Meat Lust Bare Bones BBQ Tour — The Meat Bus
All aboard the Meat Bus!
When it was announced that a converted double-decker bus was going to be hitting the streets of London on an epic meat-filled tour — complete with onboard BBQ grill — there was no way I was going to let this chance pass me by.
Even after ticketing-related shenanigans meant that I would have to attend on my lonesome, nothing was going to stand between me and this novel experience that was presumably designed with me in mind.
So it was that I made my way to the pick-up point over at Truman’s Brewery in Hackney Wick on a chilly February Sunday.
There I was greeted by this pink monstrosity that was to be the vehicle of our deliverance for the next few hours.
In my typical over-keen fashion I had arrived far too early, and yet other pilgrims were also loitering outside, ready and waiting for the journey to come.
The welcome offer to get on the bus and warm up was pounced upon and we stepped over the threshold to meat our destiny (see what I did there?).
The furnishings of the bus were as elaborate as its exterior, with bright pink and yellow tubes providing the illumination for our voyage. Tasteful. Most surfaces were occupied by Meat Lust sauce bottles.
Meat Lust had also partnered with Gipsy Hill Brewing Co craft beers to provide refreshments throughout the journey, meaning a well-stocked bar in addition to the bar-b-q on the deck above.
I’m not much of a beer guy, so after chancing my arm on a “Belgian Dubbel aged on sour cherries” — not unpleasant but still not my thing — I opted to take the rest of my allocated booze away for a more appreciative audience.
Having settled into a comfy seat at the back (that’s where the cool kids sit right?) I was able to cast my eye over the day’s menu/itinerary.
Even to the untrained eye that’s a lot of meat.
4 stops at meaty London landmarks and 5 treats prepared above our very heads.
Reading the details of the onboard dishes (crafted and served-up by Chef Ben Spalding) I felt a mix of anticipation, admiration and bafflement, but I was happy to roll with any punches they threw at me that day.
Just as tensions were starting to run high, with a bus full of hungry carnivores ready to rock and roll, the first stop was announced: The Rib Man!
And we had to get off the bus…
That’s right, our first destination was right behind us all along! The eponymous Rib Man set to personally dishing out a giant bun full of rib-y goodness for each of us, complete with a choice (or combination) of BBQ sauce or “Holy F**k” hot sauce. There were even complimentary cans of Truman’s pale ale, but I politely declined.
Wow, what a sight. He really didn’t skimp on the meat, and when I asked for “loads of” BBQ sauce so did I receive! This really could have been a meal on its own.
The meat itself was certainly nice — whether truly the “greatest ribs in London” or not, as per the chef’s claim, is something I will have to validate after an extensive testing period. Whilst not possessing too much flavour in itself, and perhaps a little dry on its own, it was well complimented by the delicious BBQ sauce.
And the bun helped for quick and easy consumption, which turned out to be of the utmost importance as we were being ushered back to the bus before I’d barely got my teeth into it!
Needless to say there was a certain amount of trepidation that if the rest of the items on the menu were this gargantuan then the rest of the day was going to be a struggle. If that was a “mini holy f**ker” then I want to know what a normal-sized one looks like!
Then it was time for man-of-the-hour Chef Spalding to introduce the first two of his concoctions.
First up were the “bingo wings”. You can follow along with the menu above, but these were chicken & turkey wings in a buffalo & apricot sauce, served with blue cheese popcorn on a base of creamed cheese.
Second was “the new kid on the block”. Apparently Ben had long been beset by the desire to serve something on a brick, particularly if people were able to lick said brick — not an urge I can particularly relate to — and that is what led to this dish: rack of goat in an incredibly boozy jerk sauce, crispy chicken skin, pineapple and onions stacked atop a fist-sized brick. Seriously.
Apologies in advance for photo quality. My poor phone camera struggles at the best of times, but the lighting didn’t exactly help in this scenario.
Well this was certainly a sight to behold. The blue cheese popcorn is one of the items on the menu that had me raising an eyebrow previously, but hey anything goes at the back of a pink Meat Bus.
The meat on the wings was delicious and juicy — cooked to perfection. As they were the sauce was probably a tad too tangy for my liking, but that’s where the creamed cheese came in; offsetting the kick and making for a top class, well-rounded dish.
Sad to say I don’t know what the popcorn was supposed to add here as it didn’t do anything for me. Not sure how you’re supposed to eat popcorn along with wings, and it didn’t taste anything like blue cheese. Just a step too far.
“Heavy” was the very first impression of our second onboard dish. Unsurprisingly, and probably for the best, most of the weight came from the brick rather than from the food.
The kid rack was served very rare and slightly chewy, but not unpleasantly so. You could very much taste the liberal helping of rum within the sauce, along with the familiar jerk taste, and the pineapple and onions that had soaked it up were fantastic.
Unlike some I am not averse to chicken skin, and the piece here provided a nice crispy mouthful, but seeing it served on its own is something of an oddity — not unlike the brick itself. The caramel atop the brick was meant for mopping up and/or licking, though personally I couldn’t get much flavour out of mine. Then you’re just left with a brick; novel but of questionable utility in this setting.
