So it seems veganuary has come round again. Financially, biologically, and ecologically speaking the consensus seems to be we should all be munching mostly on veggies. But even if you get your protein from pulses and beans most of the time, London is great city in which to fall off the herbivore wagon.
We should probably get steak out of the way first. You’ve had steak before, you probably have a good idea of how you like it, and this is the sort of city that ought to have plenty of good places to eat it.
If you head to Darby’s in Nine Elms, just behind the US embassy, you’ll be greeted by great pieces of Galloway beef being dry aging to their full potential. Robin Gill and team offer their steaks with smoked bone marrow gravy and the option of layered potatoes cooked crispy in beef fat on the side. Cow on cow on cow. They also pour a very good Guinness – a wholly underrated pairing for beef – to wash it all down with.
There’s a school of thought that says the best steak is the one you cook yourself.
Turner & George, EC1V
Turner & George in Clerkenwell should be top priority if you’re looking for something special to grill up at home. Owner Richard Turner has had a hand in such meat-focused restaurants as Hawksmoor – perennial favourite for steak on expenses – and the now three locations of Blacklock – great for a few cocktails and home of the country’s best Barnsley chop (sorry, Barnsley). In the restored Victorian butchers shop George and Co. first introduced the UK to beef from ex-milking cows – tender old beasts that have spent long years getting fat and happy and delicious. Their finest examples are imported from Galicia and the Basque country and if you’re lucky when you visit you’ll catch one of the butchers breaking down one of those enormous sides of beef by hand. It’s quite a spectacle and testament to the skill of the trade. For a more modest tea they also do sausages so rich and meaty that they make your average supermarket banger look like a tofu dog. Highly recommended.
Big cuts of meat are fine things, but anyone with a serious flesh habit will eventually find themselves desensitised to such route-one thrills and looking for satisfaction in the cheaper and frankly odder bits of the animal. If this describes you and your proclivities then you definitely need to buy Fergus Henderson a drink if you see him out in town. He coined the term ‘nose-to-tail’ to describe his deeply British and totally un-squeamish style of cooking and in doing so brought offal back to the attention of chefs around the world.
St. John, EC1M
St. John, his original restaurant by Smithfield market, transitioned from cutting edge to classic long ago but it should still be top of any meat fan’s list of things to do in London. Eating the roast bone marrow with parsley salad there is essential; it’s been re-created, re-invented, and remixed in kitchens everywhere since 1995 but the original is still the best. Other classics to order include the devilled kidneys on toast and grilled lambs heart with pickled walnut and anything that comes wrapped in pastry but it’s really hard to go wrong. Whether it’s your first time or it’s just been a while then head down, tuck into a bottle of their own label St. John Rouge, and forget all about veganuary for a few hours.
Similarly democratic cookery can be found at Kiln in Soho, where a menu of British meat and game cooked with Thai flavours awaits. The clay pot glass noodles with Tamworth Pork belly and brown crab meat should be top of your hit-list, followed by the game-y aged lamb skewers and spicy laap made from chopped ox heart. Be warned, Kiln does not offer much if you have a vegetarian in your group – there is no veggie pad Thai here.
Also worth checking out in Soho is Manteca, a new venture that finds Chris Leach (Petersham Nurseries) and David Carter (Smokestack) championing open fire cooking and making fresh pasta. The pair were much celebrated for running this formula at Mayfair pop-up spot 10 Heddon street and are already making waves with dishes like house made mortadella, duck sausage with prunes and Armagnac, and pig head fritti. It takes a certain type of person to fry a pressed and paneed slice of pulled pigs head and serve it with apple ketchup and a big pork scratching. Thankfully for the capital’s carnivores, Leach and Carter are both that type of person.
Black Axe Mangal, N1
At Black Axe Mangal in Islington, former St. John Bread and Wine head chef Lee Tiernan serves dishes that combine some of Fergus Henderson’s teachings with influences from Mission Chinese, Turkish grills, and the great British kebab shop. His food is brilliantly maximalist in that he’s not afraid to throw the kitchen sink at something in pursuit of absolute, OTT umami. This means liberal use of fishy fermented XO sauce, various pickle-y bits, dried shellfish, and chilli. The menu changes regularly and drastically. Recent highlights include fried rice with blood cake (think black pudding for perverts) and lamb shoulder and kidney with cabbage and dried shrimp. Order anything with offal front and centre, do some shots, and make a mental shopping list of all the tempeh and chickpeas you’ll be eating tomorrow as penance.