There’s something curiously disinhibiting about eating food when there’s a chance of it dripping on the table – and possibly on yourself – when you try to tuck in.
Once you’ve embraced the idea that the two foot radius around you will resemble a warzone of crumbs and sauce on completing the meal, it’s a lot easier to enjoy yourself than while daintily trying not to make mess. At least that’s always been Oliver’s experience.
At MEATliquor, tucked away behind Victoria’s Secret at the back of the Trinity Centre, there are plenty of opportunities to try the former approach to dining.
Burgers come so loaded with meat and slathered in sauce they burst out the side of the bun. Hotdogs the size of one’s head are loaded with a precarious molehill of fried, shredded onions. Onion rings are copiously covered in batter that flakes to the touch.
Though the act of consuming these delights is not exactly dignified, it’s as pleasurable as it sounds. Rolls of kitchen towels are handed out with the food by the waiting staff, which tells its own story.
Entering undaunted into an already crowded market of burger and meat restaurants in Leeds city centre, the founders of MEATliquor have five restaurants bearing the name of their cult brand in their native London.
Their Leeds site, taking over a previously unused Trinity Centre unit, is costing £1 million of Scott Collins’ and Yianni Papoutsis’s money and is, they say, their biggest gamble yet.
They are clearly throwing everything at it on their first venture in the North. Both are at the door when we arrive and it is Scott who shows us to the basement, something which feels like being inducted into a secret club.
We’re seated around a circular corner table, in a slightly darkened area where we have to strain our eyes a little to read the menu, despite the lava lamp style lighting on the wall behind us. The atmosphere is the fun side of edgy, a twisted take on wholesome Americana – a lot of care has been spent crafting the look.
There is an elaborate light box on the ground floor and downstairs the walls are plastered with bespoke art work and newspaper articles shouting about ‘Fury of the Meat Mentals’ and ‘Veggies on the Rampage’.
It’s a feast for the eye, and includes an elaborate ceiling display featuring Yorkshire and Northern Soul references tailored to show that this is not just another hip London eatery.
All this would be nothing without food to match, and MEATliquor delivers in spades. Burgers are the mainstay but there are also lamb chops, hot dogs and meaty salads to try.
Their buffalo chicken burger is a voluptuous delight. Served simply in a soft bun, the juicy chicken comes in a sharp, hot, vinegary coating and with a salty blue cheese sauce.
It’s so good Oliver is compelled to come back two days later. Plates are optional, so on both occasions sauce and bits of coating decorate the serving tray and table.
MEATliquor’s signature, the Dead Hippie burger, bears obvious comparison with the McDonalds Big Mac, with a double patty and sharp sweet onion-y sauce. ‘But it tastes’, says one of Oliver’s dining partners, ‘so much better than a Big Mac actually tastes. It tastes like you remember a Big Mac tasting as a kid’.
Das Schweinhund, a pork wurst hot dog topped liberally with shredded, fried, spiced onions, and sauerkraut, was, in the impenetrable youth speak of another eating companion, ‘super dog’. The trail of onions around her table suggests this was meant in a good way.
Sides-wise, the deep fried pickles were a revelation, the sharpness of the pickle cutting through the light batter, complemented by the salty creaminess of the blue cheese dip. Elotes, a mixture of chargrilled corn, feta, spring onions, lime, paprika and sour cream, provide a light relief.
Sadly there were no dessert options aside from root beer and coke floats, though some will be added to the menu soon.
What there is though, is a wagon-load of cocktails, spirits, beers and ciders. Oliver counted more than 100 different types of whiskey at the back of the bar.
Wine is served in tumblers rather than fancy glasses, and there is beer from Huddersfield’s Magic Rock brewery on tap. Both of these are good things. The trouble is it’s easy to go overboard.
A glass of the dangerously strong ‘house grog’, made with three different types of rum but easy-drinking like a fruit juice (the menu recommends a maximum of two per person) after the meal was probably going a step too far, and a ‘Pickleback’, a shot of Bulleit bourbon washed down with a shot of pickle brine, definitely was.
They push the bill for four past the £110 mark, quite an achievement given none of the main courses cost more than £8.50. There are discounts available in the first few weeks of opening, including the chance to get your bill with the role of a dice.
As well as being cool, in a not-trying-too-hard-be-cool sort of way, coming here is great fun. On Oliver’s second visit on a Saturday afternoon the basement is busy with young patrons but also family groups and one or two mums and dads with kids.
In one nice moment, Oliver spots a father eating with his young daughter who jumps from her seat and starts dancing energetically to the bass-laden dance music playing in the background, to the delight of the watching staff.
It’s that kind of thing that suggests MEATliquor is capable of succeeding 200 miles up the M1 from London’s foodie heartland. Beneath the achingly hip exterior, the pleasure of getting exciting, accessible food and drink makes it worth seeking out. Just don’t expect to leave without making a mess.
Address: MEATliquor,Trinity Centre, Bank Street, Behind Victoria’s Secret, Leeds, LS1 5AT
Opening times: MON – THUR midday to midnight. FRI – Sat midday to 1am. Sunday - Midday to 11pm.
Telephone: 0113 8346 090