Bobcat Burger at The Meat Wagon


The Meatwagon

I am lucky to receive many e-mails from readers, some of which include recommendations about places not yet visible on my radar. One such tip off led me to The Meat Wagon on Friday lunch time, excited at the prospect of trying their burger and, importantly, finding out what type of bun they use. I found the wagon parked up in an industrial estate behind Peckham Rye Station, a twisty trail of meaty smoke rising from within and a reassuring sizzle audible from a good twenty paces away.

I was relieved to find burgers still available as my reader warned me they often run out. I asked the owner, Yianni, to ‘make it spicy’ and as he set about cooking it, he told me that what I am actually getting is a ‘Bobcat Burger’. Apparently, he doesn’t advertise it as such for fear of trademark infringement as the recipe is inspired by one served at The Bobcat Bite in New Mexico. It is the chillies which make it Bobcat, specifically the way they are glued to the top of the burger with melted cheese.

Yianni chops half a green chilli and fries it in butter and a touch of chicken stock. “Not averse to a bit of butter I take it?” he checks. I laugh and reassure him that I feel quite the opposite. The frying releases the flavour of the chillies; the active ingredient, capsaicin, is water repellent and so will only be released when the chilli is cooked in some kind of fat. If you add a chilli into something straight, or into a stew or soup without frying for example, you will simply get the heat, but none of the flavour.

When the frying is complete, he tips the whole lot straight over the burger while it is still on the hot grilling plate, to a spectacular sizzle and steam. A few moments later, cheese goes on and seals the chillies in a juicy, hidden layer. To finish the burger Yianni toasts the bun and adds ketchup, mustard (French’s mild and sweet), lettuce and onion. There are of course variations on saucing and pickles available (a must in my opinion). As he hands me the finished product, carefully wrapped in foil to preserve it for my journey, he warns that the longer I wait the less likely it will be as rare as I wanted because the butter from the chillies penetrates the meat and continues cooking it (not to mention the residual heat). I look up at him with a delirious grin, drunk on the thought of butter seeping through beef.

When I arrive home I find the burger has squidged slightly and I curse myself for not cradling it in my hands like a delicate flower rather than slinging it enthusiastically into my bag. No matter, it is still good – a bit of re-arranging and I take the first bite and ohmygod; it is still juicy and pink, the meat (100% chuck from MacDuff cattle) is well seasoned and the butter laced chillies add richness and flavour with a subtle heat. It is gooey with cheese.

And the bun? Well, it was actually a light sourdough which, on paper I would have thought wrong, wrong, wrong but in all honesty, it worked. With only a hint of sourness and light as a feather beneath the slightly chewy crust, it was different from a regular sourdough. It does not surprise me to learn that Yianni and the baker have put quite some time and thought into it.

Apparently, he’s not a fan of brioche but I can forgive him because brioche would not be right for this burger, which is all very soft and squidgy. Salad is shredded and added sparingly so there is no ultra crisp crunch of lettuce or onion and the layers of cheese, butter, beef and sauce fuse together in a rich meld of gooey harmony. And so the bun plot thickens. There was me thinking I could go test some buns, decide which was the best and be done with it. Turns out the success of the bun type varies across burgers – pretty obvious now I come to think of it.

Yianni won’t be back in London for a while as he is taking his meat wagon off for a three month long trip to The States – to sample burgers and other carnivorous delights. “Meat is my thing” he tells me. I can’t wait to taste the ideas brought home from his travels. In the meantime I will continue my own burger experiments, which are going well, at the time of writing. I made these last night (post coming up) and they came out a treat – almost perfect in fact. Almost.

The Meat Wagon
All over the place – see website for details

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  • Avatar
    Reply Lizzie August 24, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Oh my god. That sounds amazing. What an excellent tip-off! I love little finds like this.

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    Reply The Graphic Foodie August 24, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying this burger quest 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply Chris August 24, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Right yeah, that looks pretty bloody good doesn’t it. I’m hungry now.

