Archive for December, 2012

Flatiron steak, Soho

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

17 Beak St, Soho, W1F 9RW

Covetable chopper

I’m not the world’s biggest steak fan, it’s what people who don’t normally eat in restaurants, eat in restaurants. It’s my distress purchase in a country pub, because whatever else ‘chef’ may foul up from the freezer you can be fairly confident that he can cook a steak, or its minced equivalent the burger, adequately well.

What I would dearly like to rediscover, like lost innocence, is the steak restaurant of my youth, the Tavern in the Town in Croydon. My 11 year old self loved it in there – the faux Tudor decor, the big steaks with the cross-hatch grill marks, the lavish chips, the frozen peas, the tinned slippery mushrooms and the great big grilled tomato. Oh you may curl your lip in middle class disdain, but it was just great.

Which brings us to Flatiron, Soho where a steak is £10 with salad, if you can call a glass of mache a salad and they do. It comes ready sliced on a board, thus negating the need for the very stealable mini cleaver provided as a knife, and flatiron is a New Yawk cut of meat not all that well known in the UK although apparently called a Butler’s Steak over here.

Cut from the shoulder it’s a bit tougher than your average steak and so Flatiron sous vide it.  Now sous vide is a tricky thing, it’s very useful in professional kitchens as a means of prepping food in advance, but the resulting meat desperately needs to be finished over or under a flame, otherwise it comes out with both the texture and allure of baby food.

Bring your own cushion

I like to wrestle with a steak, shirts off like William Shatner in Star Trek, the hard-won bits are where the flavour is and that’s why onglet is so good. Flatiron’s steak is butter smooth, you could cut it with an airline spork, but they do a pretty good job of getting some texture and caramelisation on the outside, so saving it from being anodyne but it needs a bit more. Of course getting in a Josper or a charcoal grill would be expensive, but a hotter pan would probably do just as well.

The chips are rather good, the tasty crispy bits lurking at the bottom of the tin dog bowl they’re served in indicative of the real deal. The market greens of savoy cabbage steamed and served in another tin bowl are wrong, it’s school dinner cabbage even though it’s not been boiled to death in the approved manner. The steak sauces meanwhile are serviceable.

Seating is at funky tables with fixed wooden disks for seats that you swing your leg over as if mounting a culinary motorbike. There are no single tables only group ones, but then you’d hardly be coming here for a romantic meal would you. Wines come in specimen flasks of various sizes, which is handy, and they’re good enough for steak.

The decor, menu fonts and other style elements borrow magpie-like from the scenester mono glottal restaurants – your Polpos, your Meatliquors, your Pitt Cues, etc. – but pinching other people’s proven ideas isn’t such a bad idea if you’re looking to steer a safe course.

Whether it is a safe course overall is debatable. Nothing wrong with the food at the price, but the same people who ‘bloody loved’ this kind of thing mid 2012 are now turning their butterfly minds to the next fashionable thought. But for non scenesters who just want to eat in a ‘clean, well-lighted place’ and not make a style statement, tweet  or take photos of their food then Flatiron has only a few wrinkles.

Photos-  Paul Winch-Furness.

Nuovo Mondo: Modern Italian Food. Stefano De Pieri and Jim McDougall

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

New World

Pity the poor Italian chef, he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Day after day he pumps out great food that is wolfed down by happy patrons but does the Michelin inspector come calling? Does he heck as like.

Italian food is many things but it is rarely pretty on the plate. Packed with flavour, seasonal and local it may be, but no one ever really pointed their Canon Blogmatic at a plate of pasta. But wait.

Nuovo Mondo is a collaboration between Stefano de Pieri, Italian originally of course, and Jim McDougall who was born an Aussie. Together they set out to create dishes that break moulds. Stefano admits he is a conservative chef, marinaded in tradition. Jim, once his apprentice, is brimming with new ideas and together they set out to surprise each other, to create new dishes together and argue amicably in pursuit of the exciting.

The results are seldom complicated but they are visually arresting and read like a dream. You can clearly see the Italian DNA in every dish, but Aussie ingredients, irreverancy and desire for brightness and colour are also clearly there.

Fried bread with a parmesan mousse, potato terrine with anchovy and rosemary, crudo of tuna with frozen white balsamic, cucumber, lime and caviar. And these are literally just for starters.

Mains continue to surprise with duck meatballs and farfalle in a broth, truffle macaroni and cheese, crayfish ravioli with Yuzu butter, the last one of many recipes that bring in the flavours familiar in Australia, less so in Italy. Yabby tails in saffron sauce, braised chicory and fregola seems to meld the two food cultures perfectly while there is still room for Stefano’s Rabbit Papardelle with Sage and Speck and Jim’s deconstructed Tiramisu.

You don’t have to be based in Australia as these two chefs are, to make the recipes. We have it all here in the UK, even if we may have to get some things in jars or frozen. What we can really enjoy is Italian food that is very different to just about anything being served in the country right now.


Down on the farm, a visit to Denhay, creators of classic cheddar and brilliant bacon

December 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Royal connection

More quiche? I don’t mind if I do and perhaps some Dorset Ale? Wonderful. As lunches go this one is pretty near perfect, eaten seated beside a snugly warm Aga in a cosy old farmhouse kitchen while the West Country rain comes down in ropes.

The farm is Denhay Farm and you’ve no doubt seen the name on packs of bacon and cheese in Waitrose. Far from being an advertising invention, like the rather creepy Aunt Bessie or avuncular Mr Kipling, it really is a genuine farm and one that’s belonged in the same family since the 1950s, the latest descendants of the Streatfields having just cooked our quiche. Read more…

STK London steakhouse reviewed

December 11, 2012 Leave a comment

How do you like your steak? I don’t mean rare, medium or ruined, I mean what kind of ambience do you want?  The red brick university educated, job in the media, parents in the shires, style of Hawksmoor, or the school of hard knocks, what bloody parents, making a fortune at the bank, style of STK?

Suits you sir?

STK is certainly not going to delight fans of the former that’s for sure. It’s loud, it’s a bit brash, it says ‘shut your mouth and look at my Breitling’. Its location in the new ME by Melia Hotel at the Aldwych end of the Strand puts it just outside touristy Covent Garden but within reach of lawyers and City types from further east.

Perversely I like it almost as soon as we walk in. It’s not the kind of place the wife and I normally frequent, it’s black and cream and chrome and glossy and it’s all rather exciting and we feel that we’re in a different world, one where people don’t fret over gas bills or the cost of car repairs. The DJ, yes there is one, is playing 80s music and while punk was actually the soundtrack to our late teens, 80s music was the soundtrack to our early twenties, a time when we had our first jobs, every night was party night and nothing seemed impossible. Not even wearing white towelling socks. Read more…

Keep taking the tablets -the QOOQ on test

December 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Shiny gadget love

QOOQ, it’s not easy to pronounce, it sounds like you’re violently clearing your throat. ‘It’s Cook actually,’ explains one of the team at QOOQ HQ in Paris as he demonstrates the device. ‘In French Q is a K sound’.  Ah well that explains it. Shame no one in marketing thought that one through, though.

Anyway, it is indeed as he says a very French product with software and the physical device proudly made in that country. What is it? Well it’s a tablet, like an iPad or Surface or any of the other must-have devices we see flooding the stores. Unlike them though this is a focussed device, focussed on cooking. Read more…