Then we were on the road at last! Next stop: Clutch Chicken. The atmosphere in the bus was very jovial, helped along by the plentiful supply of beer and the playlist of hip-hop classics from a decade or more ago.
It was a slightly surreal experience though, as one might imagine, to traverse London roads in our meat machine that looked like something out of Wacky Races. We also had no idea where we were or where we were going due to the perpetually steamed-up windows, so it came as something of a surprise when we suddenly pulled up and the next of the onboard offerings was announced (along with a toilet break).
Here we had the pig’s cheek, which was a delectable little morsel to say the least. There were only a couple of bites to it but it was chock full of flavour nonetheless. Whilst supposedly glazed in sweet chilli sauce and packing some “super sour pomegranate”, the taste that dominated was that of the smoked lychee, making for a wonderfully fruity core wrapped in a meaty and crispy texture — bliss. Lastly I hit the little puddle of cream cheese at the bottom; a bit superfluous really.
Then began the “ultimate cock fest” from Clutch Chicken itself. The first plate was introduced simply as chilli chicken wings; likely Korean style from the colouring and the taste. And as with other Korean dishes there were definitely some nice flavours in there, but I was unable to savour them as it was just too spicy for me.
Next came the “soy chicken lollipops”, which were a strong contender for dish of the day.
The sweetness of the sauce was just perfect, and it had been well absorbed by the amazingly crispy yet light outer layer of the drumstick. The chicken itself was beautifully tender and deceptively plentiful for such a small pop.
Through what I can only assume was some kind of clerical error, an extra plate of this chicken was passed around to my great delight. I’ll need to hunt this down at the source some time.
The ultimate cock fest was rounded off by these lemon and parmesan chicken pieces — they may look like they’re wings on the bone, but not so! These were decent enough but the more modest flavours were lost on us given their outlandish company on the menu, and they certainly paled in comparison to their immediate predecessors.
And because we hadn’t had enough food at that particular stop, we were presented with another bird. The penultimate treat from atop the bus came in the form of a duck leg pancake, complete with Chinese BBQ sauce and plum.
As I’ve previously established I love a good duck pancake, and this was certainly no exception; altogether sweet and parceled-up. Perhaps not a cut above your more garden variety duck pancakes however, as without the traditional crispy texture on the meat the duck is almost lost amidst the barrage of other components and flavours.
Back on the move, it was time to head to Foxlow! There happened to be a pancake going spare, so — madman that I am — I swiped it whilst we were waiting to be dazzled by the next dish. I don’t know how I had the room.
Here we were treated to slices of steak with cream cheese, mushrooms and some kind of jus. The meat was served very rare and melted away in the mouth, and the mushrooms were pleasant enough having bathed in the delicious jus. I’d say I had to do everything in my power to stop myself from licking that trough clean, but in reality I didn’t stop myself…
The end was in sight, but just as people were beginning to state that they couldn’t stomach any more each of us was presented with a large board, atop which sat our final dish from the bus BBQ.
This was the beef shortrib cooked in BBQ sauce with a helping of apple sauce and fancy croutons on the side. And those are cornflakes that you see all over it.
The beef was wonderfully tender just as it should be — literally sliding off the bone and coming apart at the slightest prompt from a fork — and still pinkish on the inside. The BBQ sauce was rich and smoky and complimented the meat well without being overbearing, though made an odd match with the apple sauce. The cornflakes were…well, cornflakes.
Looking around the bus it seemed I was the only one who was able to polish off this giant slab of meat at this stage in the game. My neighbour even asked if I was a professional competitive eater. If only sir, if only, but my chest swelled with pride (and likely meat) regardless.
Bring on the final stop: Bleecker.
With people just about ready to throw in the towel, there was a mixture of relief and disappointment when the final dish turned out to be a minuscule cheeseburger slider.
My previous encounter with Bleecker wasn’t an especially positive one, and this was truly an anticlimax to finish the tour on. The tiny beef patty is hopelessly out-volumed by the bread here, and the whole thing just tasted greasy.
With that out of the way I gathered up my beers, grabbed a bottle of Meat Lust limited edition “drunken jerk” sauce, expressed my gratitude and alighted into the crisp Spitalfields air.
I made the decision to take the hour-long walk home.
So all-in-all a truly wonderful experience. Good food, good company, and did I mention the really good food? If they’re planning to run this again next year I’ll be all over it (hopefully with some company next time), but not before as I’ll still be working-off all the calories.
Stand-out winners from the day are probably the soy chicken lollipops, the pig’s cheek and then a tough decision between the initial chicken & turkey wings, the duck pancake and the shortrib.
Some potential points for improvement though (just nitpicking really). Downsizing the very first course from The Rib Man and/or removing the bun so as to not take up valuable stomach space would be much appreciated. Also whilst the onboard offerings were all incredible, and definitely novel, each of them had at least one superfluous component that could probably be stripped out without compromising the quality.
Hope to see the Meat Bus making its rounds again in the future.
I attended the Meat Lust Bare Bones BBQ Tour on 12/02/2017 (1pm session). The entire experience — including 5x onboard courses from the bus grill, 4x courses from London restaurants, 4x craft beers, a bottle of Meat Lust sauce and the pleasure of cruising around London in a giant pink bus — cost £32.45 including booking fee.