Ibrahim Salha gave us our first international AHT reader review last week on Byron—today he's back with another London burger recommendation for the Meatwagon. Read more about what he's eating at his food blog Will Eat For Money and on Twitter @ibzo. Thanks, Ibrahim! If anyone else wants to share some burger intel, here's how to do it. —The Mgmt.
Print Village, 58 Chadwick Road, London, SE15 4PU (map); +44 07747 751 201; themeatwagon.co.uk
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A great yet elusive London burger in the unlikeliest setting
Price: Cheeseburger, £5 (add green chillies or bacon for £1)
Notes: Keep up date with their Twitter updates (@themeatwagonuk) to find out when they're around
In an industrial estate in South-East London, Yianni Papoutsis is serving up fantastic burgers in the unlikeliest of settings. The half-Greek, half-Irish, carpenter/caterer has a desire to improve London's slowly blossoming street food scene. He's knowledgeable about burgers, having traveled around the US of A on a search for brilliant food at low prices in curb-side locations, sampling some of America's best hamburgers en route. He cites the trucks in Los Angeles and San Francisco in particular as big sources of inspiration. He pitches up The Meatwagon whenever he has time off his day job, and plans to open more regularly in the longer days of summer, but right now appears about once a week around 12 p.m. and stays opens until he sells out (usually around 3 p.m., if you're lucky).
All orders are cooked to order. Yianni places a ball of meat on the 30-year-old cast iron flat-top griddle and then squashes it down into a round patty with the palm of his hand. When asked how hot the griddle was exactly, he smiles and says, "F***ing hot." Good answer; the extreme heat of the cooking surface produces a crust that only griddle cooking can. Yianni skips charcoal-grilled taste for a superior crunch on the outside of the patty. The aforementioned griddle can hold up to four burgers at a time, and all burgers are cooked "with a little bit of pink in the middle," though requests can be made for rare or otherwise.
On the blend, Yianni bypasses the 80/20 ratio of flesh-to-fat in his freshly ground, British, grass-fed, 28-day aged chuck in favor of a slightly leaner blend (85/15, or thereabouts). Liberally seasoned with just salt and pepper after being squashed, Yianni flips the patties and then adds two slices of American cheese. Not Kraft Singles, but better—he isn't letting anyone on to his cheesy secret weapon. An upturned bowl of a lid then goes on top to melt and steam the cheese into the meat.
The bun is a soft and light sourdough roll, toasted and then placed on the meat for the final few seconds of the cooking process. A pleasure to eat, it doesn't distract from the meat, but complements it and retains its structure until the last bite. It's hardly a surprise that Yianni and the local baker he sources the buns from took about three months to perfect the recipe.
A cheeseburger with "the works" comes with shredded iceberg lettuce, dainty rings of red onion, French's American mustard, and Heinz ketchup. While you can ask for gherkins, there are no watery British, April plum tomatoes here.
The well-seasoned cast iron griddle gives the meat a good crunch, and the quality of the meat shines through. Slightly nutty and impossibly juicy meat is enveloped by creamy and well-melted cheese, and the mustard and ketchup do not detract from the ground chuck whatsoever, instead adding welcome fruity and sweet notes, and even more moisture. The onions and lettuce are crunchy and fresh, completing a delicious package. The first bite is as good as the last. The patty was perhaps more well done than I would have liked, but even at medium-well it was still juicy and I had to lean forward while eating to avoid juices dripping all over my feet.
Also available is a cheeseburger with green chiles, Yianni's take on the famed burger at the Bobcat Bite in New Mexico. Slices of green chile (seeds and all) are fried in butter and some stock, then placed on top of the meat. The flavors of the green chile come through after the initial heat kick to complete a good rendition of the Bobcat burger.
Yianni is delivering seriously fantastic burgers at a very agreeable price range. Simply put, they are up there with the best burgers available in London, aided incredibly by how rarely they are around; a "bricks and mortar" operation would be interesting, but the thrill of the chase in attempting to get a taste of Yianni's cheeseburgers ramps it up and aids the overall burger experience. —Ibrahim Salha
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