Most of the top London steak restaurants are like Chelsea FC at its zenith. Full of talent, but stinking of money and overconfidence. It took me years to realise this. Usually, I’m a product woman. I’m indifferent to setting. It’s why I have a messy room. But Gaucho and Hawksmoor are both too awful to exist in. The setting sours even the most scientifically perfect steak.
It’s the squeaky leather seating and the hard acoustics. It’s the waiters that strut around with chopping boards bearing rigor-mortising slithers of meat that resemble the limbs of children, hacked and skinned. They point to them like figures on a flip chart, reeling off their meat script without intonation, passion or full stop. And the steak? Predictably exceptional, served with limp side dishes and a knowing sneer.
God forbid you were after a tranquil meal. The adjoining bar is often rowdier Twickenham. But you are supposed to accept this; they probably paid £300 for that round of quinoa-infused Long Island Iced Tea after all.
This works in the City: here, luxury is abrasive and rushed. The bankers prefer to eat their diamonds raw, in a bed of sawdust. But what of the rest of us? Actually, I don’t make enough money to tolerate £9 spinach the texture of wet kitchen towel or fries that I feel more indifferent to than the Lib Dems. I’d also prefer a bit more peace while I’m analysing the flavours of my immodestly-priced meat. With this in mind I’ve curated a list of steak restaurant that are not Gaucho or Hawksmoor or Goodman and I like.
The Quality Chophouse, Farringdon
Bring at least three friends so you can nab one of the original mahogany booths at this butcher’s restaurant that has been serving up bible-thick slabs of cow since 1869. The decor is history scrubbed clean – 19th-century black-and-white floor tiles so stiffly polished you can check your pores in the reflection, and dangling Art Deco lights, immaculate and uniform. I go on Tuesday steak night, when cuts from Skipton in North Yorkshire is carved out of a whole carcass.
Think silken bricks of meat that snarl with flavour, and are trimmed with sweet, crisping bubbles of fat, confettied with singed herbs still attached to their stalks (sirloin 300g £30.50; rump 300g £23.50; ribeye 350g £44). Sides are refreshingly cheap: a heap of pinkened, firm-fleshed roscoff onions for £4.5o; a pungent clutch of field mushrooms for £4.
88-94 Farringdon Road EC1R 3EA; 020 7278 1452; open Monday to Saturday 12pm-3pm and 6pm-11pm, and Sunday 11am-4pm; thequalitychophouse.com
Hill & Szrok Master Butcher & Cookshop, Broadway Market
Every time I come in, first thing I do is inhale. It smells like a butcher’s: that sweet, cloying scent of gentle putrefaction and naked, splayed, premium flesh. I then say hello to the man with a meat-cleaver. His name is Tom. I choose my steak cut. He lops it from the bone and hands it to the chef, who grills it in the open kitchen, as I perch on the marble dining table. The smell of broiling fat and searing bovine flesh always wafts over. Someone tends to come over at this point to recommend me the perfect accompanying bottle of wine.
The accuracy of cooking can be a bit off. If you like your steak medium rare request rare. But it’s fantastic value (£15.50 for a 300g T-bone) and the steak here is so hopping fresh it’s at risk of eating your greens. And then there’s the history: Hill & Szrok is inspired 16th-century cookshops; here, punters could shop for food and then eat it at communal tables then and there. PS – they cure their own bacon and home-make their sausages. Get some to take away.
60 Broadway Market E8 4QJ; 020 7254 8805; open Monday to Friday 7pm-11pm, Saturday 6pm-11pm, Sunday 1pm-9pm; hillandszrok.co.uk
Sims Steak House, Lewisham
This is my wild card. It’s not posh. But where else in London can you get a wonderfully-cooked rib-eye for £17.95? It looks more like a steak & kidney pie parlour than a steak house at first sight: The budget signage is a pallid, watery shade of yellow. Immediate neighbours include a Ladbrokes and a tattoo shop. Inside it’s like a Mediterranean conservatory though, with terracotta- floors, houseplants, white tablecloths, and vintage china plates tacked to the walls.
It’s a family-run place, and even if you aren’t a regular (most are) the waiters will greet you like old friends; the chef, who cooks in front of diners, is garrulous. His steaks are world class: firm yet ethereally tender; seething with juices and pockmarked with fat at the rim. I recommend chef’s sherry and mushroom sauce too. It’s earthy and tangy with the faint smack of that tarred aftertaste you get with fortified wine. It makes a nice change from the usual bearnaise and peppercorn. And at what other steak restaurant in London can you find a decent prawn cocktail to start for £4.95?
428 Lee High Road, Lee, SE12 8RW; 020 8297 1173; open Tuesday to Saturday 6pm-10pm; simssteakhouse.co.uk
The Jones Family Project, Shoreditch
It may sound like a prog-rock band, but the thing I like about this restaurant is its sense of fun. The decor is garish retro: think tartan carpets and lime green easy chairs. There’s a New York-style long bar, and cocktail have endearingly silly names like Hugo (v. nice with elderflower and mint) and Candy Rose (rose vermouth and strawberries). The restaurant also has a nice story behind it, having been set up by a group of friends.
The steaks are sourced from Posh Yorkshire butcher Ginger Pig in Levisham which only deals in Longhorn cattle; my medium-rare rib-eye (350g £27) was shimmering pink as Barbie packaging in the middle; the texture was tenderer than a Barry White LP. The triple-cooked chips are fat and crisped and hiss with heat (£3.50); try the pig’s cheeks with turnips candies and caramelised pickled onions – softened flesh smacking with sweetness and vinegar.
