FT Foodies: Yianni Papoutsis

Yianni Papoutsis started his street food burger van The Meatwagon in London in 2009 and went on to set up pop-up dive bar #Meateasy. This month, with drinks expert Scott Collins, he opened MEATLiquor restaurant in Marylebone, inspired by American diners

What are your earliest food memories?

I spent half my early life in Greece and half in England. In Greece we had traditional family food – moussakas, a lot of fish and veg. In England I remember the homemade curries my mum would do on cold days.

What was a treat for you as a child?

McDonald’s. A big milestone when I was really young was being allowed to order a Big Mac. I drank it with root beer, which they stopped serving. I still hunt it out, in Chinese shops.

Who taught you to cook?

When I was a teenager we moved to Denmark for a few years. We watched BBC Prime and Ready, Steady, Cook was on constantly; you pick up some of the little techniques.

What was your first job in the food industry?

I bought a little burger van to play around with; it was the cheapest thing I could find to cook in legally. Before that I worked in ballet for about 15 years as a technician and tour manager. I gave it up about a year ago so I’ve never had any formal culinary training.

Are you trying to encourage an American diner style in Britain?

It’s little things like eating at the bar that we’re trying to encourage, rather than trying to serve as many drinks as possible. We have stools at the bar and you build up a good rep with your barman; you become a regular very quickly.

What’s your working day like?

I’m up and on the computer sending emails by 8am. Then I’ll be in the restaurant two or three hours before service, then supervising absolutely everything through service. At the weekend the kitchen closes at 2am, so it’s usually 3.30am by the time we’re out. Cab home, few hours’ kip, then back in again.

Whose food business do you envy?

There are some people I admire, such as Anthony Bourdain. He hasn’t become sterilised like so many other people have.

How would your chefs describe you?

Precise. But it’s not like every single thing has to be perfect. Our food is designed to fill you up – and you won’t ever leave one of our places hungry.

What’s the strangest customer complaint you’ve had?

We’ve got vegetarian options for almost everything, and people ask about it, but meat is what we do and I make absolutely no apologies for that.

What would your final meal be?

A porterhouse steak, with a jug of claret.

MEATliquor, 74 Welbeck Street, London W1


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