A scientific study recently revealed that the risks of eating red meat, for so long a totemic finger-wagging statement of all sorts of potential health risks, have actually been proved to be virtually nil. While this is likely to be further debated by endless organisations, the fact remains that eating a really fine steak, cooked to perfection and served with a glass of a perfect red to accompany it, is one of the greatest pleasures of life for the carnivorously inclined.
The steak revolution began in London at the turn of the millennium, after having lagged behind New York for decades, but it really gathered pace with the opening of the likes of Hawksmoor, Goodman and Boisdale, all of which serve top-quality meat, accompanied by serious (and seriously priced) wine cellars. These days, it seems as if virtually every other new opening has some new concept. Yet it’s invaluable to know which ones are the real deal, and which are a notch above the pitiful Aberdeen Angus steakhouses that blighted the city before its renaissance. Here are some of the best places to eat steak in the capital today.
The chef Neil Rankin seems not to have met an animal that he could not take, skilfully dissect into its tastiest components, place on a fire pit and barbecue to delectable effect. This is the central offering of his restaurant in Soho (there are two others, in Covent Garden and the City), where guests dine in subterranean splendour around the central fire pit.
There are a variety of meats available – the goat taco is especially easy to recommend – but it’s the steak that really impresses, thanks to the beautifully judged balance between meat and fat, the smoky flavour imparted by the fire pit and the unusual sauces, such as kimchi béarnaise and chipotle sour cream. Sit down here with a glass of the excellent Mendoza Malbec, and you’ll believe that you are in carnivorous heaven. The staff are a delight too; affable, funny and only too eager to point you in the direction of the best cuts of cow on the day.
25 Broadwick Street, London W1F 0DF
The rapidly expanding group of no-frills steakhouses, which began in Beak Street and have just expanded into Bevis Marks in Aldgate, have a simple proposition throughout their branches. A cut of flat iron steak costs £11, and comes with a simple green salad. Chips, sauces and salad are extra, but you could easily leave spending no more than £20, even including a glass of wine.
Perhaps because of its increasing buying power and reputation, the flat iron steak is superb; tender, beautifully cooked and just the right size for a treat-yourself lunch. A special of rib-eye, at £16, was also unusually good value. Each of its locations has a subtly different vibe, and the London Bridge one that we visited combines excellent service with an atmospheric conservatory-esque dining room that gives the whole shebang an opulent feel. This is high class on a low budget, and will enable steak-starved Londoners to get their fix all over their city.
112 – 116 Tooley Street, London SE1 2TH
Sometimes, you want a treat, and Will Beckett and Hugh Gott’s group of steakhouses, which has stretched as far as New York and Edinburgh, has been a reliable banker since the first branch opened in Spitalfields in 2006. Back then, it was positively messianic in its mixture of expensive but delicious meat and intoxicatingly wonderful cocktails; now, assured excellence is the byword of the brand.
It would never describe itself as possessing a flagship as such, but its central London restaurant, in Air Street, bears all the hallmarks of a star attraction. By now, visitors should know what to expect; order a Shaky Peter’s Ginger Brew on arrival, a relatively sedate starter (the mussels are excellent) and then share one of the prime cuts of meat displayed by weight on the board. These are fine, generous things, often served on the bone and cooked to perfection, and should be accompanied by one of the smorgasbord of sauces and a fine red wine from the comprehensive list. The informal and friendly service is fantastic (a shout-out to the brilliant Kelly-Anne), the atmosphere buzzy and the bill high, but it’s well worth it for the experience.
5a Air Street, London W1J 0AD
Restaurant trends may come and go, but, like an ever-fixèd mark, the Boisdale group of Scottish steakhouses seem to be an eternal boon to the capital. Run by Scottish laird Ranald MacDonald – one of the rare restaurateurs who can not only be found within his own establishments most days, but takes active pleasure in tucking into his comprehensive lists of wine and whisky – it now has four venues in London, but those who want the full experience head to the original branch in Belgravia.
Here, once one comes to terms with the vaguely Brigadoon-esque décor and loud, buzzy atmosphere (even louder when there’s the nightly jazz), the experience is intoxicating, not least because the meat served here is all prime Scottish beef from Campbell Brothers; the menu modestly describes it as ‘probably the best dry aged beef in the world’, but if you’re tucking into the 50 day matured bone-in sirloin, the 12oz Highland grazed prime rib-eye or even the 5oz Aberdeenshire minute fillet steak, you’d be hard pressed to disagree.
15 Eccleston Street, Belgravia, London SW1W 9LX
Steakhouses located beyond central London have sometimes had mixed receptions, but if you’re brave enough to venture to the Southwark Bridge Road, then the Argentine meat emporium Chimichurris, which has elicited great excitement from committed carnivores. It has already acquired a reputation for a seriousness and purpose when it comes to its cuisine, which it serves in the sort of whacking portions that were thought to have gone out of fashion when Henry VIII was doing his huntin’, fishin’, divorcin’ thing.
The menu has no great pretensions, but serves excellent empanadas and a carnivorous ‘matrimonio’, an unholy marriage of a black pudding and a fine chorizo. But it’s the meat that you come here for, whether you go for a delicious Argentine rib-eye, or the traditional beef scallop, a particularly sensational cut that comes garnished with tomato, caramelised onion, ham, mozzarella, blue cheese, olives, roasted pepper and a fried egg: everything, in other words, but the kitchen sink, and they’d probably throw that it on request, too.
132 Southwark Bridge Rd, London SE1 0DG
City steakhouses are synonymous with braying, red-faced men eating vast slabs of meat and drinking gallons of Malbec at the slightest excuse. It comes as a relief, then, to find that Blacklock, while still offering all of the finely cooked animal that a visitor could possibly ask for, has rather grander ideas in mind. This is a temple to all things carnivorous, served with panache and enthusiasm; virtually every table demands ‘all the starters and all the chops’, and happily wallows in excess.
This, however, isn’t simply an exercise in wish fulfilment. In the subterranean settings here, diners can choose between their beef on or off the bone, and either order an enormous steak or a plate full of ‘skinny chops’ – although there is little skinny about the plates of meat that appear before hungry diners. We also like the egalitarian pricing of the cocktails, which start at a fiver and are unfailingly delicious, and the ‘butcher price Mondays’, when you can get your steak at butcher’s prices.
13 Philpot Ln, London EC3M 8AA
There are many excellent places throughout Britain to go for great steak, but a few of our favourites include The Porterhouse in Oxford, a converted pub with some of the best meat that you’ll eat anywhere in England, The Coal Shed in Brighton which cooks its steak over coal for an inimitably smoky flavour, and the Hudson Steakhouse in Bath which belies its casual appearance with some seriously good rump, fillet and porterhouse choices.