In a one-time Christian Mission house the new religion of top-notch burgers is feeling right at home, thanks to an inspired design by Shed
Size: 290 sq m
Completion time: Three and a half months
A new breed of hamburger restaurant has taken London by storm, inciting a foodie-fervour of almost religious intensity. Appropriate, then, that one of the latest of these, MEATmission, should be in a former Christian Mission house.
This temple to the beef patty, in Hoxton Market in East London, is the third restaurant for Yianni Papoutsis, who has been instrumental in bringing 'proper' American-diner-style burgers to London and whose stable also includes MEATliquor and MEATmarket. All three are designed by Shed. Papoutsis actually started out selling burgers from a van he called MEATwagon, and perhaps because of this there's a refreshingly non-corporate feel to all three restaurants - with a sort of punky, DIY ethos.
'Each venue in the MEAT series is born of location, and the backdrop of MEATmission was the most compelling yet,' says Shed's director Matt Smith, who has given the latest restaurant a similarly dark, gothic feel to that of MEATliquor but this time with a side-order of quasi-religious imagery in a nod to the venue's original function.
MEATmission has a dark, almost forbidding exterior with windows tinted black or printed with illustrations that are made to glow by the lighting inside the restaurant. Above the entrance on the exterior the word 'MISSION' appears in red, next to an original stone carving bearing the words 'Hoxton Market Christian Mission'.
Though the building has been used as a restaurant before, many of its original features - including glazed tiles, war memorials and plaques - have been retained, and for Shed there was no question of stripping it back. There is even an original stained glass window whose design depicts needy children being welcomed at the door of the Mission house. 'The space demanded respect,' says Smith.
The ceiling was the one element of the space that had no historical significance, so Shed decided to make the most of this, getting illustrator I Love Dust to cover it in stained-glass-style artwork, whose designs allude to the history of the MEAT restaurants. A standard suspended ceiling grid commonly used in offices was installed and fitted with 200 translucent tiles, printed with ilovedust's design and backlit so that they glow like real stained glass. It's a cost-effective way of making a big impact in the space, and it works well. 'We really didn't know how the ceiling was going to look until it was installed,' says Smith, 'but we're really pleased with it.'
A circular metal bar covered with steel tiles is central to the main space. Hanging above it is a metal cage - the designers call a 'chadebeer' - that holds exposed beer lines and taps. Outlined with blue electroluminescent wire it appears skeletal in low light.
The restaurant has three main rooms: the Great Hall, the Private Room and the Sitting Room. The Great Hall is furnished with rudimentary long tables and bench seating in reclaimed timber and tempered steel. Tables are topped with Georgian wire glass, which reflects the stained glass-effect ceiling. They sit on an original herringbone parquet floor that has been exposed and restored. High-level leather-upholstered booths line the edges.
The Private Room, which is available for private events, has stools set around a circular timber table. Pendant lights with clear glass globes by John Moncrieff are suspended over it, and custom light fittings, also by John Moncrieff, rise from behind a dining counter to support more glass shades. On the windowsill is another neon sign - this time simply spelling out the word MEAT.
In the Sitting Room, where tables can be reserved, design is a little softer and more comfortable, with banquettes upholstered in red velvet and a mahogany dining table with brass detailing. The rest of the room is filled with a mix of Victorian and vintage-French furniture, including mismatched wood bistro chairs.
Fly-poster-style graphics on the ceiling and walls wrap the room in a haphazard geometric pattern of images and illustrations telling the story of the MEAT restaurants. The space is lit with soft orange light from clear glass pendants and red light that bleeds out through the kitchen's red butcher's-style curtains.
As you might imagine, MEATmission probably isn't the place to bring friends or relatives who are sensitive about religion; the irreverent take on religious iconography might offend anyone of a serious religious persuasion, and vegetarians ought not to bother either. But MEATmission knows its clientele - mostly young and hip who are happy to wait in line for what looks and feels like a unique place to eat.