SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) Stepping into MEATliquor feels a bit like being bear-hugged by a heavily tattooed, burly rig worker.
It's got this cramped, vaguely sweaty, blue-collar air about it, with screaming psychedelic art in your face and curated-for-its-loudness music blasting in the background. Did we just walk into a graffitti artist's wet dream or is it Happy Hour at your neighbourhood redneck bar in America's Deep South? Where are all the Harley Davidsons you expect to see parked outside to complete the imagery?
Oh wait, this is Singapore, and the parking warden auntie is just around the corner.
Welcome to the latest hotspot in town, where the in-crowd is forgoing its usual diet of tapas and juice bars to tuck into a menu that meets all the nutritional requirements of a Hell's Angel. Only in this fancy British interpretation of a greasy spoon can a paper kitchen towel roll on your table instead of serviettes be hailed as oh-so anti-estab cool. Eat a bowl of laksa off your food court tray? Low brow. Eat a S$22 burger off a paper-lined tray? Wow, edgy.
99 Duxton Road
Open Tues to Sat: 5pm to 2am (until 3am on Sat). Closed on Sun and Mon.
This neon-lit playground is a deliberate assault on the senses and sits perfectly in the concept-driven enclave of Duxton Road. MEATliquor picks up where Life is Beautiful - also an "edgy", no-signboard tribute to New Orleans cooking and deejay-spinning - left off after barely a year. It's to be seen whether MEATliquor's pedigree as a trendy burger chain in and outside central London helps give it a longer shelf life in Singapore - after all Jamie's Italian is still standing and expanding - but you have to give them top marks for execution. If designer grime is your aesthetic of choice, go for it.
The food at MEATliquor is pretty straightforward - if it can be deep-fried or put in a bun, it's on the menu. Sauces and seasonings are as brazen as the decor - as if the rule of thumb is to salt well, and add a little more for good measure. The gunpowder soft shell crab (S$14) is a decent meaty specimen salted, breaded, deep fried, salted again and served with a kind of cocktail sauce that breaches international treaties of responsible seasoning.
French fries may as well be its own food group, the way it's served here in oversized portions spilling out of its enamel container, liberally doused in a sweet chilli but not-quite-sambal sauce topped with two fried eggs with runny yolks in case you need the protein.
It's unlikely that any hippies were harmed while preparing the Dead Hippie burger (S$22) - but good luck to your cholesterol level as you chow down on two beef patties fried in mustard and still dripping in oil that seeps into your airy burger bun along with a mystery hippie sauce, cheese and pickles. It's a surprisingly demure-sized burger but tasty and almost subdued compared to the buffalo chicken burger (S$20), which is really a dirty chicken burger smothered in the kind of hot sauce usually reserved for buffalo wings. The dirty chicken in question is really an over-sized chicken cutlet in a double coating of batter deep fried to a dark brown crunch that's insanely salty on its own and coated in pepper sauce and a creamy cheese dressing. A scattering of shredded lettuce and onions qualifies as your greens for the day.
But lest you think we belong to the anti-fried police, we are totally willing to give up our membership to the healthy eating movement for the old school root beer float aka Brown Cow (pricey for S$12) and the fist-sized onion rings (S$9), not because the onions are crunchy and sweet but for the doughy fried coating that's like deliciously tender-chewy yu tiao. If they can find other things to fry in this batter, we'd be happy to find them other hippies to beat to death and grind up for sauce.
Otherwise, there are many ways to have fun in MEATliquor, especially if you care to indulge in the liquor aspect of the menu - cocktails like their version of pina colada are meant to be sipped in place of dessert, which is strangely absent from the menu. For the month of June, even paying the bill is a playful affair - a game of dice gives you a chance to eat for free, or get 25 to 50 per cent off. The best we can manage is a 25 per cent discount, which is enough to put us in a good mood.
MEATliquor is outlandish, claustrophobic, grungy and not to be taken seriously food or concept-wise. Go there, line your stomach, have a drink and play "I'll show you my tattoo if you show me yours" games. The rest of us unpainted folk can just sit in a corner, sip our floats and wait for the next hotspot to come along.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
This article was first published on June 8, 2015.
Get The Business Times for more stories.