Beast

You can always trust the Asian’s when it comes to a quality crustacean. And so when a friend from Hong Kong told me that London’s moneyed Asian cohort have found a new joint to feast on sea flesh, I was eager to get my fill. Sure enough they were here in their numbers, having flocked over from Burger & Lobster which at £20 is loose change in comparison. They were gorging on a bigger and uglier beast. The Giant Norwegian King Crab. The restaurant is Beast.

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Everything about Beast is viagra’d masculinity. The name, the menu (£85 for The Beast Experience- not including drinks or service), the gauntlet to your table through the tanks of mean-looking giant crabs who scrap for space in their tanks fighting their own imminent extinction, to the dark Medieval banquet hall where you scrape up a pew and prepare to dirty your fingers and soul by gorging on the finest meat and crab in town. Of course it’s full of suited city boys chugging down bottles from the pricey wine list and acting like they are wealthy lords from some distant time. But for once this doesn’t make me want to force a crab fork up their chang-caked noses. It adds to the Beast Experience and seduces me to join the orgy. A couple of trendy crafts and a bottle of fizz later, and I’m clashing my hands and echoing my laughs around the room and frustrating the hell out of the Chinese family on the sharing table with me, who just wanted to eat their crab meat and cream their pants with Instagram snaps (or whatever-the-hell the latest app is).

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Once seated it’s simple- you take the blow and order the Beast Experience. Or if you’re operating on a shoestring, watching your weight, or just a downright tosser and shouldn’t be eating here, you go for something lighter off the specials board. You can upgrade too if you’re either a group, a fat bastard, a complete baller, or maybe just somebody who gets a kick out of going for one of the pensioner crabs who thought (wrongly) that having survived seventy-odd years and grown to a whopping 7-plus kilos, that they would see out the rest of their days getting their leg over the rest of the crabs in the tank. If you’re in the latter camp, I salute you.

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So the Experience starts. Well, it tries to start, for what comes as a ‘starter’ is a bit of a pointless distraction. A cock tease before the main event. An antipasti of pickled onions, olives and chunks of strong parmesan with some ancient balsamic glaze might as well be skipped. Pleasant enough, but you’re not coming here to nibble on bits of cheese.

So let’s skip to the main event. The Giant Norwegian King Crab and a slab of rare Nebraskan steak brought out on their own trays- things of pure beauty. Fuck the sides of posh smoked tomatoes, salad and new potatoes, and fuck the cutlery. This is all about ripping, tearing and fighting your way through the meat. Come through the other side with two clean trays and a greased-up mouth and chin and you’ll be a better person. The crab’s legs are huge and filled with chunks of sweet fleshy meat. Lather her up with some buttery garlic sauce and you’ll be panting. The steak is of course spot on with this being part of the Goodman family. To bring beef all the way over from Nebraska it better taste good. And this sure as hell does. Marbled, fatty, rich and juicy. It has it all. This is the fiercest surf & turf in London.

Desserts- some sort of deconstructed cheesecake and a refreshing posset of some sort- are again a bit pointless. You’re spent by then, and they’re only there for the formality of making it a three-courser and perhaps to keep back some of those complaints if it were £85 for one course.

You will crawl out packed to the gullet with meat of the land and sea and you’ll have done your bit to increase the carbon footprint in shipping these creatures over from their native homes. What can I say about Beast other than it is pure indulgent pleasure. Obviously don’t come here if you’re a damned veggie or a a nature conservationist or if you’re on a budget (the bill was £140 a head- you can do it cheaper without the fizz). This is as capitalist, manly and bullish as they come. It’s a throbbing erection of a restaurant. Go and blow your load.

8/10

3 Chapel Pl, London W1G 0BG
Beast Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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STK

Imaginative name they have there. It’s the type of name I’d expect Katie Price or Kim Kardashian to come up with. In fact, judging by the decor, it’s the type of restaurant either of them would probably design. When you think of a steakhouse you certainly don’t imagine purple backlit walls and fake trees dressed with fairy lights. This is a restaurant designed for people who crave being seen. It’s basically like the VIP in a Vegas nightclub, although instead it’s closer to the VIP in a club in Essex. This is a steakhouse that caters for ‘models’, or rather for women who like to think they are models. Either way its a strange concept, as models, be it fake ones or real ones are just about the last people to ever munch on a big old clump of steak. This probably explains why so many other dishes like ceviche and salads litter the menu.

