I first heard about The Meatwagon a few months ago on the BBC 4’s Food Programme, and subsequently on a number of blogs. It seems to have become the stuff of legend pretty quickly, and for those into their food, you can understand why. The story goes that the owner of the wagon, Yianni, quit his job and headed for the US to research the perfect burger. He toured the length and breadth of the country (I may be embellishing here) picking up recipes, tips and tricks until he thought he’d cracked it. He then returned to London, formula in hand, bought a food truck and then hit the road spreading the good burger word. Insane and inspiring in equal measure.
Until last week, his burgers had evaded my jaws, but when I heard that he was pitching up at The Ship pub near me, I knew I had a date with meaty destiny, particularly as Yianni had picked up ‘Best Sandwich’ at the British Street Food Awards the previous weekend. As we approached the wagon, for some reason we felt a sense of trepidation, the kind you get when approaching an illegal rave. Would there be a huge queue? Would there be any meat left? What were we going to do if we couldn’t get our fix?
Luckily, we were early enough to avoid disappointment. When we arrive we’re told we can have a cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger, chilli burger or a ‘dead hippie’, their version of a big mac. We placed our order, were given a numbered ticket and then watched the man himself work his magic, and it’s quite a process.
Step one, Yianni gets the meat out of the fridge, which is freshly ground 28 day old steak and nothing else. He forms a ball of the meat around the size of a lime, and then squashes it onto the wagon’s hot plate with the palm of his hand until it’s about a centimeter thick. He then presses his thumb into the centre to create a dimple. To be honest, I couldn’t work out why, but I’m assuming it helps keeps any toppings in place. Next he season the patties with a generous sprinlking of salt and freshly ground pepper.
After a minute or so, the patties get flipped and then acquainted with the cheese. Each burger gets two slices of what looks like processed cheese squares, but on asking we’re told that it is in fact real cheese, and is his secret ingredient. If you’ve ordered a bacon cheeseburger or chilli burger the extra toppings are added next. The chilli is a loose relish made of green chillies, butter and stock, and the bacon a small patty of shredded boiled bacon, fried until crispy on the hot plate.
The next stage is the most surprising bit. The bun lids (white sourdough) are placed on top, and then Yianni produces a number of cloches and covers the burgers with them. He then lifts up the side of each of them, and squirts a small amount of water underneath and places back down. Not really sure why he does this, but am assuming that the steaming brings the buns back to life and helps meld everything together.
A few seconds later and the burgers are off the grill, and placed on top of the bun bases that have been lovingly prepared with American mustard, ketchup, lettuce, red onion and chunky gherkins. We did have to wait about an hour for our burgers, but I’ve got to say, it was well worth it. We sampled the chilli, bacon and cheese, and straight up cheese burgers. All were seriously tasty. The chilli relish was spicy, tangy but also really clean tasting. The bacon crispy, tasty and not too salty. But I think my favourite was the cheese burger. The lack of other toppings meant you could really taste the meat, which was pink, moist and seriously delicious. The cheese really complimented the taste, as did the gherkins which were gently pickled. I’m honestly salivating whilst typing this. We didn’t try the ‘dead hippie’, but that will give us something to look forward to next time we pay Yianni a visit.
I remember tweeting a while ago that I thought that Byron made the best burgers in the UK, but I think they’ve now been knocked off the top spot. You can follow The Meatwagon on twitter to find out if he’s going to be in your hood, which I hope for your sake and mine is soon.
Apologies for the quality of the pics, it was a bit dark by the time we ate.