Oysters and beer? Some might find it rebellious and disrespectful, but it's not even a new idea. The tradition of pairing dark beer and oysters comes from 18th century, when oysters were a cheap and popular snack in taverns, mainly eaten by the working class. In the early 20th century, most of oyster beds were destroyed. The scarsity increased prices and oysters became an expensive delicacy, served with a glass of champagne instead of a pint of beer.
London’s Oyster & Porter House serves both oysters and beer. It is situated right next to the Borough Market, so the culinary competition is enormous. It’s a proper oyster bar, with a selection from France and Ireland, as well as Spain, Japan and New Orleans. The food menu changes daily, depending on availability of fresh fish and seafood. You can try Cornish crab, shell-on Atlantic prawns or a delicious beef, Guinness and oyster pie. The traditionalists, who only pair oysters with bubbles, shouldn't be disappointed - there's a wine and champagne list available.
I can now officially confirm that dark beer and oysters are a match made in heaven, especially if it’s an oyster stout we’re talking about. Some modern oyster stouts are simply beers that go well with oysters, but some breweries remain faithful to the tradition and actually add a handful of oysters to the barrel.
A half dozen of oysters and a glass of stout always make a perfect lunch.
As one can easily presume, Meat Love was created out of love for meat. Unlike what it might seem, meat love is anything but an easy love. In the times when ‘raised without antibiotics’ has to be marked on the package of chicken breast, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your delicious prince. Finding reliable suppliers and developing perfect cooking methods did pay off. After a little over a year Meat Love is widely popular in Warsaw. Well, as the owners put it, the first piece of art, was the piece of meat.
I’m meeting with its co-owners, Agnieszka Wiewiórska and Kamil Prandota-Prandecki, to talk about meat, sandwiches and newly opened Meat bar - since Meat Love has meat to eat, why not introducing some meat to drink?
Agnieszka and Kamil first met while working together in an advertising agency. Parting ways professionally did not put a stop to private meetings, revolving around latest culinary discoveries and tasty inspirations. It soon turned out that they had a similar idea. They wanted to follow their passion for food and share it with others.
Apart from Agnieszka and Kamil there are two other members on the Meat Love team - Krzysztof Strzyżewski and Renata Prandota-Prandecka, Kamil’s wife. Krzysztof is the one who handles logistics and finance. Renata is responsible for the artistic vision, she helps with creating new concepts and adding new items to the menu.
How would you describe Meat Love?
Simplicity inspired by street food. For each sandwich we use very few toppings in order to bring out the main taste - the taste of meat. Our main inspirations are bars in New York or London and sandwich classics, such as pulled pork. We roast pork shoulder at low temperature for several hours so that the meat is so tender it can be pulled - easily broken into individual pieces.
Modesty apart, we educate on how pork should taste like. Meat Love is one of the first places in Poland to serve this type of meat the proper way. As a matter of fact, many of our guest started enjoying pork after having tried our sandwiches. Naturally, just as any other meat, pork does have its specific taste and smell. But we serve it in sandwiches and use nontraditional methods. In Poland pork equals schabowy, a pork chop: a piece of meat of unknown origin, covered in breadcrumbs and fried with oil. Why not take the same piece of pork, cook it with butter, drizzle with some wine, add fresh rosemary and top with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Is that schabowy? Yes, that’s schabowy! But that’s also a real taste and smell of meat, not the taste of breadcrumbs with oil.
What has changed since the opening? Do you still work with the same suppliers?
We had to change one supplier, but it’s only because he’s decided to close his business and move on to other things. Luckily, he was able to recommend another company - same quality, a Polish farm.
We have pointed out numerous times how difficult and time consuming it was to find the right suppliers. The cooking methods that we chose to use mercilessly expose poor quality of meat. We serve our meat in solid, honest pieces, therefore nothing can be hidden, unlike with e.g. minced meat.
It grows more common for people in Warsaw to pay close attention to the quality of the food. It’s not as widespread as we’d wish - hence the popularity of kebab places that don’t always put the quality first. It’s still quite frequent that people are not aware of what they’re actually eating. Luckily, we’ve already seen more than just one swallow. While our grandparents had a relatively easy access to unprocessed food, eating healthy is a much bigger challenge for us.
This is why we only serve food that we would like to eat ourselves. We could never serve anything that we wouldn’t fall in love in. We strongly believe in sincerity - and we believe that our customers sense that.
You have recently managed to enlarge your space.
