Monday, 14 January 2008
Gaucho Grill, Hampstead
I've said before that if you want a decent steak in London, the choices are pretty minimal. Some of the top hotels do a good, if often eye-wateringly expensive, steak frites and of course there is Hawksmoor which is by far and away your best option for the thickest and juiciest cuts of beef. I should hold my hands up at this point and say I've long held a deep prejudice against Gaucho Grills, partly thanks to word of mouth from fellow diners but mainly because the kind of activities I see inside the goldfish bowl that is the Broadgate Arena branch could be used to support a PhD thesis on the evils of capitalism. But a Saturday-evening trip to the Hampstead branch gave me the opportunity to largely validate my prejudices, thanks to an overpriced, shoddy and often downright bizarre meal.
First of all, the service. I would suggest to any restaurant that if you make a big deal out of the fact you would like the table back within an hour and a half, it should be incumbent upon you to attempt to serve the food pretty speedily. But the half hour we waited between ordering and the main courses arriving suggested that perhaps they weren't that keen to get the table back after all. Also, I ordered a glass of house red from one waitress, while a friend was told they "didn't do house wines" by another. After I pointed out that I had, in fact, just successfully ordered a house red from a different member of staff, she scurried off and we both got our drinks.
Second, the food. I tried lamb cutlets which were pointlessly breaded and deep-fried and tasted revolting - dripping with grease. They were also served without any kind of sauce to balance the fat so getting through them was a long, miserable slog. A house specialty martini with basil and grapefruit was only OK (quite warm), and the steaks served to my fellow diners ranged from tough and stringy to not bad. Desserts were hardly better, my two tiny pancakes being drowned under mounds of cheap half-melted vanilla ice-cream. Sides were expensive and boring, while those ordering steaks were forced to pay £1.50 per miniscule serving of peppercorn or bernaise sauces. A total ripoff.
We thanked our lucky stars we were seated in the quieter tented section towards the back, as the noise in the main restaurant area was unbelievable, and the lighting bafflingly low. We felt our way through the cacophony back onto the wet Hampstead streets and wandered off to find a pub to drown our sorrows. It wasn't even cheap - £50 a head on average and not even close to being worth it. London does need more good steak restaurants - you can't expect people to either pay a fortune or travel to Shoreditch whenever they fancy a decent bit of meat. But I'm afraid I can't recommend Gaucho any more than I could the Angus Steakhouse in Leicester Square. And clearly, that's no recommendation.