41-43 Groat Market
Newcastle upon Tyne
No phone number
Gluten free options? Yes
One of the first things I ate from a restaurant once they opened up again after the you-know-what was a McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese. It was a matter of necessity and convenience rather than lusty desire. There's a time and a place for everything - even McD's. Early July, during a long trek down the M1, for example.
Apart from being impressed with how Covid-19 had re-humanised the experience - A welcome at the door! Table service! - the flaccid, pre-digested yet still compelling burger-like matter in my hands reminded me just how much better the real deal is. I resolved to find a proper burger at the earliest opportunity. With almost eerily serendipitous timing, I clocked on Twitter that celebrated burger-slingers Meat:Stack were attempting to swerve the death-meteor that seems destined to collide with planet hospitality by opening up a new joint in the Bigg Market.
It’s nearly four years since I first raised an eyebrow at the quality of output from Meat:Stack, or The Grind as they were known back then, at Newcastle’s Quayside Market. I’ve been a bit of a starry-eyed cheerleader ever since, as they moved from pop-ups in pubs to premises in the Grainger Market, and now this permanent home. So much so that a visit to the loos for a spot of pre-meal hand washing brought me face to face with the review I gave them while they were at No28. They’ve even framed the thing. Excellent taste, this lot.
The menu for the Bigg Market restaurant comprises plenty of old faves with a few talented upstarts. The key offer - god-tier burgers, smashed and steamed and served with hectically good beef dripping fries - is mercifully unmolested. We ordered, were given a vibratey “food’s ready” thing, and took two of the 30 currently very well spaced out seats. Even with fewer covers than were initially planned, it’s pretty loud. No soft furnishings to speak of so music and chatter fairly bounces round the attractive bare bricks and polished floor. This isn’t somewhere you’re going to spend all night, so it's not a major issue.
The drinks game is pretty strong. From a small but decent range of cans I went for Hoults Yard brewery Full Circle’s excellent Repeater. Mrs Diner effectively had pudding before her burger by going for the full dairy onslaught of a peanut butter shake, which was excellent, although possibly not the most refreshing accompaniment to a meal majoring on rendered animal fat.
Our tray o’goodness arrived and all looked well. A portion of chicken tenders were an enjoyable overture, even if the batter could have been a little more crisp, but they succeeded in being a vehicle for a pot of sauce that was called Carolina Gold, and frigging delicious. Fruity, and tangy and yum.
Their fries are as epic as ever. Thin enough to have lots of crisped-up surface area, but thick enough so that there’s some fluffiness to their innards, even after they’ve cooled down. You know how the ones at the aforementioned multinational turn to regurgitated cardboard once their temperature decreases past a critical point? None of that here. Brittle and rustly all meal long, with a glorious bovine note derived from their being fried in beef tallow. We even ordered an additional portion of these beauties with cheese wiz and jalapenos on top; it turned out to be an excellent idea.
To the burgers: look, sorry to be dull, but honestly they’re still the best I’ve had in this town. The beef tastes of decent quality, the charring on the patties is great, steaming them makes the whole thing cohere correctly and the size is just right. The first bite is a meaty, cheesy, salty/sweet sniper shot to the pleasure receptors and they’re not so massive that you don’t want to finish the thing.
I went for the New Mexico, in which the tingle of griddled jalapeno worked a treat against the comfort blanket of a smear of cream cheese. I think this one may be new: it’s a fine addition to the range.
Mrs Diner took on a more familiar quarry: the Yellowstone. The baconnaise and French onions in this one bring it close to being a bit sickly, but I still rate it pretty high. Plus, it’s got a hash brown in it. If in doubt, stick a hash brown in it. Whatever it is. You'll thank me for this advice.
We tried some blueberry meringue soft serve for completeness, rather than out of any need to consume additional calories. The ice cream was decent, but there was rather too much of it and not enough blueberry or meringue. Easy enough to fix.
I’ll mention the Covid-19 bit because, it’s part of the deal right now. If you're reading this in the loos at Meat:Stack sometime in the post-Covid future, just skip the rest. Tables were nicely spaced, there were markers on the floor to encourage social distancing and staff took orders from behind perspex screens. There was no hand sanitiser and no contact details were taken. This very last point came as a surprise, and had me scurrying off to Google to find that this is a guideline, rather than an absolute necessity. I say this without any particular judgment so that you can make your own.
Just a week or so after opening, the guys at Meat:Stack were already making the whole opening a new restaurant thing look easy. The quality and consistency of the food offering has been tip-top for years now, so it’s great to see them pitch up in their own place, somewhere I can visit whenever the mood takes me. The general upgrade and hipsterfication of the Bigg Market continues apace. Soon you might struggle to find a pint of terrible lager or an Iron Brew WKD for a couple of quid. But you can at least now bank on a shit-hot burger, and that’ll do for me.