For the budding gourmand, steak is something of an institution. A single cut of meat, it is the ultimate test of a chef’s ability to create something delicious using a uniquely uncomplicated ingredient. Here, the difference between “simple” and “easy” becomes clear.
As the home of Aberdeen Angus, Britain adds an impassioned contribution to the conversation. Furthermore, from Japanese restaurants to American grills, the UK’s capital brings together a smorgasbord of steak. Naturally, we therefore decided to review the best steak in London. Oh, and if you were wondering, medium rare.
Smith & Wollensky
Smith & Wollensky was started by a man whose name was neither Smith nor Wollensky. Restaurateur Alan Stillman, who created TGI Fridays as a way to meet women, choose two random names from the phonebook and started a New York steakhouse in 1977. Now 10 locations strong, the brand has found its way to London. This art deco restaurant, so true to life it’s often used as a film location, has found an apt home in Covent Garden’s Adelphi Building.
We started with Scottish hand-dived scallops and jumbo lump crabmeat. The scallops were generous, juicy and came bathed in a beautifully light garlic and parsley butter. The crab meat chunks were fresh and flavoursome and paired perfectly with the wonderfully subtle mustard sauce and the tangy ginger mayonnaise.
It would be something of an crime not to indulge ourselves with the steak so we opted for one from each end of the spectrum - the 250g USDA sirloin and the 600g USDA bone-in ribeye. The sirloin was rich and buttery and wonderfully soft. But, in many ways, was the ribeye was a cut above. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) classes only two per cent of beef as prime and the result is beautiful marbling and unrivalled texture. The prime cuts are then dry-aged for 28 days to intensify the flavour. Costing almost twice as much as the sirloin, the ribeye was succulent and bursting with bold flavours, which had been locked in during the broiling process.
Ending with a mammoth sharing chocolate cake which inevitably found its way into a doggie bag, it had been a great meal. I would suggest specificity when ordering your steak. Beef dripping is added to the steaks as they cook - caramelising the fat and creating a flavour which may be too intense for some. However, what lies beneath is the juiciest beef you could hope to pay for.
M Threadneedle Street
Located in Bank, M Threadneedle Street is moody, modern and masculine. There is a focus on Japanese fare and, tucking into a wonderfully light and restrained butterfish sashimi, this marriage of steak and sushi seemed a less cumbersome version of “surf and turf”.
Across the table: the Blackmore wagyu tartare. The beef is pulled which creates more surface area - meaning it doesn’t get lost amid the flavours of parsley, anchovies and fermented roots. Having finished our starters, the inherent dilemma when ordering steak then materialised on the table in front of us.
This is the international steak board - a kilo of cuts from around the world. The USDA prime fillet provides the ultimate pull-apart texture, the Argentinian rump boasts far more flavour but with a slightly tougher texture and the French hanger offers the best of both worlds. Lastly, brimming with the smells and tastes of the grill, the Botswana ribeye sports a charred crust and provides an altogether more barbecued flavour.
We finished with delicious desserts of mocha tart and Snickers cake before reflecting on what seems a unique restaurant. The loosely Japanese theme continues on into the bathrooms with their high-tech toilets. Outside, perfume dispensers remind you of just what a rarefied environment this is. The look and feel - as well as the steak and wine - certainly make for a memorable experience.
Standing for Modern American Steakhouse, MASH is neither Modern nor American. The brand started in Denmark and, having expanded across Europe, now has a distinctly art deco location in London. The sprawling Soho restaurant occupies a basement level though, due to its size, doesn’t feel at all subterranean.
We started with some quintessentially aqueous entrées. The lobster risotto brings flavours of cream, tomato and piquillos while the grilled shrimp - enormous, juicy and delicious - were almost good enough to change my uncharacteristically suspicious feelings towards anything prawn-like.
Next to arrive to our booth was the “World Tour” - a selection of cuts from Denmark, America and Japan. The Danish dry aged rib-eye is succulent and perfectly cooked. Kobe beef - with its tales of massaged, semi-drunk cows - is almost mythical. Here, it sports a delicious charred, crumbed onion. Yet the beef itself was actually far more gristly than expected and is certainly no match for the rich, buttery New York strip which - our overall winner.
Finishing with desserts of crème brûlée and a wonderfully light, perfectly constructed cheesecake, it had been a brilliant meal. The New York strip, with less folklore and less fanfare, had triumphed. Clearly, priciest item on the menu is not always the best.
In America, there is a somewhat disproportionate number of top restaurants in casinos. Here in London, Leicester Square’s Hippodrome casino showcases not only some of the most efficient ways to lose money, but also some of the best cuts of American steak.
We started with salmon sashimi which comes with a yuzu dressing. Thick cuts of salmon with a careful dollop of much sought-after genuine wasabi sauce, this makes for a slightly meatier version of a classic Japanese dish. However, it is perhaps not as apt an introduction as the USDA meatballs. Presented in a bone cut longways and served with crumbed feta and a tomato and basil sauce, they are juicy, perfectly cooked and provided a moreish umami flavour.