To start things off we got an unusual loaf of bread with a blue cheese oil dripping off it and something like a pesto dip to go with it. It sure was one stodgy, stale loaf, only helped down by plenty of that dip.

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The Lil’ Brgs (£10.50) are two wagyu beef sliders. Apart from having possibly the most annoying name I’ve seen on any menu, they weren’t too bad. The beef was tasty enough, although it has to be said I don’t really care for this whole wagyu beef fascination. It’s the ‘thrice cooked chips’ of the beef world. Something that has this association with greatness, but really doesn’t ever live up to the hype.

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For main the 400g Ribeye (£33) with a side of Mac & Cheese (£5) was again fine, but hardly memorable. It certainly wasn’t a piece of beef that could justify the price tag. This price is right up there with Hawksmoor and Goodman, but the quality of this beef was some way off.

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My partner had the 72 Hour Braised Short Rib with a Worcestershire Sticky Glaze and Parsnip Mash (£19.50). It was that 72 hour promise that drew her in. But the cooking here really didn’t reflect that. It was all too neat and tidy for a slow cooked dish, and there just wasn’t enough of it. There was no way you were getting your fingers dirty on this dainty little dish. It was the size zero version of the short rib world.

The staff were fine, but it was annoying to be told just as the waiter opened our second bottle of wine that he needed the table from us. We could drink it up at the packed bar if wanted. I declined his offer. The bar here isn’t worth the trip either, it’s basically a cramped space running alongside the tables where people just push and pout. So after a poor meal, which was expected, it’s safe to say I’d never come back here. The only reason I’d be tempted is if I was single and wanted to pick-up. That’s about all this restaurant is good for. Maybe if you like eating in a tacky nightclub then this is the place for you. But if you want a good steak, or even a good meal, then go just about anywhere else in London.

Food: 4/10

Service: 4/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Value: 4/10

Overall: 4/10

336-337 The Strand, London WC2R 1HA
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Tramshed

The Damien Hirst centre-piece really sums up this restaurant. A cock and bull preserved in formaldehyde is raised above the diners in the heart of the room. Quite the statement. Just like the menu, which offers nothing more than steak or chicken. How you feel about Damien Hirst will likely reflect how you feel about Tramshed. Either you’ll think he’s a genius who is at the forefront of modern thinking. Or you’ll think he’s a pretentious tosser who’s head is so far up his own arse that was he to own a restaurant he’d likely only serve a cock or a bull. I’m leaning towards the latter.

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The starters came a couple of minutes after ordering them, a nice little hint that we weren’t expected to sit around for too long here. The Yorkshire pudding with whipped chicken livers (£3.95) is really good. The  smooth chicken liver has an added crunch from a sprinkle of nuts on top, and the big stodgy Yorkshire is ideal for mopping it up.

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The same can’t be said of the Moons Green beer stix (£4.00) which are basically a cross between a bread stick and a Peperami, and not as good as either. They just aren’t a starter, and I wouldn’t even be happy with them as a bar snack either. And to top it off they smelt like dog food.

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The Cock ‘n’ Bull croquettes with chervil mayonnaise (£5.25) annoyingly only had 3 (there were 4 of us), and they didn’t really taste of cock or bull too much. These were passable, something that you’d nibble at a bar, but nothing more.

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Three of us shared the Barn-reared Indian Rock with wild garlic sauce and chips (£25). The verdict on the chicken- well it was a roast chicken. Yes it was probably from a good farm and tasted better than the bone-dry shite they serve you at Nando’s. And for £25 with chips, which can  feed 2-3 (not 3 men) it isn’t bad value. But it still is just a roast chicken. And the stuffing inside was unbelievably salty, as was the skin. The whole shock factor of serving it on a dish with a spike up its arse and feet intact was lost on our table. The waitress thought we were joking when we were fighting over who was going to get the feet. Apparently that’s not the done thing here. The feet are there to be outlandish, not to be munched on. 

