Giles Coren is not a fan, but they seem to be popping up all over town. The hottest trend at the moment is the “no reservations” restaurant. Started by the perennial trendsetter Russel Norman with restaurants like Polpo and Spuntino (which doesn’t even have a phone), restaurants all over London have opened without a booking option. The main reason seems to be a more efficient business model. The owner of Goodman, who run Burger and Lobster, have said that they get through 170 covers without reservations and 120 with them. If that means they can charge £20 for a whole lobster and make a profit then I think everyone wins, no? The same can be said for Meat Liquor and Pitt Cue, these places just wouldn’t work as well with a reservation system. Ok, queuing at Meat Liquor can be a bit of a bore, and I wouldn’t turn up at 12:30 and wait for an hour but the turnover is high and if you time it right you’ll be in within 20 minutes. Pitt Cue and B&L have an even more civilized attitude; put your name down go and have a pint somewhere and you’ll be in within 40 minutes. The one thing all these places have in common is that they all come with recession busting price tags, bustling, buzzy atmospheres and amazing grub. If Giles prefers the starched, celeb filled Delauney then that’s fine, I’m not too grand to queue.
My favourite amongst these three has to be Pitt Cue; I’d salivated over the posts of all the bloggers that they cleverly invited to the soft opening the week before opening. I’d memorized the menu and had my sights set on the famous Pickle Back (more of that later). We headed down there two days after it had opened, and because I am a total food geek and had read so much about it, I assumed the rest of London had to and that there would be a queue out the door. Luckily there wasn’t. We put our names down, and settled down at the bar for some seriously awesome bourbon cocktails. And these cocktails are seriously awesome. I don’t drink a lot of bourbon but I’m going to start, it’s sweet and smooth and is a great cocktail base. We tried as many as we could, and they were all great. Special mention has to go to the infamous Pickle Back; a shot of bourbon followed by a shot of sickly sour pickle juice. It sounds disgusting, but it was probably one of the most moreish, crack like experiences of my life, I could have had 100.
Oh, and did I mention the food? The meat is like nothing I’ve ever tasted; tender and juicy, delicious and sweet. I could go on forever. I’ve never eaten food that puts a smile on my face like this. The mash is smoky and burnt (in a good way), the beans are huge, the slaw is crunchy and the pickled jar of veg is manna from heaven. Oh and the battered shitake are a stroke of genius. And it’s all cheap as chips, we nearly ordered the entire menu, got pleasantly pissed on cocktails and generally had one of the best restaurant experiences I’ve had in a long time for the princely sum of £25. I plan to spend a large proportion of my life here.
A place like this just wouldn’t work with a reservation system; primarily because it’s tiny, I mean minuscule, but that only adds to the charm. It’s open all day so if you don’t fancy a wait, get down there late on a Sunday and I bet you won’t have to hang around too long.
Next up, Meat Liquor; a slightly different beast to Pitt Cue but a lot of fun as well. A garish, cavernous place, which you can find round the back of Debenhams, here there isn’t anything as civilized as a list so you’re just going to have to get in line and wait your turn. But because it’s so big and provided you don’t turn up at a peak time you’ll be in quicker than you think. We turned up in a group of 7 on a Saturday at 3pm and we were sat down with a cocktail in hand by 3:30. It is a weird place, it has to be said, lots of seedy red lighting and faux graffiti all over the walls, you feel like you’re in a low quality horror movie. But the food here is good. Some of it is really good. The wings are the best I’ve ever had; greasy, crispy and moreish with a mysterious blue cheese dip, we were elbowing each other to get through them. The battered pickles are genius; sweet , crispy and very tasty.
The burgers are also extremely good; rare and juicy with a variety of options from the “Dead Hippie” to the original cheese burger that made the Meat Wagon so famous.
All this washed down by a range of cocktails that come in all shapes and sizes to fit any palette. We spent a very happy couple of hours drinking, laughing and eating and again we emerged into the twilight £25 lighter than when we walked in. If you want some trashy food in a trashy atmosphere then this is a great spot.
Last but not least the most up market of the trio; Burger and Lobster. This is fast food Mayfair style. £20 gets you a burger, a lobster or a lobster roll. As many have already pointed out £20 is a lot for a burger, it must be one of the most expensive burgers in London. Some people were still ordering them but when you’ve got places like Meat Liquor dolling them out for £9.50 I would imagine most would go for a lobster option. Although L&B operate a “we’ll phone you when the tables ready” policy and we arrived before 7, albeit in a group of 7 (suicidal on Thursday), we weren’t seated till 9:30.
Two and half hours is a long time to wait for anything but wait we did and thankfully the lobster was as good as we’d been led to believe. They are a decent size, grilled or steamed, with lemony butter and crispy chips. The roll isn’t half bad either; toasted brioche with all the hard work done for you, it’s not as big as the lobster but there’s argument for quality vs quantity here. We even shared a burger between us as well, you know just to see what it was like. And it was a very good burger; juicy, succulent and meaty. But worth £20? I’m not so sure when there’s such strong competition all over London.
As with all these places I imagine a healthy proportion of the profits come from the exotic cocktails on the menu, they’re all about £9 and are helpfully set out to accompany the burger or the lobster. This was the most pricey of the three, but that’s to be expected in Mayfair and with a long wait at the bar. Still if you like lobster you won’t find it cheaper in London than you will here, just don’t come in too big a group. In fact that goes for all of these places, especially Pitt Cue. I’d advise 4 or less really. That is unless you love to queue.
So that’s your round up. 3 meals for under £90. All delicious. Surely Coren can’t argue with that, can he? I know I probably fit into the “jobless foodie neophile alkies (aka bloggers)” but I’m more than happy to wait a bit when the end result is food as good and as cheap as these three. Go to them all and see for yourself.