Yes, bigger space makes life easier for both us and the customers. While our guests enjoyed the place before, there were many limitations coming from the fact that we could only fit six small tables. We’ve decided to divide the space into two spheres - the day one, for lunch and a sandwich with beer and the evening bar - created for those in the mood for a stronger drink. Of sandwiches are always available. For now our bar is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 5 pm.
Tell us more about Meat bar.
Well, we won’t serve you plain vodka with Coke, that’s for sure. As usual, we wanted to raise the bar a little higher. We all enjoy drinks of a good quality, we know a lot about wine and beer, but we’re no experts on liquors. We asked a friend, Tomek Roehr, to work with us on this project. Tomek is one of the best mixologist in Poland. He definitely represents European level of thinking about mixing alkohols. It turned out that we have a similar vision of the Meat Love bar, so it was easy to come to a compromise.
We chose to focus on whiskey as it matches our overall concept. We kept our main inspiration in mind - New York, Brooklyn, London - and whiskey represents Anglo-Saxon culture really well.
The Meat Love menu is a result of our work with sandwich and meat. While creating the Meat bar we had to find an alcohol brand to work with that suits our style and represents a certain quality. Jameson turned out to be the right partner. We introduced many cocktails based on this whiskey.
What can we find on the drink menu?
We appreciate how creative Tomek was with working on this menu. For example, we have picklebacks - a shot that was created in the Brooklyn bar scene. It’s a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice. Sounds original, but the sweet and sour taste of the pickle juice complements whiskey really well. It’s a truly unique experience! The number of shots we sold during the opening night assured us that it’s the right direction.
We have many cocktails inspired by classics. We recommend trying Meat Loves Manhattan - Jameson, sweet wermuth and cherry wood smoke. Whiskey is infused with the smoke, we have a special equipment for that and we do it in front of the customers. We literally have meat to drink - bacon infused Jameson. We’re also introducing banana infusion, it’s definitely worth giving a try - the pectines from banana change the texture of whiskey and it becomes thicker. It’s not on the menu yet, but anyone can get it for a special request.
We apply the same rules to the bar that we have for meat and sandwiches. We seek to set trends, to discover new flavours, new ways. What was the most thrilling about our work with Tomek, was the fact that he’s as crazy about drinks and mixology as we are about food.
I take it you have other snacks than crisps and salted peanuts?
Instead of crisps we suggest cracklings - chips made with roasted pork rind. Served warm, very crispy, with detectable taste of salt.
Another option for a bar snack would be candy bacon - slices of smoked bacon candied with brown sugar and a touch of cinnamon. Some people seem rather surprised at the thought of sweet bacon, because they mainly associate it with eggs and breakfast or garlic and salt. Pork has a natural sweetness. Combining it with something sweet enhances that flavour and brings out a deeper taste of the meat itself. We even have bacon ice cream, we serve it with a slice of warm bacon. The taste is unforgettable.
What are your plans for the future?
We are currently negotiating two franchise possibilities - in two different cities, one in the south and one in the north of Poland. We’re still unsure about how this will turn out. We see Meat Love as our baby and we only can trust a partner that will share our passion and our vision.
Besides that, we have two or three culinary concepts that are not present in Poland yet. We are full of ideas. The four of use make a real dream team.
Our work at Meat Love resulted in other things too. We have come up with our own language of marketing communication: how we present our products, how we position our brand, how we speak about our concept. We have done several projects for other restaurants - people come to us and ask to create visual communication, concept, ideas for photo shoots. Apparently, our advertising background came back to us.
Do you have a favourite sandwich?
Agnieszka: A: I really like meatballs, we’ve introduced that to the menu pretty recently. Beef balls, seasoned with rosemary and lemon zest, first roasted, then combined with tomato sauce, topped with cheese and baked inside a crispy baguette.
Our new version of pulled pork is great as well. It’s slightly spicy and I really enjoy spicy. Another favourite of mine is the turkey - with avocado and mayo sauce, prepared from our home-made mayonnaise with basil and lemon. The sauce goes great with poultry.
Kamil:There are many sandwiches that I tend to go crazy about and then can’t look at anymore. I actually do that with a lot of things - when it comes to food, of course. I have recently been eating a lot of turkey. I’m into chili slaw as well, it’s our pulled pork with crunchy cabbage topped with a spicy sauce based on chili, ginger and fresh cilantro.
I do admit that picking a favourite is a tough decision. I think I’d go for the oriental sandwich: a crispy baguette and slices of beef marinated with chili and lime, generously topped with fresh cilantro. I cannot refrain from mentioning pulled pork as well. Thanks to that delicious sandwich, I’ve decided to grant pork a well-deserved second chance.