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My friend had the Sirlon steak (£22.50 for 250g) which  wasn’t a steak you’d remember. It was slightly overcooked and tough and the Béarnaise sauce needed more of a hit of tarragon. There’s certainly better ones in London for around the £15 mark.IMG_1831

The sides are over-priced as well. £6.95 for a large side of fries to share should be a salad bowl sized portion, but instead it could easily have been for one. The same applies to the scrumpy fried onions, which were just crispy onion rings, nothing more.

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The bill was £35 a head which isn’t too bad for half a bottle of wine each. But given we had the house wine, and passed on dessert, and 3 of us shared a chicken, this could easily head towards the £50 a head mark if you splashed out a little more. The drinks list doesn’t match the reasonable prices on the menu, as most cocktails are around £10.50, and the cheapest beer is £5.50. If I was being especially critical it felt like eating in an art gallery, as the atmosphere was lost in the height of the ceilings. I was waiting for the volume to be amped up a notch, but it never happened. Without the Damien Hirst installation, or the fact that Mark Hix’s name is attached, it is quite simply an average restaurant in an impressive space. It just feels like a restaurant that is trying too hard to make a statement.If you’re being this paired back, then that roast chicken needs to be the best I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t rush back.

Food: 5.5/10

Service: 6.5/10

Atmosphere: 6.5/10

Value: 7/10

Overall: 6/10

32 Rivington St, Shoreditch, London EC2A 3LX

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Grillshack

I doubt too many people remember Alphabet Bar that used to be on this spot. It wasn’t that it was a bad bar, just that it had no character, and never seemed to have many people in. Thankfully Grillshack has replaced it, and they have done brilliantly with the makeover. It’s another classic Soho trendy diner, but the good thing about it is that it isn’t trying as hard as the rest of the Soho joints to be cool. As I keep saying, I’m bored of the bare-brick walls and nose-to-tail tattooed (and of course bearded) staff. Grillshack has bright yellow walls and is just a little bit more laid back.

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The set-up is simple. You get a few choices- basically chicken, a burger or steak- then you go up Nandos-style and order it yourself. A few minutes later it arrives at your table. And they do refillable soda (£2.25)! I always love that. They say you only get one refill but I doubt anybody really sticks to that.

First up was buttermilk chicken nuggets with a sweet chilli mayonnaise. For £2.50 these really do make McDonald’s look bad. I’d go as far to say that they are even better than the ones that Spuntino knocks up.

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I went for the flattened rump steak and shoestring fries with smoked butter (£9.95). I was surprised that they’d managed to keep it moist and cook it medium rare even though it was so thin. I would have liked a few more licks from the grill though. It needed to be more of a caramel brown like all good steaks, this one was just a bit anaemic. The shoestring fries needed to be crispier as well. But with lashings of the Grillshack sauce, which was a really good BBQ, I wolfed them all down and polished the plate clean. One other complaint is the bloody knife I had to eat it with. I know this was a flattened rump steak but come on, you don’t have to give me something this flimsy. I imagine prisoners get sharper knives than this!

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My partner went for the double cheese burger with fries (it came to about £10.50) and it was sadly overdone. They’d promised it medium, but this one had the life cooked out of it, and we all now that doesn’t give a burger much hope. It was a little on the bland and greasy side as well, and given that Soho is pretty damn hot on the burger front this fell way short of it’s competition. If you are only going to offer a few things on the menu then you need to make sure they are all spot on. And if you’re a grill then you need to make sure you cook the meat right. So they need a kick up the arse here.

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Although the food wasn’t the best, I still liked Grillshack. It’s cheap and easy and has a real good feel to it, and the music was great. On the table next to us the half chicken looked good, and there’s a lip-smacking list of puddings, so I’ll save the burger shift to the experts (Honest Burger) but still come back.

Food: 4/10

Service: N/a (it’s self-service basically)

Atmosphere: 7/10

Value: 7.5/10

Overall: 5/10

61–63 Beak Street, W1F 9SL

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Hawksmoor Air Street

Hawksmoor Air Street is the fourth in the group of excellent British steak restaurants that us Londoners are lucky enough to have. Unlike Gaucho, which tends to be filled with posers who look like they’ve never eaten a steak, at Hawksmoor there is no messing around. You’re there for the quality of the meat, and the no-nonsense bare-brick walls, low lighting and chunky furnishings reflect what is soon sitting on your plate in front of you.

So when I heard that the Air Street venture was also specialising in fish I was shocked. At Hawksmoor? Really? It’s like when McDonald’s put salads and deli sandwiches on their menu. It just broke tradition and didn’t fit. It’s a STEAK restaurant, that’s where you forged your name, I don’t want to turn up and hear what the catch of the day is.

Just off Regent Street, this Hawksmoor spans across a huge corridor-like space. It’s less dungeon-like than the others are, and a lot more Mayfair. Art deco takes precedence here with racing green leather booths, dark wood tables and mirror panelling. But thankfully it remains very firmly masculine, and looking at the crowd it was mostly groups of after-work men sloshing back red  wine and wolfing huge portions of meat.

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Settled into a booth we started on the cocktails. After questioning the inclusion of fish on the menu, I had to begin to question myself when I ordered an Aperol Spritz. I deserved a slap, and thankfully when it arrived and was far too bitter, it served as a reminder that I wasn’t a lady sitting in a summer garden, but was a bloke ready to tuck into a bloody meal. After regaining my composure I quickly made up for it with two bottles of strong Kernel IPA (£5).

The last time I went to Hawksmoor I filled myself on half a lobster to start and ended up leaving some of my 400g ribeye, so I was tempted to pass on the starters in exchange for a bigger cut. Maybe smoked salmon or crab on toast would be a lighter option. The waiter would have none of it. Not in Hawksmoor. It didn’t take much to sway us.

The Tamworth belly ribs (£10) are possibly the best ribs I’ve had. So refreshingly masculine. They are slow cooked so that the juicy meat is flaking off the bone and served with a good slab of red cabbage. They’d be perfect as a meal on their own.

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Just as good was the potted beef and bacon with Yorkshires and onion gravy (£8). It was the best parts of a Sunday lunch brought together into one dish, and we all enjoyed stuffing the two huge perfectly crispy Yorkshires with the meaty caramel  goo and stuffing it in our mouths.

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Still good but some way off the other two was the potted smoked mackerel with toast and cucumbers (£7.50). It wasn’t smokey enough for my liking, and there was hardly enough toast to scoop it all up- not to worry though, the Yorkshires came to the rescue.

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For main I shared a 900g T-bone (£8 per 100g). It came in an iron dish, already sliced up for us. I’m not a fan of this, even though most restaurants do it when you’re sharing a steak. It takes away the joy of being presented with a huge slab of meat and having to do the work yourself. Although £72 (between two) without any sides is a hefty price tag, this is really as good as a steak gets.

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The same can’t be said of the Hawksmoor cut of turbot (£13 per 100g). The 250g (as recommended by the waiter) was tiny when it came, almost like it was just the spine of the fish and the rest of the meat had been left behind. There’s no denying that it tasted good, but there wasn’t much too it other than the quality of the ingredient.

Now the sides. We chose the beef dripping chips (£4.50) over the triple cooked. Who really cares how many times their chips are cooked? I’m sick of seeing that on the menu. What does it even mean? Just make sure they taste good. These chips were excellent- crispy and full of fatty flavour. The other sides were spinach, lemon and garlic (£5) which was fine and Doddington Caesar Salad (£4) that was great because of the way the parmesan had been so finely grated so that it clung to the dressing.

Then came the main event- Anchovy Hollandaise (£3). Who would have thought a condiment could steal the show? But oh this one did. Never has there been anything better. Thick and velvety; the perfect accompaniment first for the fish and steak, then the chips, and finally our fingers. It’s the only time I have ever seriously considered ordering seconds of what isn’t even a dish in it’s own right. That alone would have left me a happy punter.

So after a huge meal, two bottles of excellent Potugese, Quinta de la Rosa (£42.50), we definitely didn’t have room for a pudding each and so decided to share one- the sticky toffee pudding (£7). It was never going to be a light panna cotta to end a meal like this, and so when the toffee pudding came in a sundae cup with thick caramel sauce dripping over huge nuggets of caramel and nuts, it was a fittingly over-indulgent way to end the meal.

