Friday, 1 May 2009
The Establishment, Battersea
I was deliriously excited when I saw The Establishment, the gastropub in Parson's Green, had opened a branch on Battersea Rise, not five minute's walk from my house. Deliriously excited because if there's one thing this area needs it's somewhere decent to eat - if your best local restaurant (notwithstanding the excellent Donna Margherita of course) is a Strada then something needs to change. And also because when I visited the Parson's Green branch last year I enjoyed very much - I was served a nicely made martini and a lovely pork dish and left a very happy chappy indeed.
I don't know whether it's pandering to a different locale or just a desire for a change of direction from the guys behind The Establishment, but whereas the menu at Parson's Green was firmly British gastropub, in Battersea they seem to want to be known as a steakhouse, with a special box on the menu listing the cuts of beef (sirloin, T-bone, etc. and whole rib for 2) and proudly proclaiming the 45-day dry-aged product. Well, good luck to them, but I was pessimistic. I have yet to find anywhere in the UK other than Hawksmoor that really do the US-style steakhouse concept any justice. Good quality meat is simply not produced on the scale and to the same level of consistency here as over the pond, illustrated by a recent hugely enjoyable evening at Hawksmoor laid on for food bloggers where we got to try 17(!!) different cuts of steak from all over the country, and where out of only 2 or 3 really good cuts my favourite turned out to be the one they had on their menu already. Those guys know what they're doing.
But more on the beef later. First of all I had a small bowl of shrimp (the British type, as in tiny prawn) and potato salad. The potato was lovely and fresh and the salad was dressed well, but the shrimp tasted of nothing - a real shame. My dining companion that evening, none other than author and food blogger Simon Majumdar of Dos Hermanos, did much better with his Chicken Liver & foie gras parfait, which had a lovely light texture, deep flavour and served correctly at room temperature.
For the main course, I thought it would be fun to have a whole 26oz rib between the two of us, and we ordered it rare. The breed used at The Establishment in Battersea is Aberdeen Angus. There is a very good reason for this - it's consistent in terms of quality, reasonably priced and the supply is plentiful. Unfortunately it doesn't have a great deal of flavour, and although the meat that arrived was cooked very well, with good seasoning and a nice crispy char from a hot grill, the flesh inside was watery and tasteless. It was also very sloppily presented. Compare this similar cut from the Horseshoe in Hampstead Heath last year:
...to that offered at the Establishment:
It's a terrible photo (it was almost pitch black in there) but you can hopefully see what I'm getting at.
I know it seems like I'm whingeing (because I am), but if anything the mediocre beef was just a vindication of my prejudices rather than a shock or disappointment. Aberdeen Angus is a perfectly good breed for burgers or pub steaks, but I have a distinct feeling the choice of that breed was made for commercial and practical reasons rather than flavour. If you have that little faith in your public that you think people won't pay more than £15 for a sirloin and don't know any better, then fine, see how you get on. But thank God there are places in London where flavour, courtesy of gorgeous dry-aged Longhorn cattle, comes first. Listen to me - I'm turning into a beef geek. Hawksmoor, I blame you.