preferable to squeezing into the Rugby fans at the Wetherspoons.
Greeted by an Aussie waitress (well this is Putney) we were told that a menu was on the table and she would come and take our order. My impulse was just to ask for something generic rather than waiting for her to make her rounds again. Lucky I didn’t. Far from having just a standard British and European choices there was a far better mix than expected. Next to the four pages of cocktails there was an ample choice of draught Meantime (Kolsch, Pale Ale, Smoked Back, Stout) and Cornish Coaster for the UK, bottled Little Creatures and Coopers for Down Under and from our friends across the pond a mix of draught and bottled Sierra Nevada (Pale Ale and Porter), Brooklyn Brewery (Lager and Brown Ale), Goose Island and Liberty as well as a number of German offerings such as Schneider Weisse. Its fair to say that my interested had now piqued.
My mission for the day had been to create a good impression which I think I had to this point. This could have been a tipping point however as I pored over the choices. It was a case of do I go for a Sierra Nevada which at £4 a pint seemed reasonable to the £5+ i’ve paid in East London or bring back memories of Bedford Avenue with a Brooklyn Lager. After much deliberation its was the Meantime Smoked Back which clinched it. Having had a particularly lethal traditional German smoked beer weeks earlier I was interested to taste the Meantime take. Lou’s mum (also Australian) attracted the waitresses attention and enquired as to which beers were chilled. With a quizzical look the waitress ventured that all the beers were served cold and they didn’t actually warm any of them up. Not wanting to explain the difference to the waitress between chilled and what some people refer to as warm or room temperature I suggested a Sierra Nevada.
The Meantime Smoked Back arrived and I tasted cautiously. While still retaining the malty, smokey taste of the Rauchbier it was a lot more subtle, suiting a wider audience. While caught in my one man tasting session I was oblivious to Lou being short changed by a tenner. The waitress was apologetic and slightly embarrassed and all the more so when she did exactly the same thing to the next table. Perhaps its time for the Drinkery to invest in some product training and calculators. Leaving after the one beer, it won’t be somewhere I would return to out of choice but if faced with it as a best alternative I wouldn’t say no to a Sierra Nevada.