Though I may be considered, by some, to be something of an adventurous foodie, with a refined palate and a thorough understanding of the more complex methods of molecular gastronomy (in other words, a food snob), at heart, nothing makes me happier than a great big hunk of meat that has been perfectly cooked. Yes, true, that meat has to have excellent provenance, and the chef needs to understand the protein’s complex structure in order to bring out the natural sweetness of the charred flesh, and to counteract that sweetness with liberal, brave seasoning, but it’s simple, perfectly-executed dishes that rule my stomach. When it comes to devising my dream dinner party menu, steak and chips will be the main course.
For the vegetarians amongst us (and, to be fair, I do eat very little meat in the week, and I see meat as a treat; something special), it’s been a hard few months living in London. There has been a veritable swathe of meaty openings in the capital, all of which celebrate the seared flesh that is the steak. From British born eateries celebrating UK-grown cattle (Hawksmoor, with its three locations in London), to American superchefs charging upwards of £35 for a slab of meat (Wolfgang Puck at Cut, 45 Park Lane), 2011 is, undoubtedly, the Year of the (dead) Cow.
One of my favourite steak celebrations is over at Grosvenor House Hotel. A very American affair, with Welsh chef Paul Hallet (above) at the helm, JW Steakhouse & Bourbon Bar is a pure-and-simple American style celebration of great meat. Stepping off Park Lane into this cavernous restaurant is like taking a transatlantic trip. It’s Americana all the way here, with a menu that takes me back to great dinners Stateside: chopped salad, crab cakes, steak tartar, wedges of Iceberg lettuce served with blue cheese dressing, onion rings, baked potatoes with sour cream and sweet potato mash (served here with a marshmallow crust). Sounds heavenly, doesn’t it?
What truly shines here are the two very simple elements that so many restaurants can get wrong: 1) excellent, knowledgeable, friendly staff, and 2) the finest quality ingredients being used in the kitchen by people that know how to handle them. The lump crab served on ice positively sang, such was its freshness. My JW Maryland-style lump crab cakes seemed to be 90 per cent crab and were served with a poky, caper-laced mayonnaise that beautifully counteracted the sweetness of the meat. Excellent stuff. Simple, but excellent. And, what with this being America – well, kind of – the portions were enormous. We could have shared, but we’re actually glad we didn’t as both were delicious. We did, however, pace ourselves.
Which is a good job as the steaks that arrived were Flintstone-sized. My colleague’s Tomahawk rib-eye was a 32-ounce (that’s nearly a kilo!) Aberdeen Angus on-the-bone steak and belt-breakingly-enormous. And perfectly cooked thanks to the resident broiler which reaches temperatures of 650-degrees-Celsius. My bone-in Kansas City Strip (a mere 16 ounces) was a slab of dry-aged American USDA prime beef, and was charred on the outside, which released the meat’s natural sugars, creating a sweet-yet-meaty outer crust and pink flesh with oozing juices in the middle. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a steak this good anywhere in London.
In terms of side orders, we made like Americans and ordered enough to feed a small town in Iowa. The hand-cut chips were excellent, as were the stringy fries (my starch of choice). The slaw was, at long last, properly homemade and tangy. My colleague’s baked potato loaded with butter (upon her request) was served with sour cream, spring onions, Cheddar and bacon and increased the cholesterol levels beautifully.
Our waitress had already, at this point, helped us select an excellent wine: the Stag’s Leap Hands of Time from Napa – just across the road from The Carneros Inn, a great little place I stayed at recently. It handled the meat deftly, and we quite all too quickly polished it off.
We surprised ourselves by ordering pudding. I was pretty sure, at this point, that I wouldn’t eat for another week. It looked like we’d barely made a dent in the steaks (the dog was going to be very happy upon my return), despite us polishing off what must have been a half-kilo of steak each. We went for the “best cheesecake this side of the pond” – a brave, and some might say foolish claim. But the kitchen team know what they’re doing and what arrived was the size of a dinner plate and perfectly executed. As well as the best cheesecake on this side of the pond, I’d easily say it was the best I’ve ever had. The biscuit surround was a clever idea and held in the six inches or so of filling. We managed about half and had the rest doggie bagged up. (Breakfast was looking good).
We were ready to roll – quite literally – but our lovely waitress insisted we join in on the celebrations for Jack Daniel’s birthday. So, it was whisky and gingers all round while we rubbed our bellies and planned our return and what we’d eat when here. The lobster can’t be missed, nor can the crab soup, the burger, the 12-hour braised short ribs, the side of mac and cheese or the whoopie pies served with a Bailey’s milkshake.
God bless America.
JW Steakhouse, 86 Park Lane, London, W1K 7TL
Tel: 0207 399 8460