I have a lot to thank Meat Shack for. They ended ‘The Carlo Great Burger Drought’, that ripped through the country between 2006 and 2013 when I decided that burgers were shite. Looking back I was probably right, in Birmingham anyhow, when our casual dining scenes was as stale as the sesame seed bun that compresses the cows arsehole and eyelid together at McDonald’s. We had very little to shout about other than a couple of Michelin starred places that the majority could not afford. And then Digbeth Dining Club happened. I remember eating the food of passionate traders who were producing far superior dishes to those in their own bricks and mortar, at a fraction of the price. The Meatshack was one of those places, the first burger I had eaten for, I think, seven years. I was coerced by a mate and never looked back – it was everything that I wanted a burger to be. I remember talking about it sometime after to an equally epicurean pal, how those burgers, along with many other wonderful dishes at DDC, would eventually shape our future restaurants in Birmingham. I was right. I am always fucking right.
The transition of street food to restaurant doesn’t happen overnight. Products are to be tweaked. Locations found. Funds raised. In the case of Meat Shack it’s taken five years to go from the little black and white tent to the bright and illustrated space upstairs in the new Thorp 17 building in China Town. It’s caused local hysteria with those who love their food. Expectations are high and for the most part they have nailed it.
The slogan here is ‘dripping filthy goodness’, a phrase that they have presumably stolen from a swingers club, but actually relates to the process of cooking the beef patty so that it retains the juices. It is exactly as I remember them being, if not as pink in the centre as they once were. We try two different burgers, both of which are excellent. Hell Shack is a brute, a relentless assault that has the Rib Man’s ‘Holy Fuck’ hot sauce at it’s core and a green chilli relish playing back-up when a back-up probably isn’t required. Still, if you order anything with a hot sauce called ‘Holy Fuck’ you expect serious heat, and serious heat is what you get. I fucking love it, and I can swear all I want here, because if they can say fuck on a menu, I can use it all I fucking want in my post. Sorry, Mom. If heaven existed I know you’d be pretty appalled with me right now.
You can look again now because the next paragraph contains zero curse words. The Dutch Piggy is at it’s purest form a bacon cheeseburger. It has two cheeses; a classic American cheese that owes its existence to the invention of plastic as much as it does to milk (this is not an insult – American cheese is the best for burgers) and another, Edam, I think, that has melted in a far more conventional sense. Together with the bacon it works to accentuate the beef flavour rather than wipe it off the face of the earth like the hot sauce does. They are two burgers for very different customers. Both are very good indeed.
There are no fried pickles on today, leaving us with onion rings and fries topped with a spicy mayo. The latter is the weak link here, unremarkable in texture with not enough of the mayo, which itself could do with more attitude. The onion rings are the best I’ve tried, though at £3.50 for six they should be. The batter cracks and then disappears in the mouth. It makes me wish that the Frickles were on to try.
We’ve waited five years for this to become a reality. Is it worth it? Undoubtedly yes. We eat within the first few hours of the first day they are open to the public and already the team have mastered the service and the cooking. It’s slick and personable, maybe more than you ever expect a burger restaurant to ever to. I never doubted their ability to make the jump, but I am seriously impressed with the professionalism and accuracy of it all. Meat Shack is destined to be another Birmingham success story, and hopefully one that will inspire some of the other traders to do the same.