London now has a reputation as a food destination. True, it hasn’t always been that way but these days visitors and locals alike are spoilt for choice.Sometimes one craves comfort food, a simple dish but done perfectly - and that could be steak. We have plenty of chain steak restaurants and they offer predictable good quality, but when one is a visitor to London one wants more of an authentic experience, and one seeks those special spots difficult for the untutored to find. Here are a few suggestions of independent restaurants that excel in steak.
Le Garrick Le Garrick restaurant and wine bar is conveniently located in the heart of Covent Garden in London’s West End. It’s that rare restaurant which exudes accessible charm, offering classic food and service with a smile. It’s like visiting your very favourite French auntie who might once have been an actress. The best cooking, Gallic style, and some theatrical sparkle. Granted, that auntie has her dining room in her basement, but that adds so much cosy intimacy. Brick walls, earth tones, low lights would make this the perfect ‘first-date’ venue for those with sophistication and élan.
Entrecôte grillée sauce au poivre ou béarnaise is a feast for any carnivore with a huge appetite, but also makes a great meal for two discerning diners when a couple of side dishes are added. This is a simply and correctly presented 14oz chargrilled 28-day hung rib-eye steak on the bone, with fries and peppercorn or béarnaise sauce. This is the meal that those returning from a stay in France will crave. It’s not fiddled with. Its natural flavour isn’t camouflaged with gastronomic ornamentation. This is just likely to be one of the best Entrecôtes you will ever have.
Gillray’s at County Hall As with any building, and as any realtor worth his clip-board will tell you, it’s all about location. Gillray’s must have one of the best, and it’s also housed in an iconic London landmark.
This imposing white Portland stone building looks across the River Thames to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. The chimes of Big Ben count the passing hours, which will be spent in classic comfort at Gillray‘s. For more than 60 years County Hall served as the headquarters of local government for London. The Margaret Thatcher-led government abolished the Greater London Council in 1986 and County Hall lost its position as the HQ of London's administration. Today it is partly occupied by London Marriott Hotel County Hall and Gillrays’ Steakhouse and Bar.
There is so much here that remains of the original architecture. Wood panelling and general classic opulence reflect the history of County Hall’s past - and then there is the striking presence of Gillray! You can be forgiven if the name doesn’t mean much, although most will likely recognise the man’s caricatures. James Gillray was born in 1756 and his work reflects the style of those times. There was political unrest and both writers and artists used their talents to make political statements.
O’Shea’s Butchers supply the celebrated steaks to Gillray’s. They are in their eighth generation as butchers and Darragh O’Shea rears and butchers his own Aberdeen Angus cattle. My guest was tempted by the fillet and it didn’t disappoint. Steak is an event here and It’s all about maintaining a solid reputation for quality.
Hanger SW6 Today, Fulham is one of the most desirable parts of London and, in this corner at least, has the air of a village. Cafés, small shops and bars abound and there are even some good restaurants, and amongst their number is Hanger SW6. That SW6, for those from beyond these shores, refers to the post code (zip code) for this neck of the urban woods.
Hanger doesn’t refer to the size of the establishment nor to a holder for one’s raincoat (yes, it’s summer in England). No, it’s a reference to the main menu item, which is a steak and a much overlooked variety too.
Hanger steak might not sound familiar to you but it’s likely you would have already enjoyed one. If you have ordered onglet in a French restaurant here or in France then you would have eaten a hanger steak. If you have been tempted by a beef fajita in a Mexican restaurant then you will have had a hanger. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘butcher’s steak’ or ‘butcher’s choice’ because butchers would keep that cut for themselves. It’s sometimes called skirt steak in the UK (different from skirt steak in the US). A hanger steak requires a bit of care. Its fibres are longer than in other steaks and the cut tends to toughen if it’s cooked to more than medium – so have it cooked only to rare or medium rare. Cut across the grain it is one of the best steaks, with plenty of beefiness.
Mele e Pere Mele e Pere opened in the heart of Soho in February 2012, but that neighbourhood dates back centuries. This Italian-inspired restaurant is a consistent favourite. Its small dining area on the ground floor gives no sign of the characterful restaurant and bar below. The décor is eclectic with bookshelves holding soda syphons, and industrial wall lights which would look at home in a 1930s drawing office. The tables are wooden with tastefully mis-matched chairs. One has a sense that this carefully designed space has naturally evolved into its casual and quirky self and I trust the owners won’t think of changing a thing.
For those looking for a meaty meal Mele e Pere have a rib-eye which would do credit even to a dedicated steak house. This is a 28-day-aged Surrey Farm rib-eye with delicious glaze. All their meat is sourced from farms across England and is processed in Surrey, adhering to the highest standards of quality. The side dish of broccoli and chilli was a colourful garnish along with the traditional chips. When we travel to France we often order the classic ‘steak frites’, saying that we can’t do it like that here. Italy has the best reputation for food and we insist that nobody cooks like that in the UK. Here at Mele e Pere we can find the best of both those culinary traditions.