March 10 2011
When the Berni Inn chain finally expired a dozen or so years ago, its demise was ascribed to the change in Britain’s eating habits: a grilled steak and chips was far too pedestrian for a public who now grated their own parmigiano reggiano and holidayed in Thailand.
Never underestimate the allure of a charred hunk of beef, though. The growth in London’s new wave of steakhouses shows no sign of abating, spearheaded by two restaurants in particular: the Russian-owned Goodman, which has just opened its second spot on Old Jewry, in the City; and the home-grown Hawksmoor, whose successful Spitalfields site now has a (giant) younger sibling in Covent Garden.
Neither, thankfully, is modelled on Berni Inn. Both are New York-style, both boast fancy grills to lend the correct char, and both emphasise the breed and feed of their beef. Having sampled grain-fed and grass-fed beef from a number of breeds, aged for varying lengths of time, all I can confidently state is that there are some steaks I like more than others.
The original Goodman in Mayfair has a sleek, dark interior but a menu red in tooth and claw. Steaks are charged by the 100g; most are from corn-fed Angus cattle. Perversely, I chose a Scottish grass-fed ribeye. The flavour of a good steak is in the fat and develops the longer it is hung; too long, however, and a distinct aroma of blue cheese develops. It is a gamble by butcher and chef – one in which the steaks are sometimes too high – but this one was perfect, the best I have eaten outside the US. Goodman is a masculine sort of place: one woman stuck her head around the door but, surveying the serried ranks of suited testosterone, wisely fled. It also has a fine collection of Californian red wines, brooding monsters that thrive on a whiff of charcoal and the scent of blood.
Hawksmoor’s new venue is a vast basement in Seven Dials, a theme park for carnivores: first stop, however, should be the bar. I once spent a week in Kentucky and drank far too many mint juleps, but none even approached the perfection of Hawksmoor’s version: strong, subtle, not too sweet, in a chilly silver cup. The beef is Longhorn, from North Yorkshire; as at Goodman, choice cuts are scrawled on blackboards until they are ordered, and charged by weight; unlike Goodman, though, the clientele embraces a fair sprinkling of women, and there are fewer suits. Sharing is encouraged, which – given the mighty size of many of the steaks – can lead to a long-ish wait, a hiatus best filled with a few oysters and sausages, and maybe another julep. As at Goodman, there is a distinct buzz about Hawksmoor, which I suspect means that the steakhouse is more than a passing trend: the dining room may be huge, but there seem to be plenty of rumps to fillet.