78 Great Eastern Street EC2A 3JL; 020 7739 1740; open Monday to Saturday 11am-12pm, Sunday 12pm-6pm; jonesfamilyproject.co.uk
Constancia, Tower Bridge
A lovely little Argentine grill restaurant in what was once the city’s leather and tannery neighbourhood. It’s a modest, unassuming sort of gaff, with its fumed dark woods, and white naked brick walls. But don’t be fooled. I’ve yet to try a better value-for-money Bife de Chorizo Argentino in London: hefty and dense , with salt-rippled pockets of fat, and flesh full of the brazen, protein flavour of cow (396g £24.95). The chips slathered with garlic and parsley (from £3.50) are well executed enough to justify allotting part of your stomach room to carbs. I love a good glass of Malbec with my steak, so the extensive and sensibly-priced Argentinian wine cellar here is a big plus.
52 Tanner Street SE1 3PH; 020 7234 0676; open Monday to Friday 12pm-3.30pm and 5pm-10.30pm, Saturday 12pm-10.30pm, Sunday 12pm- 9.30pm; constancia.co.uk
Not going to lie. Northwood is far. But the fierce, flavoursome muscularity of the meat is sort of worth the journey, depending on your tolerance levels for the Metropolitan line. They only use British cattle that grazes across the fat-bladed grasses of the Argentine Pampas here. Thanks to their innovative use of a contraption called a ‘V Grill’ steaks are ebonized on the outside with an impressive, evenly-distributed char (ribeye 300g £26; rump 300g £21.75; sirloin 300g £27.75). I recommend the salmon ceviche with zingy citrus-soused mustard oil to start.
PS – don’t be put off with the nasty black and pink signage: it’s actually rather romantic for a date inside, with olive banquettes, faux exposed brick walls, and murals of farmers lolling about in pop-green fields.
41 Green Lane, Northwood HA6 3AE; 01923 829499; open Tuesday to Friday 12pm-3pm and 5.30pm-10pm, Saturday and Sunday 12pm-10pm, closed Mondays; lomitorestaurants.com
Buenos Aires Argentine Steakhouse, Chiswick
One of the most affordable places to eat Argentine steak in London. The steaks are so tender you could cut them with a spoon, but the meat is robust enough that it still tastes of cow, and the flesh crackles with an impressive char. The chorizo steaks (£16.50 for 220g) are popular , but the rib-eye (£16.95 for 220g) – hunky helpings of meat crepitated at the edges with salt-suffused bubbles of fat – is also exceptional. If you want to tackle the starters, then the chorizo cooked in Malbec wine and caramelised onions (£6.95), and black pudding with salsa criolla (£4.95) will put you in good stead. The Wednesday three-course option is a steal at £19.50.
I just wish the waiters would ditch the chopping boards with meats. This practice is an abomination. It goes in the same category as restaurants that have photos of their dishes in the window.
32 Turnham Green Terrace, Chiswick, W4 1QP; 020 8747 8772; Monday to Wednesday 5pm-10pm, Thursday to Friday 5pm-11pm, Saturday 12pm-11pm, Sunday 12pm-10pm; barestaurant.com
Flat Iron, Soho
A £10 steak in Central London. Cooked. Served with Salad. On a Plate. In a restaurant. In Central London. Yes. I know. Flat Iron, a narrow but hip outfit in Soho with protruding white light installations and exposed-brick walls, is riding the wave of scientific innovation: recently, meat experts discovered how to efficiently remove the gristly facia from the top blade (flat iron) cut of meat from the cow’s shoulder. Underneath is a block of beef that is incredibly tender and tightly stockpiled with flavour. Flat iron is still cheap on the market, hence the low prices here. Although the meat doesn’t quite have that satin-pillow softness of sirloin in a fine dining establishment, it isn’t far off. They do dripping-cooked chips that taste of sin washed in the deep fat fryer (£2.50) and an obscene salt caramel sundae at £3.50.
17 Beak St, Soho, W1F 9RW; open 11.45am-11pm; flatironsteak.co.uk; no reservations
Steak with a Danish twist. Yep, I agree that has an awkward ring. Perhaps because Danes are better known for their love of fish and pork, and growing their own lovage greens. But I’ve recently discovered that Danish cattle rearing methods are among the best in the world. The subjects are fed on grass and free to roam – unlike American bovine (maize-fed, which isn’t their natural food).
The Danish steak, in short, is something to be sampled. It has a brawny authenticity. It tastes of something that used to walk around. A dry-aged rib-eye 300g will set you back £37. To start, the tuna tartare (£12) is as good as you’ll find, but they also make their own punchy vegetarian tartare from piquillo peppers, chives and chilli (£9.50) and the cauliflower soup is smoother than a Paxman putdown (£8.50 – the soup. Not the putdown).
77 Brewer Street, Soho, W1F 9ZN; 020 7734 2608; open Monday to Saturday 12pm-3pm and 5.30pm-11.30pm, Sunday 5.30pm-11.30pm; mashsteak.co.uk
Expensive but authentic, with an open, working Japanese kitchen right on the restaurant floor. These guys import entire Wagyu cows from Japan and butcher in-house. This means a varied and often unusual array of cuts is available to customers kobe steaks, from the juicy chock ribs to the flavoursome oyster blade and lean, robust aitch bone. Omakase (a multi-course feast that the chef concocts depending on what he has that day) is £85, and that will usually entail a Wagyu-themed appetiser at some point as well as the main steak itself.
It’s so tender you can sever it with your chopsticks, but the flavour is so rich and thickly flavoured it’s like someone has distilled into each slice the essence of a thousand cows. The sushi here – which you’ll get to try with the omakase – is exceptional. Think lobs of rice topped with novella-thick slices of salmon and bloated lozenges of prawn.
2 Ham Yard, Soho, W1D 7DT; 020 7287 5724; open around 12pm-2.45 or 3.15pm and 6pm to 10.45 or 11.15; engawa.uk