Queuing to be cool
It's too cold to queue outside. My jacket is zipped up, my shoulders are hunched and I'm mumbling something about stupid restaurateurs and their fascist door policies as the four of us shuffle to the back of the line, doomed to another half-hour of chill thanks to our blase attitude towards alleged queue-jumping.
This is London's hottest restaurant. I know this because everyone says so. Time Out says so. The Independent says so. My dining companion, Lizzie, a reliable barometer of cool, says so. It's clearly worthy of a visit. But are we worthy visitors?
The Soho establishment we're standing outside doesn't take bookings, which explains the queue. "It's a total London thing," Lizzie explains, shrugging her shoulders.
You can't even hold a spot in line for other people, as we'd been trying to do. Unless your party is there in its entirety, standing on the pavement in the cold, you won't be given a little "FOOD" stamp on your wrist, and you won't be allowed the privilege of entering the building and waiting another hour at the bar for a table to be cleared. So the four of us, now fully assembled, do the walk of shame to the back of the queue.
To borrow a quote from Will Ferrell in Zoolander, going bookings-free is so hot right now. Hence, so is queueing outside restaurants.
But that's not the only parallel here. The funny thing you start to realise after a few hours on the London dining scene is that a lot of the things that are so hot right now down under are so hot right now in Britain as well.
The place where we're attempting to eat is called Meat Liquor, which specialises in American diner-style food. We're talking burgers, fries, Buffalo wings and deep-fried pickles. As a cuisine, it's so hot right now.
(Wait, the name thing? Meat Liquor has followed in the footsteps of its London sibling Burger & Lobster, dedicating its moniker to its basic menu items.)
Meat Liquor is designed to replicate the food truck experience (so hot right now), serving simple fare on bits of paper towel instead of plates, and setting the whole dining area within graffitied walls meant to replicate the feeling of eating in a back alley in Shoreditch (so hot right now).
The food is solid American. The wine list is short. Beer is served in cans. Fancy cocktails are mixed to perfection, shaken with a flourish then presented to discerning diners in ... jam jars.
"Man, this is such a London thing," Lizzie groans, accepting her jam jar of booze. Then she looks across at me, figuring out what's going on.
I nod. "So hot right now."
Jam jars. What's next, Bloody Marys in empty tomato tins?
To clarify, this is not meant as an insult to the London dining scene. It's just an observation that the more the Western world shrinks, the more it becomes the same.
It used to be that what was new and cool in London or New York or Paris would take forever to filter its way to us on the other side of the world. So you would travel to these places and be shocked by the shops and bars and restaurants and by the look of the people patronising them.
Now, of course, as soon as something becomes cool overseas, it goes up on a blog somewhere (never fear - irony noted), is pored over by trend followers in every corner of the globe and immediately tweaked and followed. Globalisation renders our streets identical. Everyone's got a Starbucks and a Pizza Hut and a 7-Eleven. Zara in Madrid becomes far less exciting when there's Zara in Pitt Street, Sydney. Everyone's wearing the same clothes because they're buying them from the same stores.
They're drinking the same drinks. They're eating the same food.
Sometimes it's great, this shrinking of the world. It's hard to believe you can be an entire hemisphere away from home, yet with a few taps of a keyboard you can be staring into your parents' eyes as you assure them that, yes, you honestly believe your life is still on track.
You can meet long-lost friends via Facebook events. You can always get a triple grande hazelnut latte if you really want one.
But there's also the Meat Liquor effect. And the jam jars. And the queue outside.
Let's hope it's fleeting.
Sydney Morning Herald