Not ones to make a scene, restaurateurs Christian Talpo and Manuel Palacio (perhaps two of the most humble and hardworking people in the F&B business) have quietly opened MEATS as the fifth venue under Pirata Group (sixth if you count the 100-day BALLS pop-up, an homage to meatballs, currently operating in Wan Chai).
Just up the street from their izakaya–style Nikkei joint, TokyoLima, MEATS aims to be Hong Kong’s first “meat bar”, dedicated to showcasing different cuts of animal in their most thrilling and simplistic forms. The dishes are cooked without the limitations of adhering to a single cuisine; instead, preparations are derived from the best way to showcase each cut, from Sichuan peppers sneaking up on the Iberian presa, to an all-Italian porchetta roasted with fennel and herbs. The kitchen is helmed by chef Paddy McDermott — previously head chef at TokyoLima — who brings his strengths as master butcher and lover of nose-to-tail cooking to his new role at MEATS.
Walking into MEATS on a recent weekday evening, we knew instantly we were in a Pirata Group restaurant: The cosy and familiar vibe is reinforced by the rustic teal and turquoise that’s become somewhat of a recurring theme across the group’s restaurants, from the colourful teal tiles that make up the breezy ground-floor space of The Optimist to the blue-green walls at TokyoLima (in fact, they’ve tapped the same designer as the Japanese-Peruvian joint, Melbourne-based Samantha Eades).
At MEATS, she’s employed her signature touches: plushy green banquettes, leafy plants, wooden tables and mood lighting. The rustic, raw setting is complemented by subtle intricate details, such as European tiling which lends a bit of structure and a vintage feeling to the space. On the walls are hand-painted drawings of barnyard animals, a charming touch to reinforce the concept of the menu (if you’re into fawning over your animals before devouring them, that is).
MEATS makes clever use of its asymmetrical layout to showcase the glass-fronted kitchen as the focal point of the restaurant, a sort of dinner theatre to serve as the backdrop to your meal. Guests particularly curious to watch the roasting and carving of the animals can take a seat at the L-shaped counter directly facing the kitchen; others more interested in people-watching will want to grab the few stools facing out to Staunton Street. With the windows open on balmy evenings, these are, in our opinion, the best seats in the house.
Food & Drink
The menu unapologetically sticks to its mission of delivering a full-on, meat-centric experience. There’s only one non-meat item to be found from the starters and mains — Galician octopus with paprika and lime — but really, why bother? You’ve come here to satisfy carnivorous cravings, and it goes without saying that a primal craving for flesh and bones is a prerequisite for dining at a place called MEATS.
That being said, the menu shies away from large, imposing whole cuts and instead presents individual portions, conducive to sampling many different cuts rather than feasting on one gigantic steak or pork chop. It does detract somewhat from those eager to unleash their inner caveman, as even the meat cleavers on the table for guests are somewhat dainty and petite — more for show than for cutting, as we discover when trying to portion out the porchetta.
To kick off our meal, we order the chicken liver pâté (HK$140) and the beef tartare (HK$150). Both are superb. The pâté is silky-smooth, creamy but not dense — a decadent spread for the rafts of buttered, grilled brioche that come piled on the side. It’s elevated by the clever addition of cacao nibs for crunch and pearls of Pedro Ximenez vinegar, which roll around in the mouth and lend an acidic pop to counteract the fat when crushed on the tongue.
The beef tartare is unabashedly sharp and acidic, generous on the briny capers and cornichons. It’s scooped up with blistered puffs of fried beef tendon that crunch and crackle, the warm oil providing a counterpoint to the cold, clean taste of the beef. At this point, we’re also eagerly eyeing our neighbour’s bone marrow (a note to order for next time), which appears to be covered under a bright green grassy layer of tarragon breadcrumbs and drenched in anchovy butter — an instant recipe for success.
Our waiter suggests ordering around one meat per person, to be shared family-style. We’re told the hanger steak is the popular ticket, so we order that along with the Iberian porchetta, Iberian presa, and rotisserie chicken with MEATS’ special chicken sauce.
The latter is the most impressive in presentation and generously portioned — a gorgeous, golden-brown half bird — but it doesn’t quite strut its way to the top of our list. The skin is well-seasoned, but less crispy than we would’ve liked, while the meat further away from the skin is slightly dry. For HK$180, however, it does hold its own against similarly priced grab ‘n’ go rotisserie spots around Central.
The Iberian presa (the cut between the shoulder and loin of the pig) and hanger steak are presented similarly, sliced crosswise and fanned out in manageable, bite-sized pieces on the plate. Presentation is sparse, save for a few puffy beef tendons that adorn the presa. Both bear a dark, caramelised crust, but we prefer the presa to the hanger steak (HK$160), which needs something more than the cold relish of chopped peppers on top to lift the flavour. The presa (HK$170), on the other hand, is packed full of flavour from its inherent marbling — and the sprinkling of Sichuan peppercorns on top an inspired touch to add texture and set our mouths tingling against the tender folds of meat.
All three, it turns out, pale in comparison to the Iberian porchetta (HK$180). This moist, fatty and ridiculously juicy piece of meat arrives in the table in two round cuts, spooned over with an intensely vibrant and herbaceous green sauce of thyme, oregano and rosemary that’s the perfect accoutrement to the fatty pork. The best part of this dish is the crackling, which comes as a thick outer layer encasing the juicy pork like a ring of gold. It’s everything pork crackling should be: crunchy, jam-packed with porky flavour and fat, and absolutely delicious.
The same satisfying crunch is found in the “ugly potatoes” (HK$75), oddly shaped knobs that have been browned and crisped up with the fat dripping off the rotisserie. If the flavour from the chicken was lacking, it must have seeped into these parcels of deliciousness. The rendered fat has clung to the skin of the potatoes to create a dark-coloured, caramelised crust, with pieces of fat and potato skin that have crunched up on the sides (the way burnt cheese gathers in the corners of a broiled lasagna). They may be deemed ugly, but they’ll be enough to spark lust in any carb-loving foodie.
As for the other sides, we find them to be a mixed bag. The heritage carrots with za’atar, honey and yogurt (HK$80) are soft and mushy, without any colour or caramelisation, but the skinny fries (HK$45) are satisfyingly crispy and addictive, served with a side of miso ketchup. To round out the meal, we dig into the kimchi fried rice (HK$65), which gets tossed with the meat of the day and topped with a fried egg, yolk intact and ready to ooze around the flavourful grains of rice.
We often find dessert to be a pleasant surprise and point of generosity at Pirata Group restaurants, and MEATS follows in the same vein: There’s pear tarte tatin (HK$90), with sticky, soft pears soaking in pools of bourbon caramel and slowly melting vanilla ice cream; the caffé mocha (HK$70), rich and chocolatey with coffee crémeux and espresso sponge; and a coconut-lime pie (HK$80), our favourite of the three ,with tart lime curd balanced by a refreshing ice cream and shards of coconut meringue.
MEATS isn’t just about showing off different cuts of meat: it also bills itself as a bourbon bar, and dinner ends nicely with a stiff bourbon on the rocks. The three categories of bourbon range from HK$80 (beginners should start here, we’re told) to the HK$140 range, bearing a more complex and intense flavour profile. We try the Noah’s Mill, which is sharp and spicy with a smoky aroma from ageing in seasoned oak barrels. If you’re having trouble deciding, make sure you grab bar manager Jack Byrne, the resident bourbon expert who will take you through the different categories and brands. The short but sweet drinks list also includes a selection of wines (all available by the glass), beers and three cocktails (a whisky sour, Manhattan and Old Fashioned).
We’ve come to expect good value-for-money from Pirata Group restaurants, and MEATS does not disappoint, with all but one of the mains clocking in at under HK$200 (if you want to sample more than is good for you, order the “Chef! Give Me Meats!” chef’s choice dinner for HK$420 per person). Although all the dishes may not hit it out of the park, the prices are fairly reasonable for the quality of food on offer. Factor in the comfortable setting, always hospitable staff and great selection of bourbons, and Pirata Group has delivered again on their promise of offering good food and a fun time at honest prices.
The most exciting part is that, with the large kitchen and umbrella concept of a “meat bar”, the menu has room to grow, as chef McDermott experiments with different cuts in the kitchen (we’re hoping to see more offal down the line) and perfects the roasting and cooking times of the major ticket items on the menu. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a cosy place to convene with your (non-vegetarian) friends in the heart of SoHo, and perhaps enjoy a glass of bourbon or two, you know where to head.
Opening Hours: Tues–Sun, 5–11:30pm.
Recommended Dishes: Chicken liver pâté, beef tartare, Iberian porchetta, “ugly potatoes”, kimchi fried rice, coconut-lime pie, caffê mocha.
Price: Dinner ranging from HK$400–$700 per person.
Noise Level: Buzzy vibes.
Service: Warm, hospitable and attentive.