The food was excellent, but I have two complaints which annoyed me a great deal. The first was when the waiter came and took the dish with the yet-to-be-cleaned T-bone still in there. I was close to tears. If I’d been a real man I’d have fought him for that bone. Not only do I hate it when a waiter takes a plate away when you are clearly still eating (an obvious nudge that they want you to stick to that 2 hour turnover time) but taking a bone away from any man is cruel to say the least. Big chunks of flesh and fat were clinging to that bone. Thankfully he didn’t take away the anchovy hollandaise, allowing me to mop it up until the pot was glistening clean.

The other thing that really annoys me is this whole 2 hour turnover that they made a point of telling me over the phone. What the hell is it about? What are they going to do, throw me out before I’ve paid the bill. I’m paying close to £100 a head for this meal, if it takes me longer than 2 hours to eat, then tough luck. I hate it when they are trying to keep you on that tight conveyor belt.

I feel that this Hawksmoor has crossed the boundary and become a little too big and formal. I want to lean back and let the red wine and bloody meat slosh around in my gut. I don’t want to hear comments on the splendour of the art deco setting, or be told told that I have to be out the door before that sticky toffee sundae settles.

Overall it was a great meal, and apart from these two complaints I loved every part of it. Apart from the fish which I didn’t bother to glance at (although I’ll admit was still very tasty) every dish was as good as it can get. At close to £100 a head it is expensive for what is essentially grilled meat, but you’ll struggle to find a better steak anywhere in London.

Food: 9/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 7.5/10

Value: 6.5/10

Overall: 8/10

5a Air Street, London, W1J 0AD

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L’Absinthe

Right in the heart of Primrose Hill, a few minutes walk from the rest of the shops and restaurants on Regents Park Road, L’Absinthe could easily be a little Parisian bistro. Inside it has that casual bric-a-brac appeal with books and artwork scattered around the dining room, and everybody is greeted by a warm Bonjour from the all-French staff.

The prices are extremely reasonable. All of the starters are around £6, and the mains around £16. But it’s the wine list that really becomes your friend. L’Absinthe doubles up as a wine shop and operates with a £10 corkage policy. So of course choosing something towards the bottom of the list makes more sense. We went for a Sancere at £34 (three bottles of it by the end it was that good) and it would have been easily been closer to the fifty mark in another restaurant.

The food is simple and unpretentious home-cooking. If you really wanted you could probably cook it yourself, and certainly plate it up like they do here, but it why go to all the effort. It’s reasonably enough priced for you to merit nipping here any night of the week for a casual bite to eat. The menu is made up of classic French comfort dishes, the types that don’t hold back on the calories. I went for the fish soup with rouille and croutons and it had a nice depth of flavour and the rouille had a good kick to it.

ImageThe blue cheese, chicory and walnut salad was fine, slightly messy with the presentation, but compensated for by the generous portion.saladFor main I went for steak frites.  It was a juicy cut of meat and came with a finger-licking bernaise sauce.

steakfritesThe sea bass wasn’t anything special. It was cooked well enough, but the ratatouille and and sweet pepper sauce didn’t do much for the flavour of the fish, and it was all a bit one texture.

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For dessert we shared an Absinthe creme brulee that was creamy and rich, although a little more of that absinthe flavour would have been a treat, and a chocolate and coffee mousse that had such a intense dark chocolate flavour that it was gone before I could get a photo.

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What makes L’Absinthe is the staff. They make it a pleasure to eat there, as if they are welcoming you into their own home. It’s not the type of place you would come especially to Primrose Hill for, and it is far from being the best French food in the capital. Instead it is a restaurant that if you are lucky to have on your doorstep that you will always go back to. As the owner says on the website- good food, good wine, good company…what more do you need? L’Absinthe delivers on all three and you will leave full, drunk and happy for under £50 a head.

Food: 6.5/10

Service: 8.5/10

Atmosphere: 7.5/10

Value: 8/10

Overall: 7/10

40 Chalcot Rd, Primrose Hill, NW1 8LS

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