The Meatwagon, Peckham

Saturday, 10 April 2010 | |

My top three London burgers, as of 9th April, 2010, 1pm:

1. Goodman
2. Hawksmoor
3. Byron (best widely available)

My top three London burgers, as of 9th April, 2010, 1.05pm:

1. The Meatwagon
2. [SIGH]
3. [SIGH]

The London burger scene is definitely getting better. I even wrote an article saying as much on the quasi-biblical A Hamburger Today hamburger blog. Additionally, I often write about burgers on here (namely Byron and Goodman, as recent examples). The banner for this blog features an image of a great burger; I like hamburgers, and I've started liking them in London a lot more than I once did. A visit to the highly elusive Meatwagon on the hottest day of the year so far has blown all competition out of the water, far exceeding my expectations and delivering a truly fantastic burger. London's best, in fact, and at a price which makes a gruelling 90 minute journey to an industrial estate in Peckham well worth it.

Yianni Papoutsis. The half-Greek, half-Irish, carpenter/caterer with a desire to improve London's slowly blossoming street food scene. He knows about burgers, having travelled around the US of A on a search for brilliant food at low prices, in curbside 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 with The Meatwagon whenever he has time off his day job, and plans to open more regularly in the longer days of summer. Here he is pictured with a six or seven ounce wad of chuck (just less than 20% fat; more on that later) just about to go on the grill. Also, note the Casio F91W on his left wrist, a classic watch (also worn by Sam of Mooli's).

The cooking process. 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 "fucking hot." Good answer: the extreme heat of the cooking surface produces a crust that only griddle cooking can, skipping the charcoal-grilled taste for a superior crunch to the outside of the patty. The 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 usual ratio of 80:20 in his freshly ground, locally purchased 28-day aged chuck in favour of a slightly leaner blend. He cites the reason that a fattier patty of minced beef will retain slightly unpleasant globules of uncooked fat if done rare, whilst his blend guarantees juiciness and a good eating experience no matter how it is cooked. 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, and he isn't letting anyone on to his cheesy secret weapon.

Steaming the cheese into the patty with a lid. A lid! I bloody love lids, I really do. No one else seems to do this in London, but it is an essential component to creating an environment where the cheese can steam and properly melt into the meat.

The cheese in all its melted glory.

The buns. A truly contentious issue with all burgers in London. A bit of meat this good needs a good bun, and Yianni has sourced the best burger bun available in London (well, for this type of burger, at least). A brioche bun would be absolutely wrong here. The bun is a soft sourdough, toasted and then placed on the meat for the final few seconds of the cooking process. A pleasure to eat, not distracting from the meat but complementing it and retaining its structure until the last bite. Hardly a surprise that Yianni and the local baker he sources the buns from took about three months to perfect the recipe.

Ready for the rabbit food, gherkins and the sauces. You can ask for your burger without any of the toppings if you wish, but a cheeseburger with 'the works' comes with shredded iceberg lettuce, dainty rings of red onion, French's American mustard and Heinz ketchup. You need to make sure to ask for gherkins, as some strange people don't like them. Another plus point: no watery April tomatoes. Brilliant.

The finished article, before being placed in some paper. If you want your burger for later, they'll wrap it in foil for you, otherwise a bit of paper and you're ready to go.

(Photo by me)

(Photo by Samantha Newbery. Note the difference in the quality of the photos!)
Cheeseburger (£5). Glorious, absolutely something else. 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 enveloped by creamy and well-melted cheese, whilst the mustard and ketchup do not detract from the ground chuck whatsoever, instead adding welcome fruity and sweet notes. The onions and lettuce are crunchy and fresh, completing a delicious package. Note: the bun does look slightly too big for the meat in this picture, but it is perfectly proportioned. Each bite includes a bit of each component, all working wonderfully in synch.

Autopsy shot. Perhaps more well done than I would have liked, but even at medium-well it was still juicy and I had to dance like Michael Flatley to avoid the juices dripping all over my Air Force 1s. Seriously though, look at that goopy cheese. Amazing.

Not pictured: 'Bobcat Burger' (£6). So called after The Bobcat Bite in New Mexico, which has a Green Chile Cheeseburger on their menu. Like a regular cheeseburger, except some freshly sliced green chilli peppers which are fried in butter are placed on top. Seriously good, with the flavours of the chilli overcoming the initial heat kick.

Philly cheesesteak (£6). Yianni, despite being a dab hand at making cheeseburgers, also dabbles in other American favourites such as cheesesteaks, tacos and even Korean Fried Chicken! The cheesesteak here has a few points that would probably make a South Philadelphian shake their fist angrily. First of all, the bread: rather than a soft, sub type Italian roll, Yianni a chewy and soft baguette. The cheese: no Cheez Whiz here, instead more of that high quality American cheese, nicely melted with the meat. Speaking of meat, Yianni uses seriously good rump, from the same butcher he sources the chuck for the burgers, and slices it thinly from a large piece just before throwing them on to the griddle. They get a nice seared crust, whilst the middle of each sizeable slice is tender and juicy. The griddled peppers and onions add a welcome crunch and acidic sweetness to every mouthful. Insanely, this is only £1 more dear than the predictably poor effort from Subway.

