Meat Bar142 West Regent Street,
0141 204 3605
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Nicely beefing up ante
Review published on 17/06/2013 © Sunday Herald
The UK International Development Committee urges us to revisit our meat-eating habits. UK consumers should also be encouraged over time to reduce how often they eat meat said chairman, Sir Malcolm Bruce. To reflect accurately the committees sentiments, its position was more nuanced than widely reported: it advocated that the UK should place a stronger focus on more sustainable extensive systems of meat production, such as pasture-fed cattle, rather than on highly intensive grain-fed livestock units.
Now that makes a lot of sense. If the population insists on eating grain-fed, factory-farmed meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we will, quite simply, run out of food. But equally, its naive to think that a mass move to vegetarianism is a likely scenario. Why? People love eating meat. Its flavours and textures please the palate and cannot be replicated satisfactorily with plant foods. No soya-based lookalike can ever taste anything like a dry-cured bacon rasher, or a well-hung steak, although miserable attempts at doing so are available. Besides, meat is enduringly popular, and the newly opened Meat Bar in Glasgow is but one of many recent openings that further reinforce already sturdy ranks of restaurants dedicated to carnivorous pleasures.
What we absolutely do not need is another restaurant that serves more rubbish burgers made from anonymous meat, and happily, the Meat Bar, snuggled down in its conspiratorial basement where warm wood, sandstone and leather set the scene, seems to have set itself a much more ambitious project. Its secreto (secret) steak of Iberico pork, offered a taster of this celebrated meat, from Spains traditional pata negra (black foot) breeds, the sort that fatten up slowly outdoors, chomping through acorns. Good breeding, combined with natural feeding, means that even the lean cuts pack an astonishing flavour. The kitchen had honoured this exceptional meat, leaving it still pink, yet with gloriously seared extremities kissed with the breath of charcoal. Around it lay sweet roasted tomatoes, all different shapes and sizes cherries, quartered elongated ones, various hues and curling sage leaves, fried to a crisp. A terrific dish.
Then there was another less familiar meat: shiny, garnet-coloured duck breast cured in the manner of prosciutto. It looked magnificent, and was striking to see, fanned out in thin slices like a sundial around a vivacious salad of watercress, blood orange and fennel shavings. Only the dressing, too powerfully vinegary, let it down.
At Meat Bar, £6 buys you a very decent burger. First off, it comes in a light brioche bun, one that does the job of holding the patty and tastes good in its own right, unlike the sweet, sticky, elastic long-life jobs that turn into a ball of sweet goo in the mouth. The other elements are better than average too: a mustard-intensive mayo, tomato jam, romaine rather than iceberg lettuce, and a likeable carrot slaw with fresh mint through it. Chips are not once, nor twice, but triple-cooked, so floury inside and impeccably crisp outside; leaving on the skins added another flavour dimension. It was interesting to try them aromatised with truffle oil, but Im not convinced that the bosky aroma adds a whole lot to fried food.
An extravagantly proportioned serving of pungently smoked, ginger-rubbed smoky brisket showed the potential of this under-valued cut and demonstrated that it neednt be dry, but its silky bone marrow gravy had an untoward sourness. A side order of pickled vegetables was so vinegary that it obliterated all other flavours. I sense that sauces and dressings are not the kitchens core competence.
Desserts, a highly appropriate New York baked cheesecake with raspberries and blueberries in its velvety folds, and shortbread biscuits, sandwiched with peanut butter and served with salt caramel ice cream, were meat-free zones. You cant take that for granted here: several cocktails come with meat in them. For instance, you can choose a Meatojito, which comes, no kidding, topped with a caramelised short rib garnish. Or theres the mint julep with beef jerky.
Even for meat lovers this might be going just a bit too far.
No ordinary burger joint
Review published on 01/07/2013 © Sunday Herald
So the burger arrives and in my head theres a bang, a thump and the music suddenly stops playing with the screech of a needle being knocked from a turntable. Surely not, Im thinking. Surely its not just another tower burger crammed with cheap junk to hide the rubber beef patty?
If my ever-too-expressive coupon is sending out a message its this: Duh. Not what I expected. Not in here anyway. Not after those triple-cooked chips which, if probably one cooking too many, at least gives the chef the chance to walk in the footsteps of Heston Blumenthal. They were crisp, dry and floury inside and dusted deliciously with salt. OK, at £3 for an arty little aluminium potful they were about 30p each, but they were damn well worth it.
Then there was the bavette, or flank steak, pulled from a smoking grill just as the flames were creating the famous Maillaird reaction and caramelising the surface into sweet, crisp deliciousness. Plonked down before Leo and I just as the juices flooded back to the surface. Crikey, we said. And at just £10? Crikey again.
But this burger? Consider where we are. The Meat Bar, a man cave. An atmospheric blurred red neon sign outside, a stripped-back exterior exposing olden days sign writing, soft velour booths and big, fat man customers, including us, especially us, tucking into platters with a big fat smoker cabinet puffing away in the back.
Once upon a time I was ridiculed by a Glasgow bar owner for suggesting that a real American bar-cum-food joint could work here. Yet, this is it. Look, there are people spread out along the bar eating, others in the little booths at the back wall, also eating.
We sidestepped the meat-flavoured cocktails, wavered over the pulled duck leg, the Iberico pork and even the ginger rubbed smoky brisket but went for good, ole crispy pork cheeks with piccalilli. Hmmm. Not sure about that. Not blown away. Maybe a little bland? But that aside all the signs were that the burger would be the main show in a proper meat bar.
Then this thing arrived. Why is it so tall? Mustard mayo, chilli jam, cheese, lettuce and a great-looking brioche bun on paper theres nothing outrageous in there. Or is there? Actually, no. A deft shove with the palm of the hand and it instantly compresses to the size a burger should be.
Whats more, the very first bite reveals soft, pink almost crumbly and juicy tasting beef inside. Hallelujah. This is good. Very good. In fact, as Leo and I finish it off in minutes and turn towards what has just landed at the table I suggest ordering another one. But frankly that would be unwise considering whats on the tasting smoked plate.
If youve got a smoker out back and you know how to use it then this dish is your chance to show off: Kansas pork ribs with onion, garlic and paprika rub; short beef ribs with a bourbon glaze; pulled pork; heavily spiced chicken wings and crispy beef brisket.
Is this a triumph? As we look around we can see other men at other tables unashamedly tackling exactly the same dish. Fabulouso.
The Kansas ribs are good, lightly spiced, reasonably if not superbly tender. The chicken wings given a fiery, spiky rub are excellent.
But from here on in things go depressingly awry. The short ribs are so heavily coated in blubbery fat that Leo has to hack it off his while I eat it because its been smoked and itll be fine. Urgh. It isnt. That crispy beef brisket? Just tough and chewy and oily.
And the pulled pork? In my book pulled pork needs a strong dressing to counter the risk of limp and fatty flavours.
In short? Those ribs are not a patch on Buddys over on Glasgows south side. But weve had a good burger, great chips and an excellent steak tonight. Almost, but no cigar.