Having just returned from London, this post is practically a LOVE LETTER to London steakhouses and SCOTCH BEEF.
As you already know, London is probably my favorite culinary capital, primarily due to its diversity of cuisines – whether Indian, Pakistani, French, Chinese, Middle Eastern and, yes, even British. (We’ll see what happens with Brexit however. Will time-consuming and tedious inspections and delays at border crossings cause lettuce and other perishables to go limp and lose their freshness while sitting in warehouses in France for days upon end? I just don’t know.)
On this recent visit, we drilled down deeper into steakhouses that Joanne and I have previously enjoyed and particularly into Scotch Beef…the best of the UK’s prime cattle.
But first…our favorite London steakhouses.
GOODMAN…..several locations, but the one that we frequent is on Maddox street in Mayfair. Harden’s London Restaurant Guide, which gives it a 4 out of 5 for both food and service, says, “Every cut is prepared exactly the way it should be.” They have a catchy slogan…“Good steaks for good men”(Is that sexist?)….HMMM? The Goodman group originally hails from Moscow and has added several other successful restaurants around London….the most notable group being the bargain priced BURGER & LOBSTER….as well as their new casual steakhouse….ZELMAN MEATS. (more about that later.)
HAWKSMORE…..six locations around town, many of them in basements. A lower-level location probably helps with lower rent, but it certainly does not help with the atmosphere. The spaces, with their low ceilings, just seem a little dreary to me. But be warned: that won’t be reflected in lower prices. In fact, Harden’s says, “…it cost you an arm and a leg, but you can rest assured that the arm and the leg will be perfectly cooked.”
A SPECIAL NOTE…..HAWKSMORE was, along with MANNY’S, recently cited as “ONE OF THE 10 BEST STEAKHOUSES IN THE WORLD.” And indeed, it is very good.
ZELMAN MEATS…..this spawn of the Goodman Group is a decidedly more youthful package with, if you choose, lesser cuts and lesser prices. Because they butcher the whole cow on premises, they are blessed not only with the usual cuts of steak, but also with briskets, rump roasts and a never-ending supply of braised, glazed short ribs that surrender effortlessly to your fork. Large portions/fair prices.
MACELLAIO…..Meat, meat and more meat! This place is for hard core carnivores; a caveman moment for those dedicated to smoke and char. Great haunches of beef hang in plain sight in the storefront cooler. The butcher’s counter sits in the middle of the dining room and beef, perfectly charred and hewn in big hunks unceremoniously lands on your table and dares you not to lick your fingers.
This is not swimsuit food, folks.
So what about the beef?
It’s uniformly good…at all four places. But there are differences.
Although the preponderance of the best beef cattle is born and raised in Scotland, there is a first amongst equals. In my opinion the best I’ve had is P.G.I. SCOTCH BEEF. That is different from SCOTTISH BEEF which is unregulated. P.G.I. Stands for Protected Geographical Indication. Animals so designated are raised in strict conditions and farmers are assiduously monitored to insure the best animal welfare, best practices and traceability.
These days people want to know exactly where their beef comes from and who raised it. Like P.G.I. SCOTCH BEEF, that’s precisely why several years ago at MANNY’S we introduced our exclusive HERITAGE BEEF PROGRAM….documented, certified and completely traceable.
The animals must spend their whole life in Scotland, be processed in Scotland and their birth certificates kept on file for inspectors. The preferred breeds are ABERDEEN ANGUS, known for tenderness, and HIGHLAND known for its marbling.
As far as I can tell, the steaks at the restaurants that I mentioned is primarily from grass-fed cattle. That doesn’t surprise me and it seems to me that the British, over the years, have developed a taste for it.
Grass-fed has its attributes. It’s leaner with less marbling, a bit gamier, a little drier and chewier, and has fewer calories than its counterpart…
…GRAIN-FINISHED BEEF. All Scottish cattle start out as grass-fed plus mother’s milk. But at around 6 to 8 months, some are transferred to a grain feeding facility to fatten up before going to market. The result is that grain-finished beef appears to be trending up among the British palates these days. Why? Well, it’s a little richer, more tender, more buttery, slightly sweeter, and that much juicier!
Enter my favorite steakhouse in London: THE GUINEA GRILL on Bruton Pl. in Mayfair (see my very first posting, which was about Guinea Grill, on March 15, 2016).
Aside from the coziness and small scale of the restaurant, as well as the royal approval of the Queen Mum, what sets it apart for me is the Scotch Beef.
Not only are the steaks consistently perfectly executed…so are the unmistakably “proper” English chips. The beef is grain-finished and is dry-aged for 25 days, unusual for London steakhouses since they often do not age their beef. At some London steakhouses, it could be that the steak you’re eating tonight might have been mooing yesterday.
As we know from MANNY’S, among other things, dry-aging causes the connective tissue to dissolve, leaving nothing but concentrated flavor.
So, if your plans include a visit to London, you can try ’em all. But be sure to include THE GUINEA GRILL.
GOOD LUCK, BORIS. And let’s hope that BREXIT doesn’t screw up my favorite steakhouses.