Monday, 16 August 2010

Aberdeen Angus Steak House, Piccadilly Circus


"The act of going to a restaurant when you know it's going to be shit," advised Robin Majumdar, one half of the Dos Hermanos blogging crew and someone with more than his fair share of shit restaurant meals behind him, "palls really quickly, believe me."


In all honesty, I could have predicted I wasn't about to have the meal of my life at the Aberdeen Angus Steak House on Coventry Street on Friday. But my reasons for visiting the restaurant chain with the worst reputation amongst not just regular restaurant goers but Londoners in general, were slightly more complex. Will I deny that a teeny part of me was secretly, gleefully looking forward to laying into it post-mortem? No, I won't. I'm only human (and a blogger). But my expectations regarding what I might find actually lay somewhere between a Beefeater and a Bernie Inn - I wasn't expecting gourmet food, nor particularly good quality meat, but surely there was some reason the places are packed to the rafters every night, that they have become a feature of the London West End landscape as clichéd as discount theatre ticket booths and street caricaturists, that they are one of a tiny handful of restaurant chains (along with Pizza Express and very little else) to have survived more or less unchanged since the 1960s? If - and it was a big if - they served half-decent food, for not too much money, and the whole experience wasn't completely awful, then that would make sense. If not... a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, as Churchill possibly would have said; I owed it to myself and, without sounding too arrogant, to London, to find out just what went on behind those shiny red doors.

Lots of staff. That's the first thing you notice - not the crumbling 70s décor, the interrogation-room lighting or the piercing cacophony; lots of staff - smart blond women with Bluetooth earpieces that herd new arrivals around with military precision ("How many people? Three people. THREE PEOPLE!") and dozens of black-clad waiters seemingly taking part in some kind of unofficial speed service competition. I saw one guy literally run to a table to deposit the bill; clearly this is either a restaurant that believes turnover is king, or the manic service is a necessary method of getting people out of the door before they have a chance to complain about the food. Because the food served at Aberdeen Angus is by some distance some of the worst I've ever paid for in this country. Brace yourself for the gory details.


The prawn cocktail arrived with the charming introduction "That one's his", barked from one waiter to another and with a helpful point in my direction, all without making eye contact. Isn't it a picture? A huge mound of prawns in an alarmingly orange, sickly sweet sauce on a bed of wilted green lettuce. Perhaps, if I'm going to be excessively kind, not completely disgusting but gloopy and overwhelmingly dull and at £6.15 an unforgiveable rip-off. And I got off lightly. A friend's chicken wings, with their wobbly skins and sugary "BBQ" sauce were evidently straight from the microwave, again not totally revolting but about 50p worth of ingredients marked up to the best part of £6. Worst of all though was a 'Skewer of char grilled prawns', containing five miniscule prawns overcooked so badly they were literally crunchy all the way through, and tasted of plastic. Bloody awful.


We picked at our starters in disbelief for a few minutes before abandoning most of it half-eaten, interrupted only briefly by a rather distracted member of staff dropping a bowl of greasy fries into the middle of the table with the announcement "chips!" and then scurrying off. I think they were meant for another table, but we shrugged our shoulders and tried a couple anyway. They tasted of old oil and were overcooked into crunchy, floury tubes.


Mains arrived barely a couple of minutes later, while our discarded starters still lay on the table in front of us. This didn't seem to faze the staff, who held the tray of steaks over our heads while someone wordlessly removed the barely-touched Death By Prawns and replaced them with three deceptively normal-looking steaks. But the deception didn't last long. The best you could say about my rib eye was that it had probably come from a real cow. But it was watery, overcooked (more medium than medium-rare), under seasoned and dreadfully bland, the kind of desperately poor quality beef I didn't even know you could still even buy for mincemeat, let alone serve as a steak with a straight face. I didn't even have the worst one either - that accolade goes to my companion's rump steak, which was bitter, livery and tough, and with a distressing funky aroma which I couldn't quite place. Or maybe I just didn't want to. Accompanying "béarnaise" was like sweet cat's vomit, artificially thickened and sugary with a chemical sheen, fries were cold and chewy with the same gag-inducing stench of old oil, and mushrooms had come out of a tin.

"It would be funny if it wasn't so upsetting," said Dave Strauss, restaurant manager of Goodman steak restaurant in Mayfair, who had foolishly agreed to join me and @jezmd for the evening. "I could understand if the place was empty, but look!" We gazed out on the cavernous 1st floor dining room, every single table taken and a good few startled tourists literally queuing on the stairs. The whole scene was violently, stomach-churningly depressing. Tables of Russian families with young children, older American couples with their "fanny packs" and Zagat's guides, the occasional group of Japanese teenagers snapping each other with their futuristic mobile phones and smiling at the knowledge that British food is every bit as bad as they had been warned. And they'll all go home and tell their friends that London was such good fun but you were right about the food and so expensive too and for the rest of the trip we just went to McDonalds. I wanted to take them all by the hand and show them Polpo or Koya or Bob Bob Ricard or - God - ANYWHERE else and prove just how unrepresentative this diabolical place was of London food. But what can you do. We asked for the bill - £37 each with just two beers, the final, stinging slap in the face, and left.

Aberdeen Angus is a restaurant that doesn't deserve to exist. I'm guessing it has probably done more damage to our culinary reputation than the BSE crisis, foot and mouth and salmonella outbreak combined and yet there it still is, squatting on the corner of some of the most famous and well-trodden streets in the capital, luring in unsuspecting visitors and spitting them out with cynical efficiency, their opinion of British food set back another 30 years. It's infuriating that this disgraceful process is allowed to continue and that nobody has attempted to do anything about it - surely the enforced closure of all of London's Aberdeen Steakhouses would be a cheap and extremely effective method of boosting our international standing and we could recall Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver from America. Win-win.

Foul, expensive food, served incompetently in dreadful surroundings, Aberdeen Angus is a restaurant with no redeeming features. But then I imagine most of you suspected that already; the really nasty surprise on Friday was just how bad, not just passively mediocre but actively wicked their modus operandi is, and just how successful they are at exploiting naive tourists and passing trade for the maximum possible financial gain for the minimum possible effort. It is the working embodiment of everything that is shallow and cynical and just plain mean about the way that London treats its guests, and if you have a hospitable bone in your body you will do everything in your power to make sure the word reaches every corner of the globe. People of London, people of Britain, people of the world - never ever eat at Aberdeen Angus.

0/10

Aberdeen Steak House on Urbanspoon

67 comments:

Hugh Wright said...

Come on now Chris, don't hold back - say what you *really* feel!

Matt said...

I think there's another good reason for all the food bloggers to go to popular franchises (McDonalds would probably be a better one) - as you're review of a place is, bottom line, based upon your opinion, reviewing McDonalds would reveal if your opinion is the same as mine, and thus how likely I am to find the rest of your (and everyone else's) reviews valuable for me.

Matt said...

I meant to preview that last comment, so I apologise if it makes no sense or is spelled badly.

Matt said...

Oh God, "you're review" :-(

Pavel said...

I think I enjoyed reading this far more than I should of. I can imagine from your desrciption of the service, the staff know exactly how shite the food is and just want to rush you out the door to avoid giving you time to complain! Bravo though all the same, great review I always love a bit of schadenfreude on an afternoon!

Laissez Fare said...

Talk about taking one for the "team" - I had always been curious if it was really as bad as it seemed it probably was...guess so!

Mr London Street said...

Loved this. Happily, bad meals make for brilliant blogs.

Lizzie said...

Barf, gag and retch.

FYI Matt - I love McDonalds. I love high end food, I love mid-range. Makes not a jot of difference; I'd still trust someone's opinion and restaurant reviews if they preferred Burger King over Maccy Ds (which I find unfathomable).

Tim 31.75 said...

That's brilliant that you reviewed AASH. That place is the exact reason I started my own food blog in the first place!

Tim 31.75 said...

PS and it's the only review I've written that isn't being indexed by Urbanspoon...

Kavey said...

Lizzie, I prefer BK to McDs. Am I beyond redemption? ;)

Chris, a great review and hey you can't say I didn't warn you when you mentioned the plan at our fabulous Friday lunch!

I agree wholeheartedly with the frustration of plane load after plane load after plane load of tourists eating at such places, and perpetuating the myth that we can't do great food in London/ the UK!

I have been doing my part for many years, posting advice on travel discussion boards, suggesting varied options for eating well and on a budget and counselling to avoid chains like Angus/ Aberdeen Steak House, Garfunkels and TGIs.

We have such fantastic food experiences to offer, London must surely be in the top 10 of foodie capitals in the whole world, and yet so many people fail to experience this completely.

PS YUCK.

Matt said...

@Lizzie : Sure, but understanding *why* you love McDonalds (as every sane person does), and if those are the same reasons I love McDonalds, helps me to think "Oh, she's docked a mark for desserts, but I don't eat desserts, I'll probably like this place more than she did", or whatever.

Mr London Street said...

I have a colossal weak spot for KFC myself.

Gin and Crumpets said...

I always assumed AASHs were fronts for a nefarious criminal network because they couldn't possibly make enough money to keep going, but maybe not. Maybe the traditional city pastime of fleecing tourists is enough to keep them in plush velvet seat covers.

I'm going to keep hoping that they are staging posts in a secret criminal underground, because that would give them some romance and purpose. Otherwise they're just an insult.

And it's McDonalds over BK every time for me.

May said...

You deserve a medal for taking such punishment. Great review and needs to be highlighted really. All those poor unsuspecting tourists would probably leave thinking they have now tried the famous Aberdeen Angus beef and thought it was really shit. Not great for the British beef industry or food in general. The biggest shame of all is that there are so many good and cheap places to eat within 5 minutes of that place.

@Lizzie and @Kavey - am partial to a BK once in a blue moon.

slicktony3000 said...

I must admit, I'd always thought the Angus Steak House was some kind of American invention foisted on us during the 1970s. Instead, I see it's a British invention designed to prey on poor Americans. Pretty shaming really.

Manne said...

Chris, your dedication goes above and beyond anything I have ever seen.

Again, Churchill can be heard mumbling in the shadows:

"It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be" ...

// Manne

Adrian said...

I feel sorry for the staff that work there.

littledollface said...

Chris,

I stopped when I saw you had reviewed Angus Steakhouse. They have been my pet hate ever since I can remember, that and Garfunkles!

I have to agree with most above, I did laugh out loud at many points. It makes very good reading, especially for most Londoners who walk past these in disbelief on there way to a good restaurant literally 2 mins round the corner.

Great review,scary food and great campaign! Down with Angus Steakhouses!

Ben Mason said...

You are the only Londoner I've ever heard of inside one of these establishments.

Thanks for the confirmation!

Northern Snippet said...

The reason it is packed to the rafters is that there is still more demand for bad food in this country than good.Those people were enjoying themselves.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I'd like to thank you for doing this for me so I don't have to.

Respect to you.

I owe you one.

Anonymous said...

Another great reason to be a vegetarian..

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I wouldn't go that far anon...

Matt said...

I completely agree with Northern Snippet.

This perhaps raisies the question: Would there actually be enough quality beef available to feed all the people that go to AA if they went to, say, Hawksmoor instead?

Gourmet Chick said...

Love it Chris. And totally agree - places like this are the reason why London gets a bad reputation for food. The Covent Garden area itself is very hard to eat well in - luckily there are a few places but you can understand how tourists don't manage to find them.

BribedwithFood said...

Mmmmm... Maybe I should ditch the fresh piece of rump steak I'm about to put on the grill and make my way to an AASH...

Spot on comment about tourists going back home laughing about food in London - I have been arguing with visiting friends and family who refused to listen to my advice and have only bad things to say about their meals here.
Shame.

Happy Frog and I said...

I can't believe you actually went through with eating and reviewing the meal - bravo! It's hard to pick my favourite bit, but I will - '...and with a distressing funky aroma which I couldn't quite place. Or maybe I just didn't want to.'

Krista said...

Mr. Pople,
You are awesome.
Krista
P.S. Love the "Shit" category.

Martin said...

Chris, you had me at:

Labels: Piccadilly, shit, steak

Done and done, thanks for taking one for the team.

Catriona said...

Amazing - I'd always wanted to know but never wanted to spend the time and money in knowing. Know someone who got taken there by out-of-towners and he said it was every bit as shit as you described. Great review.

An American in London said...

I agree with Gourmet Chick that it can be tough finding good places to eat in the touristy parts of London (e.g., Piccadilly Circus), unless you're a dedicated food obsessive like the types who read or write food blogs would be.

I don't think these tourists who eat at AASH all go home thinking their meal was representative of the London food scene, though. I mean, if you're visiting Paris and in desperation choose to eat along the Champs Elysees, you wouldn't be surprised the food was crap and pricey, and you wouldn't leave Paris thinking that *that* represented French cooking. I'd like to think you'd conclude: "well, that's what I get for eating in a tourist hell neighborhood without doing any prior research."

PS - It's surprising that anyone carrying a London Zagat guide ended up at AASH. For starters, motivating to buy a copy of the London Zagat would suggest the person at least somewhat cared about food, and the AASH isn't even listed in there.

Chris said...

Matt: I think I know what you're getting at :) And yes I agree.

Northern Snippet: I'm sure 99% of people in there were tourists. I'm not sure they 'demanded' bad food, they were just unlucky enough to find it.

Anonymous: Let's not get carried away, now.

Matt (again): Perhaps not right now, but if the demand was there, suppliers would increase to fill that demand.

AAiL: Perhaps some of those tourists would blame themselves rather than the city as a whole, but even so, they shouldn't have been given such a dire set of options in the first place. My point still stands, AA doesn't deserve to exist. Also, re: your 2nd point, I don't think I meant Zagat sorry. They just had some generic guide to London.

craigo said...

What the fuck did you expect you nugget?

Chris said...

craigo: Here's a test of your comprehension skills. Read the 2nd paragraph again. Let's see if you pass.

Wild Boar said...

lol I always suspected that it's just a massive tourist trap. Thanks for confirming it so I don't have to suffer through a similar experience.

Still, tourist traps exist all over the world because they always manage to suck in defenseless tourists. I've eaten in a bunch of crappy cafes and restaurants near popular tourist destinations with my family in the past when I had minimal say even though we all knew it was a tourist trap.

Douglas Blyde said...

Oh Chris, your suffering has produced prose that is beyond awesome. I can only say in homage, I am going to try to emulate the imminent knowing hell I'm about to experience on an overnight ferry to Normandy (what the heck is it going to do in that puddle between island for so long).
Thank you again for decoding the tourist semiotics!!!!!

Salty said...

Eternal respect for getting Mr Goodman through the door of an Angus Steakhouse - genius.

I don't think I've ever walked past one of these godforsaken places without seeing at least one confused German couple wearing matching cagoules sitting in a window-booth and wanting to scream - Soho's round the bloody corner, you could eat like kings for a 1/4 of the price! Maybe you could set up an intervention service...

OneLifeLiveIt said...

AASH are for when you are out with a bunch of mates in the central of London (normally before or after a visit to the windmill - cough!). Often they are deserted then fill up when everything else gets busy.

Chowki around the corner ...
http://foursquare.com/venue/140497
is a place nearby which I did enjoy!

flyingiraffe said...

thank you for going there so we didn't have to!

yanN said...

Tourist traps are the same the world over.. London is different in that it's the SAME restaurants on every corner of every street in it's centre..

Harold Fowler said...

Wow sounds like a really bad place.

Lou
www.total-privacy.cz.tc

Major_Grooves said...

You've mentioned Pizza Express in the same breathe as AASH, but I think you meant Pizza Hut. Pizza Express is rather nice and hasn't really been around that long.

Bec said...

Surprisingly, in my travels to England, the only bad food I have had was when I was served green lasagna with no cheese by a family I was staying with. We tend to stick to pubs and off the beaten path places so that probably helps. And UK BK is way better than US BK.

Helen T said...

Chris, I almost cried at this, mainly with the laughter at picturing the scene. Now we know what foodie purgatory will be like. Feels like it needs a running picket line to save tourists from themselves. Or some Tripadvisor review!

Becci said...

Great post. It all looks so disgusting. It was very brave of you to eat (and pay for) all that. However, I was just reading the Reddit comments and I'm gutted to note that foreign readers have completely missed the whole point of your review and are using your post as evidence for the perpetuating myth that food in the UK is shocking. Sigh. We know the truth.

Julia said...

This is a great article. let's start a campaign to put them out of business and promote their competitors.

On the subject of McDonalds vs Burger King: Burger King sells fast food. It's very unhealthy, but it tastes acceptable. It's edible. McDonalds peddles disgusting, wholly artificial pap which is unfit for human consumption. I find it impossible to understand why anyone is willing to eat at McDonalds.

Rachael said...

As a fellow food blogger and food journalist writing for a Los Angeles based tourist guide, I am cringing right along with you! God Almighty, this place sounds atrocious and I am sad that my country-folk couldn't be bothered to figure out good London food (and I know it exists!)
After I came back from Ireland this summer people kept asking me if the food was as shit as they'd all heard (or experienced themselves) In the 2 weeks we were there we never had a single bad meal. Oh, wait. One. From McDonald's.

