It's 7:45, we've been queuing for almost an hour and we're nowhere near the front. My friend's loafers are failing to keep her toes warm in sub-zero temperatures. My other friend keeps wiping her runny nose on her glove, and another has lost the will to talk completely. We are in the queue for Meat Liquor, London's restaurant du jour, waiting for what should probably be the best burgers of our entire lives. If you haven't heard about it yet (where have you been?!), it's basically a cool burger joint that was borne out of a Twitter-fuelled pop up (#Meateasy), which was set up by someone called Yanni who began the whole thing with The Meat Wagon.
You're probably aware that this isn't the only restaurant in London with a queue every night of the week (the waitress confirmed: it's been like this since it opened in November). Is London trying to be New York? It seems so, with what feels like a steady trickle of quirky NY-influenced 'no bookings' restaurants opening quicker than you can say filament light bulbs and exposed brickwork. There's Pitt Cue Co. (originally a wagon à la ML), Burger and Lobster, Pizarro and don't forget originals Polpo, and Spuntino - the list goes on. Of course, any good restaurant scene needs a little exclusivity but it has reached new heights.
It is quite ironic. The onslaught of new restaurants aren't expensive or high-brow, though the food is excellent. They're not frequented by the same types you get in The Ivy; they're neighbourhood hangs with stylish décor and loud music. This is democratic dining, with a democratic (read: cheapish) menu and a normal clientele. In other words, a rock and roll approach to 'fast food' with less grease and more interesting ingredients. But it isn't fast. It is the polar opposite (I joined the queue at 6:45 - I paid the bill at 9:40).
Yet we keep on queuing. And as long as we queue, they'll keep on coming. Rumour has it that La Esquina, a stylishly exclusive New York taquería (with a more extensive restaurant hidden through its kitchen) is coming to London this year. There's no clue yet as to whether it will be no bookings or hyper reservation-exclusive but whichever they elect it will work. Of course it will. It all boils down to one thing: the fear of missing out, as well as the exponential roundabout of hype and word of mouth. As long as reviewers sing praise - in many cases, quite rightly so - and the queues remain, we will flock.
A healthy queue is good press. Making it hard for us to get our hands on delicious grub is a psychological trick - would people still go if you could pop down on a Tuesday, easily, after work with friends? Probably not. We're conditioned to believe that accessibility is unattractive in all walks of life. They're playing hard to get. It also makes financial sense for the restaurants. They don't lose money from commission on table booking websites, and if restaurant-goers wait indoors they're inclined to enjoy a few mid-queue mojitos. Win-win.
Perhaps owners thought it would work well here because all English people love to queue. This grossly general assumption really annoys me. I'd rather a jumbled mess by the entrance and do it like the old women in Madrid do. But that's a completely different story.
Anyway, back to Meat Liquor. Was it worth the queue? I have to say that yes, I think it was. The food was delicious: deep fried gherkins to start followed by the Dead Hippie burger and a sharing plate of chilli fries. Although my frozen fingers weren't limber enough to handle a burger after standing in the cold for so long, and the fact that my friend managed to quite spectacularly pull over her chair in the middle of the restaurant due to a shoelace mishap, a fun evening was had by all and I forgot about the queue as soon as we sat down.
Will I be going back again soon? Not until the weather warms up. And there's no point - I may as well put my hours into another place, NY-style. Anyone want to go to Pitt Cue Co. with me next week?
Follow Jade Conroy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaders_