Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Fryer's Delight

I recently managed to sneak in a review of NYC fish n chip restaurant Chipshop in to Beef Aficionado because they serve steak and kidney pie. Although almost all chip shops here in the UK sell steak and kidney pies unfortunately, quite unlike the homemade one I enjoyed at Chipshop, the ones in chippy's are generally prepackaged and full of all kinds of rubbish. So the Beef Aficionado cannot generally recommend them. However, Fryers Delight can be heartily recommended, not because they make their own pies, they don't, but because they fry everything, from their fresh North Sea fish, to their chips and battered sausages in beef tallow.

Cod and chips
You really haven't lived until you have experienced fish n chips cooked with beef tallow, the method traditionally used before all the silly nonsense about cholesterol and fat content became such an obsession. As a cooking oil it is actually far less flavorful than other methods, imparting almost nothing and produces a crisper food with golden hue that is unlike frying done with other oils.

Aside from offering a classic taste Fryer's Delight is one of the few, and best, examples of the Formica cafes that gained popularity in the mid 20th century. Interestingly the decor does not look nearly as dated as that of many restaurants that opened far more recently.

Battered sausage

Plaice and chips

The fish at The Fryer's Delight is magnificent. The supremely crisp batter gives way to a buttery, succulent fish. Interestingly, for fried food, the fish is not in the least bit greasy. The chips are similarly crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and actually taste like potatoes.

The take away menu

Sadly there are fewer and fewer authentic fish n chip shops in London and The Fryer's Delight maybe unique in the city in that it still uses beef tallow. The decor and the taste of the food both hearken back to a different age and in a town that is rapidly becoming populated by Starbucks and fast food chains it is nice to know that one can still get a taste of Olde England in her capital. Highly recommended.

Fryers Delight
19 Theobalds Road

London, WC1X 8SL, UK
2074054114

The Harrow

You will have trouble finding a country pub that is paradoxically more quintessentially English and at the same time more unorthodox than the Harrow. Nestled in the hangers of Hampshire the quaint little pub offer a selection of local ales and wines as well as incredible home cooked meals yet steadfastly refuses to serve a Sunday Roast. In an age of brewery owned prefab gastro pubs with frozen menus The Harrow remains a family run Freehouse that serves food that is grown locally.



The edifice dates back to the 17th century


Ringwood Best Bitter. The Harrow has been listed in the Good Beer Guide for decades and even has an award for long service.

Home roasted rare beef. Served with mustard or horseradish the rosy beef had a classic, hearty flavor and comes served with huge chunks of bread and a farm fresh salad, often the veggies come directly from the pubs own garden.

Smoked salmon sandwich

The Beef Aficionado may have to concede that the home cured ham is best thing on the menu. Not that the beef is not delicious but the ham here is truly exceptional. It is wonderfully complimented by the home made chutney that is also served with cheese Ploughman's Lunch. It should be noted that the Harrow has made but a single concession when it comes to cholesterol and fat content, they now serve half the butter that they used to, however this still amounts to around 4 oz! Needless to say portion sizes are more than generous.

The Harrow also offers a selection of quiches and souffles as well a famous pea soup that uses their incredible ham. All the cooking is done on a Rayburn range with no microwave to be found on the premises.

It is comforting indeed to know that places like the Harrow still exist. Surely one of the last remaining bastions of a bygone era one can only hope that it remains open for at least as long as it has been open.

The Harrow
Steep
Hampshire
GU32 2DA
01730 262 685

Porters

I am not going to beat around the bush on this one, Porters is not a great restaurant. In fact it is not even a good restaurant being closer to what one might charitably describe as serviceable. It is essentially a tourist trap, going so far as to offer package deals which include dinner and tickets for a cruise of the Thames or a trip on the London eye or other such touristic activity. However, for this ex pat living in the States and looking for a quick bite of both nostalgia and grub Porters filled a needed void in a sea of fast food joints that populate the Covent Garden area. In my defense I did laughably try to get into Rules, London's oldest restaurant which is situated just around the corner on Maiden Lane but unsurprisingly it was full up. It mattered not for I had a reservation at Rules two night later anyway. So I ended up at Porters, a restaurant that I would never plan on eating at.

Unfortunately Porters does not serve draft beer, let alone hand drawn ales, as you would hope that a restaurant that claims to be a "specialist" in English food would. Even pubs in Soho serve proper ales these days. Not that St. Peters is bad but it can be easily obtainable in NYC.

Steak and kidney Pudding

The steak and kidney pudding is not going to win any culinary awards and at almost 12 pounds it is certainly not cheap but it did provide me with some comfort and joy. Just to be able to find a pudding on a menu is increasingly rare in London these days so even an average incarnation will suffice. The beef was actually quite moist and tender although the kidneys lacked that earthy flavor they can impart.


The sticky toffee pudding was actually quite tasty but the custard tasted as if it was made from a packet. And thats the real problem here, the food just seems like it is ready made and served from steam tables. The service was surprisingly bubbly considering how drab and depressing the decor is. Porters sufficed in a pinch but I would not recommend that you make it a deliberate dining destination.

Porters
17 Henrietta St.
London, United Kingdom
020-7836 6466

Rib Room

One of the finest pieces of beef I have ever eaten is the rib roast at the Rib Room, a wonderful restaurant located in the Jumierah Carlton Towers hotel in tony Cadogan Square, London. While the Rib Room is, as its name implies, primarily a chophouse, it is no ordinary chophouse.

Indeed there is nothing that the fine diner will find wanting at the Rib Room. The wine list is impressive, the service precise and effusive and the cuisine, beyond the beef which is about as good as it gets, is spectacular. Dining there one weekend night I found everything, from soup to nuts, in perfect harmony and balance. The freshness of the ingredients, which are a culinary tour of the best that the British Isles has to offer, the attention to detail in preparation and the highly accommodating service made dining here a delight.

A half portion of the carmalized scallops with slow cooked pork belly in an orange and ginger sauce starter. The dish is so sumptuous and rich that sharing, as I did, provides one with more than enough satisfaction. Especially if you will be eating the house specialty which is obviously beef.

Rib Roast

Although an expansive kitchen is secluded in the rear of the restaurant a prep and carving station is proudly displayed in the front. It is lovely to see the huge slabs of rib roasts resting, awaiting carving.
The beef is Aberdeen Angus free range grass fed and comes from a single estate that produces exclusively for the Rb Room. The beef is dry aged or hung as they say in the UK at the estate and delivered to the restaurant for roasting and carving. The vertically integrated sourcing of the Rib Room's beef insures consistency and a uniqueness of flavor. Note the yellow hue to the fat, this is beta carotene derived from the grass feed. There is a distinct difference between the taste of grass fed and grain fed beef, the former being far more gamy and earthy. It is I suppose in this age of mass produced agri farming a bit of an acquired taste and I will admit a general preference for grain fed beef myself, but grass fed beef can be wonderful as it is here.

The rib roast here ranks as one of my favorite beef dishes anywhere. It is an utterly exquisite cut, being deeply flavorful with a buttery texture. The gamy character of the flesh that is a result of grass feeding is wonderfully complimented by the tangy mineral rich flavors of the dry aging process.

Roast Gressingham duck with spiced cherries.


Cauliflower cheese

The side dishes are equally captivating. A cauliflower cheese is absolutely perfect in preparation and seasoning. A spinach in shallots was simply the best spinach dish I have ever eaten, far more delicate and flavorful than any if numerous creamed spinaches that have accompanied my steaks over the years.

The cuisine at the Rib Room is wonderful, certainly leagues above what you can expect at an even above average chophouse. This is British cuisine at its finest, wonderful fresh ingredients sourced from around the Isles - seafood from Cornwall, beef and salmon from Scotland, the finest vegetables England's gardens have to offer. The service is effusive and the room is tastefully appointed. Highly recommended.

Rib Room
2 Cadogan Pl.
London, United Kingdom
020-7858 7053

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hawksmoor

Although it is said that Hawksmoor is patterned on a NY steakhouse its decor is far too eclectic, the wait staff, dare I say it, too bohemian, and its location in one of the cities trendiest neighborhoods not where you will usually find a typical NY steakhouse. There is also the demographic difference, were as NY steakhouses tend to be the refuge for suited professionals the crowd here is far more diverse both ethnically and in terms of age. One thing Hawksmoor does share with NY steakhouses is that you can get a fantastic steak here.