The Meatwagon is probably the most exciting thing on the London food scene for me right now. Perhaps one thing that can be said about this operation, though, is that the elusive nature of Yianni's burgers aids the burger experience; the thrill of the chase, following him on Twitter and awaiting an announcement of an appearance, then going to an industrial estate in Peckham - they are all part of the Whole Burger Experience. Would a bricks and mortar Meatwagon be less exciting and would people be less inclined to trek there? Perhaps, but the proof is in the eating, and Yianni's burgers are the best around.


Grumbling Gourmet said...

Great post! Long live the Peckham food revival! There's definitely enough going on round here to qualify... the Bahn Mi in Denmark Hill, Silk Road, Ganapati and others. That's without mentioning the giant African land snails to be bought on the Rye!


The Grubworm said...

Damn that looks like a fine burger. While loving burgers, i'm new to the Great Burger Debate being waged in the blogo- and twitter-sphere. As indicated by your list, this sounds like it will put the cat amongst the goodman/hawksmoor/byron pigeons.

What really got me is that he does what looks like a decent Philly cheesesteak. I havent had one of those since i worked a bar in the States. Magnificant.

M. A. Salha said...

Oh dear god I want that burger. This guy is going to be busy over the summer!

Sharmila said...

They are damn good aren't they?! I want one right now. So glad that this pitches up so close to my house.

Su-Lin said...

Will he tour the rest of London? :) Pretty please, Mr Meatwagon?

Mr Noodles said...

Great post! I've read about The Meatwagon on other blogs but yours is the most informative full of all the details like how its cooked and where the meat is sourced!

Greedy Diva said...

I can almost smell it... A London tour please, Mr Meatwagon,

Hollow Legs said...

I am SO annnoyed I missed this at Easter, I live so close too. I have a massive burger craving.

Helen said...

So glad you liked the meatwagon and that Yianni is doing well. I first went there last summer and tried my first Bobcat burger - amazing. He's fun to chase I agree! Thankfully it takes me all of 10 minutes from home to his usual spot.

ginandcrumpets said...

I will have a bobcat burger. I will have a bobcat burger. I will have a bobcat burger. I will have a bobcat burger.

If I say it enough, the universe will hear and The Meatwagon and I will both be in Peckham at the same time one day and I can have that bobcat burger.

I will have a bobcat burger.

Helen said...

Jassy - If you were around in the coming weeks I am making them for Chris Pople because he feels the same! DENIED! AGAIN!

Ibzo said...

Grumbling Gourmet - Absolutely, South London seems to be the place to be right now, for a foodie. Seriously considering moving there...

The Grubworm - The cheesesteak was incredible! I was quite surprised to be perfectly honest, but Yianni did a great job with it. I don't know if I could pick one over a burger though...

M. A. Salha - He definitely will be. We should have a World Cup party and get him to cater it :)

Sharmila - I'm so jealous he pitches up close to your house!

Su-Lin - Yianni said he can travel if you can find him a pitch and you can also hire him out :)

Mr Noodles - Thank you so much for the kind words! I tried to extract as much information out of him as I could, as I wanted to write up the things I would want to read, if I didn't know about him. Glad it is useful.

Greedy Diva - Agreed, he should pitch up in a different area every day or something. I'd follow him around.

Lizzie - Only Yianni can sate my burger appetite now. Make sure you go next time!

Helen - I think yours was the first blog post I saw about this, after reading about him on Chowhound, so thanks for that :)

ginandcrumpets - Haha! I'll join in. I will have a bobcat burger. I will have a bobcat burger

Burger Monkey said...

Have to track this puppy down - an excuse to head across the bridge.

Kavey said...

Wow! I mean, WOW! I have burger envy!

ginandcrumpets said...

@Helen I've just seen this and I feel so sad because I will not be around. That means I have been denied a bobcat burger twice! Maybe more times! I am going to go and cry in a corner now.

Linz said...

Yianni's bobcat burger is honestly one of the best burgers I've ever eaten: and I've eaten some damn good burgers on both sides of the Atlantic. Hunt him down and have two. Save one for later if you can't manage it there and then. they really are burger perfection.

jack_faith said...

first, they are fine burgers but, and it is a big BUT, something needs to be said about the availability of them. Yianni advertises one thing and doesn't come faintly close to honouring it. For instance, at the towpath event in hackney he says they will be there from noon til midnight. Well, actually it was from 3 on the sunday which is ok, but turn up at say 4.30 and they have sold out. You think that's bad, Huh? First time he went to the towpath I was late because I turned up at 8 for a "meating" that was supposed to be between 7 and 11.30 (he actually said they had sold out after 20mins!) Come on. No matter how good the food it's a letdown if you've travelled only to find out really you have to get down there in the first 30 mins. Why carry on advertising all day, if you aren't taking orders; it's a bit off.

Anna Schafer said...

You can do the same thing with Andrew Jackson, here's a low-quality photo taken with my cell phone - make the folds and then tilt the bill away from you, and then towards you. hurtige kviklån

Anna Schafer said...

London's best, in fact, and at a price which makes a gruelling 90 minute journey to an industrial estate in Peckham well worth it.låna pengar

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