Steak has always been a staple of restaurant menus, but until relatively recently, the only choice diners really had to make was between sirloin and fillet, chips or salad, rare or medium. Now, with restaurants taking their lead from high-end steakhouses like Hawksmoor , and not only crediting suppliers on their menus but stating the age of their steaks, ordering can feel like it needs more understanding than most degree courses. But appreciating steak doesn’t have to be complicated – here’s our guide to getting the best out of your beef.
Just because it’s possible to spend a lot of money on steak doesn’t mean it’s compulsory. Classic steak-frites – usually a hanger or thin-cut sirloin steak atop a pile of hot, salty French fries – is one of life’s great simple pleasures and an affordable way to get a steak fix. It’s also ideal if you’re not too sure how you like your steak cooked; the thin steak is simply flash-fried so you won’t usually be given a choice. Our favourite places for a steak-frites pit-stop include:
Grillshack – rump steak with shoestring fries and delicious smoked butter is just £9.95 at this new diner in Soho. We love how they’ve embraced new technology – you can order by touch-screen or even by app, but it’s not entirely devoid of human contact; you might place your own order but it’s brought to your table by some very handsome waiters.
Café Boheme – a perennial late-night favourite of Soho’s party crowd, Café Boheme is a loud, sexy hang-out serving the high quality food we’ve come to expect from the restaurants in the Soho House Group. Steak-frites here is just £14 and comes with a free side order of celeb spotting – Kate Moss is just one A-list regular.
Better with age?
Ageing of steak can make a difference to the flavour, but when a variety of ages is on offer it can make ordering confusing if you’ve not tried enough different ages to appreciate the distinction. Ignore anything that claims to be ’21-day aged’ – that’s about standard and although it might be perfectly edible, it’s not going to be anything extra-special.
Twenty-eight-day aged beef however will have a more pronounced flavour and is worth paying a bit extra for. The best selection we’ve encountered is offered by Smiths of Smithfield. Overlooking the famous meat market, its rooftop restaurant is a beautiful place to enjoy Longhorn fillet from HM The Queen’s butcher Aubrey Allen (£27) or a Gloucestershire Shorthorn sirloin (£35).
In our experience though, the best beef tends to be 35-day aged; long enough to allow extra depth of flavour to develop, but not so long that the intensity of savour comes at the expense of succulence. At Chop Shop, the star of the ‘Mighty Meaty’ menu is a 35-day-aged USDA (prime American) rib chop brushed with rosemary and served on the bone for £26. Fred Flintstone would approve of this huge slab of tender, perfectly-seasoned steak; and trust us, enjoy it rare to appreciate the exquisite flavour that comes from its extra ageing.
Share and share alike
A wonderful, not to mention romantic, way to appreciate steak is to share a large cut, usually a fore-rib; long popular in Italy where a large sliced steak on a mound of rocket or buttery vegetables is know as tagliata, steak for two has now caught on widely in Britain. Although prices can initially seem steep, starting at around £55, it usually works out around the same, if not less, than two individual main steak courses.
Level 31 of western Europe’s tallest building, The Shard, is home to aqua shard, the glamorous all-day restaurant which serves an enormous 1kg Longhorn dry-aged beef sirloin with roasted bone marrow for £67, with braised gem lettuce and burnt onion cream. Side orders might seem superfluous with a full half-kilo of beef to get through each, but it would be criminal not to order a portion of the whey butter mashed potato with beef jus, possibly the most decadent potato dish in existence.
Meanwhile, for what we consider to be the ultimate Sunday lunch, award-winning Barnsbury pub The Drapers Arms serves up a roast Hereford fore-rib chop – a whopper of a steak that will feed deux messieurs handsomely – with traditional accompaniments of roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables and Yorkshire puddings. The pub also boasts one of London’s best wine-lists, reasonably priced; it’s worth spending a little more than you usually would on a really good bottle of red to go with your rib.
So whether you go for a simple but satisfying steak-frites, invest in a high-quality aged cut, or share a prime piece of beef with your partner, steak really is a great dish, and the only limit to your enjoyment of it is the variety of ways you choose to enjoy it.
If you have any questions or suggestions for great places to enjoy steak outside of London, please do tweet us at @deuxmessieurs or send us an email at info[at]deuxmessieurs.com.
Hawksmoor, 11 Langley Street, London WC2H 9JG
Grillshack, 61-63 Beak Street, London W1F 9SL
Café Boheme, 13 Old Compton Street, London W1D 5JQ
Smiths of Smithfield, 67-77 Charterhouse Street, London EC1M 6HJ; a second branch of Smiths of Smithfield, called SMITHS, opens in September 2013 at 109 Commercial Street, London E1 6BG.
Chop Shop, 66 Haymarket, London SW1Y 4RF
The Shard, aqua shard, Level 31 The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, London SE1 9RY