The Sirloin, or NY strip in American parlance, is utterly exquisite, despite the rather lackluster exterior charring. The steak was ordered black and blue but the waitress admitted that the grill was not quite up to the task of properly charring the outside. Still the interior was wonderfully cool and it had an abundance of dry aged (or "hung" ) flavor. Sourced from Longhorn and grass fed the steak was far more marbled than has been my prior experience with this type of feeding. Interestingly the steak is served with the entire T bone intact, as opposed to the traditional serving method of the cut in the States where the bone is truncated into an L.

Cauliflower and cheese. Although I would eat a technically more proficient version of this hearty dish a few nights later at the Rib Room the Hawksmoor version was just more comforting, being chunkier with an over the top Cheddar flavor. I can also enthusiastically recommend the triple cooked chips which are outstanding.

The rib steak was not the equal of the sirloin, being served off the bone it lacked the bold flavors of the latter. Still it was not a bad steak but not the equal of what you can find in a NY steakhouse. The sirloin on the other hand absolutely was.

What a delight it is to find such a top rate steakhouse in such unpretentious surroundings. It has been many years since I lived in London and my dining experiences are rather limited here but the Sirloin at Hawksmoor is the best steak I have eaten in the UK. In a week were I ate the vaunted porterhouse at Peter Luger and had a 40 day dry aged ribeye at Primehouse in NY the steak here left me wanting for little more than a touch of fire. In terms of marbling, dry aged flavor and tenderness the Hawksmoor equaled the offering from NY. I can happily recommend Hawksmoor, Londoners can take heart that they are not missing the great steak experience that we get in NYC and traveling American beef eaters can take solace that they can find a great steak in London.

Hawksmoor
157 Commercial Street
London. E1 6BJ
United Kingdom

Friday, November 16, 2007

Beef Aficionado on Sirius Satellite Radio

Your humble Editor in Beef will be appearing live on Sirius satellite radio:

Show: Morning Living
Hosts: Kim Fernandez and Betsy Karetnick
Date/Time: Thursday November 29th at 10:30am EST
Sirius Radio Channel 112
Topic: Beef!

You can get a free trial and listen online via Sirius


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Primehouse


Last month I had the pleasure of dining at Primehouse on their opening night. I noted at the time that it was probably not fare to review a restaurant on their opening night but I was impressed enough to go back several times since then. It has been interesting to see the fine tuning that has gone on to the operation in general but especially to the menu; which now boast some bold and unique additions that were not present on opening nights and will distinguish Primehouse from its competitors. While the service is somewhat unsure of itself and inexperienced at the floor level it appears that Primehouse has invested heavily in their management, which appears to be very professional and effusive. Personally I love the modern room, although some might find it a tad clinical.


A slightly over dressed Caesar salad is prepared table side

The steak tartar is also prepared table side

The steak tartar is excellent, utterly tender with a very pure beef flavor

The bone in Kansas City strip is fantastic. It has an abundance of dry aged flavor, with the flesh closest to the bone being particularly pungent. In fact is trumps both the porterhouse and the regular rib eye in terms of texture and "moldiness." It is certainly one of the top strip steaks in NYC.

Personally I find all this table side preparation tedious and distracting. I suppose I can understand the theatrical intent behind it but if you order a caesar salad, steak tartar and a porterhouse for two you are going to be spending a lot of time with the servers.

The Porterhouse steak for two is excellent. Although it is not served with the shock and awe of the Perter Luger porterhouse, sizzling and spluttering with dire warnings from the waiters about the incredible danger of touching the serving dish, the table side preparation does allow the beef to rest a little more than at other steakhouses.

While the steak might look somewhat dry, especially compared to the butter saturated presentation of the Peter Luger model, it is actually very succulent and tender. Personally I far prefer a steak be served dry, allowing the taste of the beef to be fully revealed.

