Ever walk past those steakhouses in central London with the big glass windows and the miserable looking customers? You know the ones, there’s a red one and a green one, and their names tenuously link to some sort of beefy provenance. I can’t comment on the quality of the dining experience, or of the steak; I have not eaten in one and I have no intention of doing so. But I do have a teeny feeling that this review is pretty much on the money. And anyway, you don’t really need to experience it first hand do you? You can just tell. The plastic seats and fat diners are on full display to the world. It’s a bit like staring into an aquarium; one where 7ft sharks are confined to doing laps of a 15ft glass box and a life of depression.
It makes me a little bit sad that the fat diners are probably tourists and that this might be their one night of eating out in London.
The thing is I didn’t want to go into those places even before I became quite such an unattractively aloof food snob. Not because of any particular perception of those individual restaurants, but because I was not interested in the concept of a steakhouse. I felt that to go to a restaurant and order a steak was a wasted opportunity to spend money on something a bit different, something that takes a bit more skill. I can buy good steak and cook it well myself for waaay less than a restaurant will charge me; anyone can. So a place that only serves steak? What’s in it for me? Shish.
I still feel a little bit like that: in many restaurants a steak remains, well, just a steak. Why not try something else?
But I’m also very aware that sometimes when you eat out, you do just want a steak and some red wine. And that some places really do do a good steak.
So I now differentiate between the boring tendency of always ordering steak when you go to a restaurant (wherever the restaurant and whatever the likely quality of steak and cooking), and appreciating a cut and/or quality of cow that you wouldn’t normally purchase, cooked in a way you couldn’t do at home.
Which brings me back to steakhouses. Because after some considerable chewing and expense, I’m happy to say I agree with the general consensus that good steakhouses are legit, and that there are some quality ones in London.
One of the good ones is Goodman. There are currently two Goodmans: one in Mayfair, one in the City and both, rather unsurprisingly, often dominated by men in suits. The steak is sourced from a mixture of quality British cows, and USDA (a certified class) corn fed heifers from Nebraska. All are dry-aged on site. Every time I’ve been there, they’ve been cooked as requested and tasted great (whisper it, but I prefer the beef from our cousins from across the pond). Enough said? Probably, but I’ll add a little more for colour.
Happily, Goodman’s major selling point is that they offer steak in a way that you wouldn’t get it if cooking for yourself at home. Sure, you could go out and source similar quality meat, take it home and dry age it for the requisite amount of time in your bespoke drying room and then cook it to order. But how big is your griddle pan? How many steaks do you want to cook at once? That kind of meat still isn’t cheap when you buy it for home cooking. Are you happy to chance your luck trying to get it a point? And do you really have an ageing room?!
Maybe you do, maybe you are, maybe you will. But you (surely) don’t have a charcoal oven. Which is important as after a few visits now, the inner sceptic in me has been converted to the added value of a ‘Josper’.
A Josper is a charcoal oven which is kept at a constant 375-400C. What this means is the steak is cooked very quickly and evenly; you get a dark brown caramelly crust, whilst keeping a pink middle. Home-cooked attempts will look depressingly pale by comparison (or if dark, will be tough as leather on this inside).
You can order a standard cut (rib-eye, sirloin, fillet) or go for a cut of the day from the blackboard: T-Bone, Porterhouse, bone-in rib, that kind of thing. As much as I always want to go for the blackboard option, in all truth, many on there border on being prohibitively expensive (£40-60 on a piece of meat alone, before sides and booze, is muchos cash in anyone’s book). I guess the larger ones (in the 1kg region) are not necessarily meant to be eaten by one person alone … though I imagine many of the larger Suits don’t share.
Sides are good and there’s a strong selection – of which the macaroni cheese is probably my favourite. Rich, creamy, slightly chewy cheesy sauce, with a faint waft and taste of truffle oil that makes the dish properly decadent. They’re more subtle with the truffle oil on the pasta than they are with their truffle chips – which I’ve always found to be great in theory and on first bite, but ultimately overpowering and too rich. One portion has defeated seven men before. Spinach and Gruyere side is also good, but won’t count as your healthy greens (the day calories are required on a menu will see the number of these dishes ordered cut by at least 50%). A minor quibble is that my preference for thin cut fries with steak, not the thicker style chips served here.
There are starters and desserts and I’ve tried a few. It’s all perfectly good stuff (Russian style pickled herrings and the thick cut smoked salmon stand out) and definitely more than an afterthought, but (rightly) are never going to be the star of your meal.
The wine list is excellent, though it’s hard and probably unnecessary to look past the Malbecs. I’ve always found it difficult not to spend quite a lot on wine – sometimes because of the price of the bottle, sometimes because of the thirst of the man.
And that is probably the bottom line. I go to Goodman in the mood for steak and red wine and it’s ticked all the boxes on those occasions. I also always leave with a much lighter wallet; it’s easy to rack up a mighty bill. I don’t think that’s a criticism; it just is what it is. If you want to eat worthwhile steak, you’re going to drop a bit in the good places (for what it’s worth, there’s very little between Goodman and Hawksmoor and I am intrigued to see what Wolfgang Puck’s Cut adds to the scene).
What do you think? To steak, or not to steak in a normal restaurant? Could you do it better? Are steakhouses worth it? Where’s best: Goodman or Hawksmoor … or do Gaucho, Buen Eyre/Santa Maria del Sur or those green and red goldfish bowl places do it for you?
Goodman in 3 words
Good meat, man.
I’ve never spent less that £50pp. Maybe you could be a bit more frugal (the excellent burger is good value), but you can also definitely spend more.
goodmanrestaurants.com – 24-26 Maddox Street, W1S 1QH – 020 7499 3776