Thursday, 24 January 2013

Battle of the Giants: Steak Wars

Prost - Senna, Ali - Frazier, Borg - McEnroe, Hendry - O'Sullivan. Since the first person to kick a rock into a cave opening, past an outstretched monkey, man has competed. And competition breeds rivalry. More enthralling than the rivalries and the heights they push themselves to be the best, are the spectators' intense love or hatred for one of the two. Great rivalries: the ones that last, are those where the two competitors are polar opposites. One cool, laid back and usually Nordic. The other an angry, brass young upstart, usually American. You can tell a lot about a person's character by whom they pick out of Ovett or Coe.

Sport and its competitive nature is a metaphor for many things in life. One of those mentioned less often is the rivalry within the food world. There are great examples: the American v Lafayette Coney hotdog war in Detroit, North Carolina v Kansas City for BBQ and the most famous the race-to-the-bottom: McDonalds v Burger King, to make the least edible burger (congratulations McDonalds, you just sneaked it with the McRib)

The reason I live (Note: Not a McRib)

A much more palatable rivalry is between the London Kings of Steaks. Gaucho, Hawksmoor and Goodman. As far as I'm aware there is no animosity between the three, this just fits with the elongated metaphor I'm using. London used to be a pretty depressing place for steak lovers, with these guys taking up all the real estate. Now though, along with other genres, the food revolution has come to save us all from over priced, inedible gunk served across the country (this in itself is worthy of several posts). Having eaten at each of these three at least twice, I'm afraid I don't hold Gaucho up at the same level as the other two. No disrespect to them, their USP and meat are damn tasty. Its simply the other two are just that good. 

Hawksmoor started off with one site in Spitalfields and quickly garnered a reputation for cooking some of the best steaks in London. Not long after that they opened in Seven Dials, then Guildhall and most recently at a slightly 'fishier' digs in Aire Street. They stock only British beef, which is certainly not a tick in the negative box. Britain have some of the finest cattle breeds, from Belted Galloway and Longhorn, to Angus and dainty delicious Dexters. They are supplied by the Ginger Pig Butchers that themselves source from the the depths of the Yorkshire moors. Its hard to find better quality anywhere in the UK. Ive had Donald Russel meat, Allen's of Mayfair and even a Royal Warrant holder to the Queen. Sorry lads, GP does it best for me (apart from a local butcher in Devon across the road for my Dad's that breeds his own Dexters.)

Last time I went all three of us had boned out 600g rib-eyes. It annoys me to say I cant remember the breed as I always ask, but what I can say was this was one of the best steaks I've ever had. All their steaks are dry-aged which is an absolute must anywhere trying to call itself a steakhouse. They are cooked over open charcoal robata grill and so have that lightly smokey taste that brings a smile to the face and saliva gushing out the corners of the mouth. They also have a mighty Josper grill but the steaks seem to be cooked slightly differently to Goodman.

Cooked perfectly medium (as one should always have a rib-eye in this blogger's opinion), it was heaven on a plate. The meaty flavours were immensely deep and if I'm honest I don't think any steak has ever slipped down so easily. The fries were fried in beef dripping and compared to the last time I had them they were a bit of a disappointment and a lot skinnier that meant they didn't get that glass-like crunch to them. Mushrooms were big flat caps, deliciously buttery, and the whole lot was lubricated with their legendary bone marrow sauce. Definitely in the top 3 best steaks I've ever had.

Hawksmoor - 600g Ribeye off the bone

The challenger Goodman: a Russian owned outfit with several international branches. Generally my rule of thumb is, if it has restaurants in more than two countries, the personality is going to suffer as transferring a brand across different cultures is tricky. Steaks restaurants can usually get away with this as dark brown leather, spot lighting, great steaks and wines translate well in most countries (maybe not India). Personally Goodman personifies a traditional steakhouse more so than Hawksmoor, however I prefer the latter's atmosphere. The bar is a genuine venue in itself with a fantastic cocktail 'book' and individual food menu whereas the bar in the CW branch of Goodman's is simply a small area to have gin and tonics.

Goodman also place a lot of their emphasis on USDA meat from 'Murica. I have a toiling, bubbling internal war with myself over preference to the sweater, richer American beef, or the more minerally, natural British stock. I grew up on American beef so have a soft spot for it but generally these days, I find myself always gravitating to the Brits. Dexters all the way. On visiting we both ordered a 650/700g 35day aged Black Label bone-in ribeye. It was sourced from a  collective of 40 farmers in Devon, with the cream of the crop picked for the restaurant. They are also dry-aged in a glass fronted room. The progression from a week to 35 days to 50 days aged is fascinating.

This was a fantastic eye-closed-during-first-bite steak, with a far superior crust, cooked in an equally epic Josper grill. I prefer the all-over crust over grill marks at Hawksmoor. This was a true lesson on the maillard reaction, which I think gave the steak a fuller flavour. Again it was perfectly cooked, and I mean perfectly. Last time we went we asked "How medium is your medium?". The waiter looked at us bug-eyed but it was a serious question. Some people's idea of medium is more medium than my idea of medium. And an overcooked steak makes baby Jesus cry and any steakhouse worth its salt cannot overcook a steak. It was richer than the Hawksmoor one, a little less tender but the flavour was the key. Bags of its. I was actually tiring by the last few mouthfuls. This was Mayor of Flavourtown. On careful reflection, I'd say if you love the red meat, really love it, and are prepared to spend serious money on it, then this is where you go to get your steakhouse fix.

Goodman - 650g Black Label Bone in Ribeye

Close Up Food Porn

Like watching Federer and Nadal play, its truly difficult to come down on one side. They are both great restaurants and are genuinely likeable, enjoyable brands. We had frankly outrageously good service on both occasions. Neither are cheap (Hawksmoor have a bar menu with cheaper options) but the steaks are very similarly priced. In my view although Hawksmoor is a more enjoyable place to eat, Goodman sneaks it for serving the best steaks in London. Saying that, 'second place' isnt really an issue, as the quality that both these guys are serving up is tear-inducing and probably where I will end up having my massive heart attack from off the charts cholesterol.

Seven Dials 
11 Langley Street, London WC2H 9JG - Tel: 020 7420 9390
Closest Tube: Leicester Square / Covent Garden

Steak: 9/10

3 South Quay, London E14 9RU - Tel: 0207 531 0300
Nearest Tube: DLR - South Quay, Jubillee - Canary Wharf

Steak: 10/10

Note: full disclosure I want to note that our party were given a free starter at Goodman but didn't affect my view of the steaks. In fact I was actually really looking forward to having another lobster roll but couldnt get it! See below for picture of the starter:
Deep Fried Prawns with Avacado

Burrata with Chorizo and Cherry Tomatoes

Square Meal Square Meal
 Goodman Restaurant Canary Wharf on Urbanspoon Hawksmoor Seven Dials on Urbanspoon

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