January is generally a bit rubbish. Everyone is broke, miserable and feels like they are carrying the weight of the world around their waist rather than shoulders. My excuse is that I got stuck in Berlin over the Christmas period due to the dreaded fog, which threw my post-Christmas healthy eating plans completely off course. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that night after night I found myself gorging on truffles and guzzling wine at a speed that would put Oliver Reed in his heyday to shame. Feeling deflated (but looking rather inflated) I needed something to cheer me up. Googling ‘Is Tom Hardy going to be in Brighton today’ didn’t glean the desired result, so hearing that I’d been invited to Meat Liquor to sample their new vegetarian food and selection of cocktails caused an involuntary ‘whoop’.
Meat Liquor, on York Place, is the sort of restaurant that instantly envokes a good mood in all that enter. The décor is a mix between Brooklyn dive bar, psychedelic rave and trendy art gallery. It is resplendent in garish colours, wacky installations and funky booths which come across as genuinely cool rather than try-hard. Making our way to one of the booths, which provide a feeling of privacy while still being very much ‘part of the action’, we surveyed the Specials menu and the cocktails. They’d hit upon a rather genius idea of amalgamating both sides of the typical January psyche: ‘I’m being virtuous and healthy and not going out boozing’ and ‘I will literally cry at the awfulness of January unless I have a drink’. They’ve created an excellent menu whereby the drinks are innovative and exciting but essentially good for you, but they can be jazzed up by the inclusion of a well chosen spirit. I started with the ‘Bluto’ which is spinach, fresh lemon juice, cane sugar and apple (£4.50), but being a completely non-virtuous person I opted for the generous slug of Zubrowka (£8). The cocktail was gloriously fresh, and presented beautifully in a tall glass and frothy top while keeping its startling green colour. My companion went for the Apple Cart Sour, containing apple juice, apple cider vinegar and cane sugar and being as naughty as me he had a generous slug of Remy (£8). I sipped his – in the name of research, obviously – and was blown away by how warming and flavoursome it was; like a grown up version of an apple pie, but without any of the sickly sweetness that comes with the dessert.
Looking at the vegetarian specials and each of the options were well-chosen and enticing. I think that even in a place like Brighton, which welcomes diversity in all areas including choice of cuisine, that sometimes the vegetarian options in non-wholly veggie restaurants can be limiting and unimaginative. I have a host of non-meat-eating friends that I see sigh with displeasure as they read yet another menu that offers risotto and a veggie burgers as the only food choices. Meat Liquor seem to have taken this on board and created something that would be appealing to anyone. Plunging head-first into the menu we went for Poppaz which are deep fried cheese and jalapeno bites served with a ranch dressing (£5.75), Hobo Beer Cheese which consists of a cheddar and Hobo Beer dip served with blue corn tortilla chips (£5.75), a Blue Corn Tortilla Chip Salad of blue corn tortilla chips, beetroot, pickled beetroot, sweetcorn, sunflower seeds, cucumber, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, feta and ranch dressing (£6.75) and finally Black Bean Chili Fries made up of fries topped with homemade black bean chili, onions, jalapenos, mustard and cheese (£7).
The Poppaz were golden, crunchy little cases filled with soft jalapenos and what seemed like an edible river of cheese that flowed out with even the smallest bite. The creamy ranch dressing really complimented the richness of the cheese and I defy anyone not to get a little selfish when deciding whether to grab the last one. Moving onto the salad, which to be totally frank is never something that I would ordinarily order, I could not have been more surprised at how filling, tasty and hearty it was. The texture and taste of the tortilla chips was a perfect accompaniment to the earthiness of the beetroot and the freshness of the tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber. I’m an absolute feta-fiend so was overjoyed that the whole thing was draped in a carpet of white, crumbled, cheesy happiness and the ranch dressing added a tang that elevated the whole thing to a superior level. Deciding that actually the only way we could be enjoying the evening more is with a couple more drinks (as ours were nearing their end), I was struck by a cocktail that seemed so wonderfully bizarre that I knew immediately I had to try it. Turning Japanese had a very simple ingredient list of milkshake mix and green tea (£4.50) and of course I then added 12-year-old Japanese whisky, Hibiki (£8). Without any hyperbole I can attest that this was probably one of the most inventive and wonderful drinks I have ever tasted. It shouldn’t work – why would you want a boozy, green tea flavoured milkshake? Scrap that, thinking about it why wouldn’t you want a boozy green tea flavoured milkshake? I’m practically salivating as I write this. The green tea was of a beautiful quality and reminded me a little of the Mate that I drank in South America while the milkshake was thick and luscious and the whisky just superb.
Boozy milkshake demolished, I was ready for more food. The black bean chili was fantastically huge and easily enough for three hungry people. The veggie chili, which I have found has often lacked flavour in the past was punchy, well seasoned and very spicy – certainly not for the faint of heart. The ratio of ingredients was very good and meant that each forkful provided the full spectrum of flavour. Leaving what I deemed to be the most risky of the dishes until last, I picked up a blue tortilla chip and aimed it at the Hobo cheese dip with what must have been quite a frightening look of determination. ‘Wow’ would be the first word that springs to mind. The cheddar was a melted sea of gorgeousness which was enhanced by a deep beer flavour. It was hard to stop dipping and I’m aware that I pretty much ate the whole thing by myself. It would be hard to pick fault with anything- the staff was incredibly friendly and dispensed interesting nuggets of information throughout our visit, the décor and atmosphere is second to none and the food made me forget that I normally eat a meat-centric menu when I go out. Top that with some of the most delectable and moreish cocktails I’ve drunk in yonks and Meat Liquor is a ‘must-visit’ not only in January, but anytime.