Tuesday, 4 August 2009
Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way before we go any further. Goodman, although it pains me to my very soul to say it, is better than Hawksmoor. A greater variety of steaks, their own ageing room and a couple of top-end Josper oven grills in the kitchen all combine to produce a dining experience which is as close to The Real Deal as it's possible to get in London, perhaps Europe. And not only are their steaks of sublime and unsurpassed quality, their staff knowledgeable and enthusiastic and the infrastructure solid, but they do all this in the centre of Mayfair at a price which even without any special offers or discounts can genuinely be described as a bargain.
Any restaurant - even any good restaurant - has some serious competition in this area of town. I started my evening, given that as per usual I'd arrived far too early for my reservation, in the Polo Bar, 2 minutes walk away on Conduit Street, and on the short hop to Goodman I passed Sketch, Wild Honey, Patterson's and Hibiscus, all big-name restaurants. But Goodman is not a Michelin-chasing temple of haute cuisine and doesn't pretend to be. In the fine US tradition, it is an accessible and informal space, looking at first glance an awful lot like a branch of All Bar One - masculine and rowdy and dark. There are no tablecloths here, no thick carpets and no cognac trolleys. It's all about the food, and the food is all about the steak.
David Strauss, restaurant manager and Keeper Of The Holy Ageing Cupboard, suggested a selection of 3 quite different steaks (all from master butcher Jack O'Shea) in order that we appreciate the differences between the producers and cuts. After very little deliberation, we agreed. What arrived was a large plate groaning with meat, sliced very handily into bitesize strips, Luger's style. My least favourite (brace yourselves) was the UK grass-fed sirloin, which was rather watery on the tongue and with not enough juicy fat, although perhaps I just got a particularly lean example. Better was the Irish Black Angus ribeye, with a deeper, richer flavour and some lovely bits of crispy charred fat. But the clear winner, the gold standard of beef, the king of cows, was a USDA Prime New York Strip steak (better known over here a porterhouse). This was extraordinarily good - a rich, minerally flavour combined with a startlingly tender texture which dissolved in the mouth. So not only is Hawksmoor no longer my favourite steakhouse, but I have the further ignominy of realising my favourite steak is grain-fed and flown in from the US. It's just not fair.
The sauces which accompanied the steaks were similarly accomplished. Black pepper was pleasingly fiery, the béarnaise was rich and light, the red wine and veal stock jus silky and moreish. Only the chips were a let-down, cooked well but in old or inferior oil and not very pleasant unfortunately. Creamed spinach was pleasant enough though.
I don't think I've ever leapt out of my seat faster than when David suggested a tour of the kitchen. Downstairs at Goodman a half dozen or so chefs toil near the heat of two mean-looking Josper grills which, Dave was eager to point out, are fired only using charcoal and not gas or electricity. Nearby was the ageing room, whose shelves were stacked with blackened chunks of seriously old meat. As blogger, author and fellow steakhouse groupie Simon Majumdar said, "That meat room is where I want to move when I leave this flat". Imagine being a Beatles fan in a room of original signed copies of all their albums, or a comic book enthusiast allowed to roam around a library of Superman No.1s. It was brilliant.
After all that excitement, and all that steak (some of which they kindly wrapped up in foil for me to take home, there was so much of it), all that was left was the bill. Bear in mind we'd had three glasses of excellent full-bodied Argentinean Malbec, a glass of Jurançon to finish, chips, spinach, sides, bread and more top-quality steak than we could even finish, when I tell you that the final bill came to around £50 each. That, while not being a cheap dinner, is stunning value for money when you consider the amount of food we'd eaten and the quality of the produce.
As you can probably tell, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at Goodman. I will continue to be a loyal regular at Hawksmoor, because after all it's still a smashing steakhouse and it's a lot handier for me in terms of location. Also - and Goodman are possibly missing a trick here - they have a great cocktail menu. But in terms of technique, service and yes, even value, Goodman currently have the edge over anywhere else in town.