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Can London handle another 300-cover steak restaurant? The Danish restaurant group Copenhagen Concepts – which will open a branch of its steakhouse MASH in Soho this November – clearly thinks so. The company is convinced that the capital’s current bloodlust, its almost insatiable desire for steak, is no flash in the grill pan.
Tim Hayward seems to agree. Writing in Olive Magazine recently, he identified the Steakationers (a group of moneyed, macho suits who, when they aren’t studying Meat, frequent Square Mile steak restaurants), as one of Britain’s most significant new “food tribes”. Not that it’s solely City slickers who fill the tables at Hawskmoor and Goodman.Nor is the phenomenon confined to London. In Belfast, you can eat steaks from the obligatory charcoal-fired Josper at James Street South Bar & Grill. In Manchester, you could visit Malmaison’s Smoak. Variations on the theme are also emerging, such as Cattle Grid (budget), Bull Steak Expert (Argentinian) and Cau (budget and Argentinian). MASH, patronisingly, claims that one of its USPs is its female-friendly decor.
This rebirth of steak as a popular gourmet product is one of the most remarkable episodes in recent restaurant history. Five years ago, foodists did not get excited about steak: the only people who ordered it were people who didn’t really like food. It was a boring menu staple for risk-averse diners. It was what your dad liked, well-done, and preferably topped with a little rosette of garlic butter, as he had first eaten it at a Berni Inn decades ago.
Beef has also taken a pounding in the media. Beef, particularly that from intensively-reared, grain-fed animals is now considered to be one of the least sustainable foods that you can eat. It doesn’t come cheap, either. At Hawksmoor, where they use grass-fed British beef, a 10½ oz (300g) steak with chips and a side starts at £23. Head over to Mayfair, to Cut and a 10oz, 35 day aged New York sirloin will set you back £38 (pdf), before fries or onion rings (crazily, £7 each).
Yet, even in the midst of this grisly recession, steak is back, back, back. Why? The quality has improved enormously: steak got a reputation for being bland and conservative at a time when, generally, we were being served rubbish steak. In these pages just eight years ago Jay Rayner described a good steak as an, “appallingly rare joy”, and sure, you can still eat bad steak. But, more tellingly, I have recently eaten sensational steak in the midst of otherwise mediocre meals.
Even at home, armed with a solid-fuel grill or a blisteringly hot ridged grill pan any reasonably competent cook can produce great steaks. As Hawksmoor’s Huw Gott told us last year, buy properly aged, British, rare-breed beef, and most of the work has already been done for you.
These days, from the silky, sinewy, highly-flavoursome flat steaks (a flash-fried hanger or a piece of frilly, soy-marinated skirt), to a bone-in sirloin, edged with perfectly seared fat, steak offers all sorts of variety in different cuts, breeds, even mouthful by mouthful from one end of a steak to the other. Be it sweet, grassy, richly buttery, invigoratingly bloody, highly mineral, livery and gamy, tinged with a ripe and cheesy or long-hung farmyardy tang, steaks offer a full spectrum of interesting flavours. All of that wrapped up in one of life’s primary savoury pleasure: a densely-charred exterior.
Plus, this might be our last chance. Fast forward 30 years and – even if we haven’t all embraced vegetarianism – beef will probably be prohibitively expensive. The only people still eating it will be Cut’s super-wealthy regulars.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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