Huw Oliver was a life-long vegetarian until lockdown – not by choice, but out of hippyish family custom. Twenty-five years of no meat. Then he got stuck in a house with a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore. Desperate to inject some sort of excitement into his life, he has decided to cook and eat every available meat for the very first time. To his intestines (and his dad): sorry. This is Meat, Reviewed.
Week eight: A filthy kebab
Quite clearly, in normal times, I’m a halloumi man. Go out. Get pissed. Order a fragrant Cypriot cheese wrap. A comforting slipper of Leon-esque chic to round off a wild night out.
So how the eff has it come to this? It’s a Wednesday night, around 9pm. There are foxes about. At this point, it’s fair to say lockdown is ebbing, in the twilight of its prolonged hold on London. Yet it’s very quiet. I’m sat on a street corner, a little bevved. I cradle a polystyrene package of lamb doner. A woman walks past and asks: ‘You all right, mate?’ Pal, I really don’t know.
The prep It all started well. I was prepared. Tinny in hand. Hard cash in the wallet. My appetite? Enormous. In this bizarre, shutdown-induced time warp, I’m out the club and I’m ready to eat. I’m staggering around. Meat. Meat. Where is all the goddamn meat? Look, in that window over there: an impossibly grey elephant leg, pirouetting as if in an unreal, slow-mo ‘Circus Polka’.
The guilt factor There’s a lot on the menu here – too much to bother examining closely. Kebab? Wrap? Combination kebab? I’d just like some shavings of that there leg, stuffed in a pitta, please. And what actually is it? You don’t ask. You look it up later. (The next morning, I find out it’s lamb meat from who-knows-what-part-of-the-body, processed and seasoned to fuck, then stacked into a gleaming mahogany cylinder to beckon in the drunks. And just to make you feel queasier, it’s heated and reheated constantly throughout the day, thanks to a vertical ‘rotisserie’.)
First impressions I’m comforted by the presence of lettuce, tomato and cabbage. But this pouch is now pretty bulky. It weighs me down like a baby marsupial. So I perch on my chosen street corner for a rest and well-deserved feast. Immediately, the meat is warm. It’s salty. It’s spicy. In fact, it’s really, mouth-numbingly spicy. So spicy I can’t really taste… anything else.
The meat of the matter Thanks, chilli sauce: I’m wide awake and focused now. But beyond the immediate saline hit, this lamb is still elusive. In some mouthfuls, I can’t tell what’s meat and what’s bread. But I can certainly feel my arteries thickening. Every morsel is an effort. The shavings, so elegantly sliced by the carver, drip with cooking oil. My tongue throbs with heat, my palate neutralised.
The aftertaste So please, let’s hear it for the wholesome accoutrements. What a relief. Pairing the so-so meat with the scraps of green and red and purple provides some respite. Oily, overly piquant doner plus X, Y or Z is never going to be a dream combo. But it’s variety at least. Throughout my whirlwind tour of this very foreign world, what I’ve appreciated most about the most superior cuts is contrast. The discovery of different parts, textures, feelings. Without the salad, doner is just a single iteration of disgusting.
Verdict? Sure, maybe a weekday in lockdown isn’t the right vibe for indulging in such unadulterated filth. After butchering that lamb myself a few weeks ago, my expectations soared. Yet for the first time since my journey began, in this solemn moment, I actually feel more than a smidge of regret. So, for next week… lunch at Leon? Mine’s a halloumi wrap. 3/10.
Read the whole Meat, Reviewed series.
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