S&M no more
Update 6/1/2014 – tweaked the Verdict.
Meat People might sound like yet another part of the burgeoning Meatliqour burger empire, but it’s actually, as far as I can tell, an independent meat-focussed restaurant. It’s located not far from the genteel sprawl of Islington’s Upper Street.
Meat People has taken over the premises formerly occupied by a branch of the now-defunct S&M Cafe chain and has a similar decor. The place feels like a retro caff with plenty of zinc and formica surfaces and period signage. Service on both of my visits was friendly and efficient, although that was helped by the almost complete absence of other diners.
Despite having a smelly singleton fun nest nearby, The Euro Hedgie had never visited Meat People and accompanied me on my first visit. He skipped starters and went straight for the steak sandwich. He wasn’t quite sure which cut of beef had been used for the relatively thin strips of meat, but they were reasonably tender and cooked medium to well done.
There was a hint of salty fattiness to the steak strips, but this might have been due to the lardo which, along with the egg, added a touch of richness. Overall, this sarnie resembled a fattier, guiltier version of steak, egg and chips in between slices of bread. It wasn’t a well constructed sandwich though – the thin, flimsy, slightly cheesy bread did a poor job of holding everything together.
The Euro Hedgie may have skipped starters, but I didn’t and opted for the octopus. The firm, meaty octopus was complimented well by tangy capers and salty olives. The artichokes, while juicy, were surprisingly bland although this could have been due to the stronger tastes of the capers and olives.
Despite the waiter’s promises of a porcine revelation, the iberico secreto cut of pork was rather ordinary. The smooth slices of mildly caramelised and salty pork was tender and pleasing enough, but it can’t compare to the sublime cuts of similar-ish iberico pressa often available at restaurants such as Ember Yard, Foxlow and Pizarro. The accompaniments of confit onions and thinly sliced roasted potatoes were nothing to write home about.
For dessert, I opted for the sky tocino purely because of its peculiar name. The creme caramel was custardy yet light and had slight taste of pear liqueur to it, while the firm pear had a subtle tang of star anise to it which, surprisingly, complimented not only the fruit but the creme caramel too. The accompanying vanilla ice cream was bland and unnecessary though.
After a bit of dithering, The Euro Hedgie went for the pavlova. He liked the chewy merginue, but his dessert snob instincts were repelled by the soft, cold and tasteless poached rhubarb as well as the insipid vanilla cream.
I returned to Meat People, sans Hedgie this time, to try out the zebra starter – a dish that had caught my eye the first time around but had been unavailable. The slices of zebra were slightly stringy around the seared outside, but tender and a little chewy in the rare middle. The moreishness of the moist and tender slices was brought out by the garnishes of chilli, red onion and mango. A satisfying start.
Onglet, also known as skirt of hanger steak, is an under appreciated cut of beef that can be very flavoursome indeed. Meat People’s version, cooked medium rare, was juicy and moreish although it lacked the exceptional depth of flavour present in the very best examples of this cut of beef. As expected, it was a little tough in places, but tender in others. The herby, eggy bearnaise sauce wasn’t too overpowering, but the thickly layered dauphinois potatoes were oddly inconsistent – thick and stodgy in places, light and buttery in others.
The French beans were firm and fresh, but the promised garlic and shallots were thin on the ground.
I finished with the vanilla panna cotta, which was nothing if not attractively presented. On one side of the bowl was the firm, custard-ish panna cotta. The crunchy pomegranate and pistachio crumbs added a nice contrast in texture. On the other side of the bowl was a dollop of apricot sorbet. While it did indeed have the unmistakable taste of apricot, it was a poor pairing for the panna cotta with each dessert nullifying the taste of the other.
Attempting to draw Londoners away from their steak and burger fixation is an admirable goal, but Meat People isn’t the runaway success it should be. The beef and pork dominated menu needs both a little more variation and more skilful, finessed execution. It’s not a bad place to stuff your maw full of meat, but it’s a decidedly second rate option. If you can tear yourself away from N1, and can snag a reservation, Foxlow is a better bet for a meaty, non-beef meal. If you really can’t bear to be apart from the green pastures of Islington, a good meal of pork can be had at the nearby Blackfoot.
Name: Meat People
Address: 4-6 Essex Road, Islington, London N1 8LN
Phone: 020 7359 5361
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday noon-23:00 and Sunday noon-22:00.
Reservations: probably a good idea
Average cost for one person including service: £35-40 approx.