The reasonably priced Hanger steak with Chimichurri is a bargain at $24 and very tasty

A most welcome addition to the menu, not present during the opening weeks, are the Reserve Cuts. Steaks aged beyond the standard 28 days. I have only had the pleasure of eating the 40 days aged rib eye, pictured above, but I am looking forward to trying the 65 day aged specimen on offer. Be warned these steaks are not always available so you might want to call ahead to check if they are in stock. While I was not that impressed by the restaurants regular rib eye the 40 day dry age steak was incredible, perhaps the most tender rib eye I have eaten, barring true Wagyu beef. Ordered black and blue it fell behind the cities top rib eyes, Smith and Wollensky, Wolfgangs, Bobby Vann's etc in terms of char but certainly matched them in flavor.

The dry aging room is proudly displayed in the basement, an eerie black light casting the beef in a blue hue. Primehouse sources all their beef from Creekstone Farm in Kentucky. Whether you buy in to the whole story about all the beef coming from a single bull named Prime or not there is no doubt that the beef here is of a very high quality and has a unique flavor. By sourcing their beef independently of the commercial market Primehouse is not subject to the vagaries of pricing and availability and they can insure a consistent product.

While the beef is beyond reproach the sides and deserts are less consistent. The potatoes in general are a safe bet, as it the creamed spinach but the onion rings were far more limp than their phallic presentation might lead one to believe and the Brussel sprouts with bacon had an odd fishy flavor. The deserts are generally better, the chocolate cake and mini doughnuts are both very good, the baked Alaska not so much.


Mini doughnuts


A lackluster Baked Alaska

Several months ago, when I first heard about Primehouse's imminent arrival I commented that I hoped that they would be doing something other than parroting the tired but true NYC steakhouse formula popularized by Peter Luger. Thankfully Primehouse has moved steakcraft forward, by virtue of their vertically integrated sourcing of steer and by offering unique aging periods. The service might lack the familiarity and gruffness of an average steakhouse waiter, but is is generally competent. The room is, to my modern sensibilities, lovely and the steaks, especially the reserve cuts and the Kansas City strip are excellent. Highly recommended.

Primehouse
381 Park Avenue South
at 27th Street
New York, NY 10016
212 824 2600

Sunday, November 4, 2007

King Of the Hill Country

If you have been following this blog you will be familiar with my love/hate relationship with Hill Country Barbecue. On the one hand I was mightily impressed by Hill Country's rookie appearance at the 2007 Big Apple BBQ Block Party (BABBP), so much so that I named their barbecue best in show. This standard of excellence was also apparent at Hill Country during their first few weeks in business. However, as I noted in both my initial review and a subsequent follow up standards began to slide southward and I had the displeasure of having several disappointing meals in a row there. Where it not for the memory of some absolutely wonderful 'Cue, especially the beef ribs I would not have ventured back. Apparently the hearty, smoky memory of those ribs was enough to overshadow my more distasteful experiences I had had there and I am delighted to report that I have eaten at Hill Country half a dozen times recently and things have improved, equaling what was achieved at the BABBP, if not surpassing it.

While I still take issue with the convoluted ordering system and am not a big fan of the side items on offer the barbecue, especially the beef ribs and sausage, is absolutely superb. The brisket is less consistent, sometimes it is the epitome of perfect 'Cue, succulent, deeply flavorful with that melt in your mouth quality. Other times however it has been far too greasy and rubbery. The prime rib has always been decent but I have a hard time recommending it, it is costly at $30 a pound and frankly the smoking obscured much of the potentially delicate flavors of the beef. Barbecuing works great on cheap cuts such as brisket and ribs but it tends to detract from the inherent flavor and tenderness of finer cuts.

A most welcome addition to the already bountiful beef menu is the short rib special that seems to almost always be available. It is a truly rich cut with a peppery crust giving way to a succulent interior.

On my last visit I commented on the sheer number of employees, it appears that this number has been paired down and those that remain are far more purposeful. There seems to be a real comradery developing amongst the servers. Indeed a barbecue specific vernacular appears to be developing, for example the cry of "two bones" denotes an order of two beef ribs. In a similar way to Katz's Deli, who employ a similar ordering system, there is a definite and unique "counter culture" developing around Hill Country. Be kind, throw the carvers a tip. So a strong recommendation for Hill Country. I may find the decor tedious, the side items stogy and the ordering system annoying but the barbecue is excellent.

Hill Country
30 West 26th Street
NY, NY 10010
212 255 4454