Then came the main event - a 500g T-bone and a 400g sirloin on the bone. Both USDA prime cuts, they are aged for a minimum of 68 days to intensify the flavours. The sirloin is succulent and velvety while the T-bone is rich and flavoursome. Both are slightly more oily than usual however, with a delicious chimichurri sauce, this was soon forgotten.
Desserts of Charlotte dulce de leche ice cream and white Russian cheesecake made for a theatrical end to the meal. The delicious cheesecake arrived in a cloud of smoke while the dulce de leche ice cream is hemmed in by a small fence of chocolate wafers which eventually yields to the flood of chocolate sauce. Sitting above the thronging casino below, Heliot is a unique spot providing high-end dining.
It’s not every day that you get to eat a meal in the presence of a mummified cow. But Tramshed, located inside an old tramline generator building, isn’t your average restaurant. Owner Mark Hix has both an MBE and experience as The Ivy’s Executive Chef. Here in Shoreditch, he has a small gallery downstairs and a restaurant - complete with Damien Hirst artwork - upstairs.
Starting with the Korean fried chicken, the breading might have been a bit too salty were it not for the ketchup which cleverly featured chilli seeds for some added depth. Across the table, a half pint of prawns which were both fresh and flavoursome.
Having chosen the sirloin, this was cut at the table. I couldn’t help but think this could have been a little warmer on the inside, with less gristle. That said, the meat was tender and succulent and paired perfectly with the beautifully cooked garlic mushrooms. Meanwhile, my guest had opted for the Mexican salad featuring griddled chicken which was cooked to perfection. The lightness of the guacamole complemented the earthen flavours of the crispy potato skins. A fresh, balanced plate, this was the superior main.
We opted for desserts of Apple pie and mini chocolate cakes with “credit crunch ice cream” which was sadly missing its chocolate sauce. A great location featuring some incredible modern art, this restaurant perhaps fails to contend with the big boys.
Bar + Block
A steakhouse that shares its premises with a budget hotel chain sounds rather unusual. However, I’m all for boundary-pushing ideas and, a stone’s throw from King’s Cross station, Bar + Block also specialises in Argentinian Pampas steak (as well as communal living).
We started with deliciously creamy mac and cheese bites and the wonderful Atlantic scallops. Gently cooked over charcoal and served with garlic butter, chorizo and samphire, this dish brought together a breadth of flavours.
For the main, I opted the for the spiral cut fillet, which is marinated in garlic and parsley for 24 hours before cooking. This made for a tender piece of beef which, complemented by a rich, decadent peppercorn sauce, made for a hearty main. Across the table, my guest tucked into the deconstructed beef wellington - 10 ounces of fillet on a bed of puff pastry which is filled with garlic spinach and truffle mushrooms. Providing a broad but balanced collection of flavours, this was a hit.
Finishing with desserts of chocolate churros and warm triple chocolate brownie, this made for a sweet end to a carnivorous meal. Overall, Bar + Block provides a solid alternative to pricier steakhouses. The cereal dispensers ready for tomorrow’s breakfast service, we made our exit.
Smiths of Smithfield
Smithfield Market, the 800-year-old meat market, still stands in its original central London location. Unlike others, it hasn’t moved out of the city and around it are a number of steak restaurants. A sea of marble tables and button-rivet accent chairs, Smiths of Smithfield sits opposite the market and offers an array of different cuts.
We started with lamb ribs and scallops. The scallops were sweet and succulent and the presentation was brilliant, the smashed peas allowing for the crispy bacon to stand on end like parmesan wafers. The glazed ribs were reminiscent of biltong and, somewhat unusually, featured shards of bone. This was a reminder, if ever another were needed, of the pastoral origins of the food.
For the mains, we opted for two classics - the sirloin and the fillet. Grilled in a barbecue style, the outside came with a slight char and the inside was flavoursome. However, the fillet was tender to the point that, once the outside was cut, you could simply pull a strip off. Complemented by a delicious peppercorn sauce, the steaks had lived up to expectations. Meanwhile, the contrast of cream and crunch in the mac and cheese made this a great side.
As for desserts, the cheeseboard offers powerful flavours of goats cheese and Camembert and a wonderfully fruity chutney while their Snickers cheesecake provides a range of textures and flavours, including a nutty kick which is impressively absent almost until you are almost onto your next forkful. At this point we realised that, from our market-side window, we could see the whole cuts of meat hanging on hooks as white-coated porters went in and out of a refrigerated unit. While it certainly has the potential to put you off your dessert, as I’m sure most people would agree, one should know where their food comes from. This, we decided, is steakhouse dining as it should be.
With flavours and techniques which draw from all over the world, Britain is somehow both isolated and yet uniquely positioned to import some of the best cuts of meat - and some of the best culinary talent.