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    Reply Niamh August 24, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Now, that looks like one fine burger and I adore his attention to detail with the chillies. I am quite jealous of his looming food adventure. I must try and catch him when he gets back.

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    Reply ginandcrumpets August 24, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    I’m drooling. Drooling, drooling, drooling. That sounds fantastic!

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    Reply tehbus August 24, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Who knew Peckham was the hoime of such delights. That looks truly amazing. Gonna have to brave Peckham Rye station. When did you say he was heading to the States?

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    Reply Wild Boar August 24, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    *slurp* looks absolutely delish. That wandering burger-man is now on my list to hunt.

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    Reply Helen Yuet Ling Pang August 24, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    Oh no, he’s off for a few months?! After showing us those photos, you’re saying he won’t be around?

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    Reply Alex August 25, 2009 at 9:43 am

    That looks staggeringly good. Cannae wait to hear of your homemade burger adventure.

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    Reply Helen August 25, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Hi all, well I haven’t been quite as cruel as you think. Turns out Yianni will be around a little bit over the next couple of months….here’s what he said…

    “I’ll be back & forth to London over the next couple of months and we’re planning some one-off ‘Meatings’ here & there.
    Most likely they’ll be in the evenings somewhere in South London… I’ll let you know when I have further details.

    If you’re on Facebook you can follow us for up-to-date information; we only post when & where we’re open, so you won’t get spammed with loads of marketing junk.
    Alternatively our website provides an RSS feed of the same content.”

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    Reply Cheese India August 25, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Vow! That was a good snapshot. Wanna grab that bite.

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    Reply gastrogeek August 25, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Burgers are my Achilles heel, and as I’m also trying to fast at the moment, reading this has driven me ever so slightly insane with full on hungerlust. I want a chilli cheeseburger now!

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    Reply Mr Noodles August 25, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    I can’t believe I read a sentence that began ‘When I arrive home I find the burger has squidged slightly…..

    What is wrong with you ? Home ? Where did you find the willpower not to wolf it down there and then !

  • Avatar
    Reply Helen August 25, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Hi Mr. Noodles – because I live five minutes away and I wanted to take a picture but didn’t have my camera with me.

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    Reply Mr Noodles August 25, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Lucky you !

  • Avatar
    Reply Helen August 25, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Lucky me indeed 🙂

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    Reply Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen August 25, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Yes! Green chili burgers are a huge thing in the American Southwest. It is a sense of pride among burger makers and there is always friendly competition of who has the BEST. I LOVE green chili burgers! You lucky girl, all the way in London and you get a green chili burger….

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    Reply Su-Lin August 26, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Ack, looks like he’s mainly around east London. Go west, Bobcat Burger, go west!

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    Reply Oysterculture August 26, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    What fun, and its funny that burgers are all the rage here in SF, we just had a review of the best burgers in town. Wonder if Yianni will be making his way here to sample.

    Love the post, but now you got me hungry.

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    Reply Krista August 28, 2009 at 7:31 am

    I just got a lead on a good burger stand in Chapel Market in Islington. Will report back!

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    Reply David Hall August 29, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    That is one serious burger Helen! Jesus! x

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    Reply rosie lovell September 1, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    that looks incredible! just behind peckham rye eh? i’m going to go check it out. and by the way, your brioche buns look impeccable too xxx

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    Reply chuck October 19, 2009 at 3:05 am

    was hoping this was made with real bobcat meat..still looks good though

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    Reply Neil February 23, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    I was just about to ring my Peckham based friend and say ‘we’re going here on Saturday, you have no choice’ when I read this:

    “Yianni won’t be back in London for a while as he is taking his meat wagon off for a three month long trip to The States”


    so, did he say he’ll be back in 3 months time… or ….?

    man, I’m hungry

  • Reply Jhal Muri Express — Food Stories December 10, 2010 at 7:43 am

    […] food traders. Among them, our sweet-toothed Brixton lass Chocstar, Yianni from The (legendary) Meatwagon* and the amazing Angus Denoon, with his Kolkata street […]

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