Good on you for exposing this poor excuse for a restaurant!

Anonymous said...

This review made me really, really really want to go there, just to see how bad it really is. I'm sure it's not actually "bad" as such, just bland and overpriced.

Eva Lai said...

I can't believe you went there!!!! I've walked past it plenty of times but just did not want to be a paying customer!! Well, you should have taken a 18-yr-old university student with you, at least he/she would eat it and keep the money for photocopying charges in the library.
I also find this hilarious:
"Labels: Piccadilly, shit, steak"
What bad thing did you do that made you feel you deserved the punishment??

gastrogeek said...

I'm with Eva on this one.

Joff said...

Major_Grooves - PizzaExpress has been around since the 60s, so pretty well established!

Caroline said...

I really want a blogger to review a KFC double down, they disturb and intrigue me at the same time, same as aash's used to.

Dave said...

I find this place fascinating. The Wikipedia page on it is also quite entertaining, and I think the most negative encyclopedia entry I've ever read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberdeen_Angus_Steak_Houses

Webby said...

All my life I've wanted to go to one of these places. And now I want to even more - mainly to closely review the other customers in a depraved sociological experiment. Like Hostel, but with terrible steak.

Sadly have to agree on your point about these places giving a terrible perception of British food. Still, to some extent the people who go here aren't likely to be the most..ummm...urbane. perhaps.

David said...

I know I'm going to get some stick for this, and apologies for the short story, but...

I'm a foodie and London-person and while I agree there's a huge difference between the likes of Hawksmoor and AASH I think there's meant to be. There has to be a volume version of a steakhouse because there's a market for it and with volume has to come compromise. Clearly this doesn't excuse the horror our protagonist here experienced but in all honesty my experience was not the same. This inconsistency alone tells me that the chain are not the incontrovertible assassins of the London food scene they are portrayed as, maybe our man just had a bad visit...

I went to eat in an AASH for exactly the same reasons as the blogger here, it has SUCH a bad rep it has to be an experience (bad or otherwise) worth having.
On my recent foray (about a month ago) I ate at the AASH on Leicester Sq, not the Coventry St one, so maybe there's a difference but ever since I have to say I've been telling people it's time to take another look.

Walking around the West End it seems there are only a couple of the Angus restaurants now that are still the old red-velour-and-mirrored-ceilings horror from the 70s, I saw four others that had clearly been refurbished to an apparently high standard, this was the first thing that surprised me.
I settled on Leicester Sq (just so I could sit outside) and in all honesty the service I got was first rate; smiley, but prompt and efficient, for me exactly what you should be getting when you have tickets for the theatre (surely why most people are there).

In food terms the starters were very weak (I also had wings), clearly a bought-in product, but not something I was shocked to discover. This place really was HEAVING, it must be a 100k-a-week+ site and with volume comes pre-prepared food. You have to remember this is along the lines of TGIs, Frankie & Bennys etc, it's not a high-end dining experience and for me shouldn't be judged as one.

Let me be clear, I'm not the target market for Angus, I'm unashamedly middle-class, but I knew what I was buying into here and I think everyone else does too.
However this then brings me to the reason I've been back since. I ordered the fillet steak (10oz, m/r, £22) and got a succulent, perfectly-cooked piece of meat, as thick as it was long, blushing and yielding, and something I would be happy to feed guests in my own home.
To say I was surprised is an understatement but I won't lie about it just to stay on the bandwagon. It was very good. It was no Hawksmoor (mmmm, Hawksmoor), but it was very good.
Like I said, I've been back. I went to another Angus on Praed St in Paddington and ordered the same thing and it was just as good if not better.
I don't know if they're under new owners (no, I'm not the new owner, although I have no doubt I'm going to be accused of it :) but I think they may be as there seems to be a brand new style Angus on St Martins Lane that I'm sure wasn't there before?

I've been having this conversation with friends ever since and it's caused quite a stir but I firmly believe now that AASH are just an easy target who these days don't deserve the slating they get. I have no doubt the blogger had a shocker but in the context of who they are in the market, and my own experiences, this article should not be taken at face value. If you want to have an opinion, go order a steak and be honest about it, mine was WAY better than I expected for this type of venue and although I'm not going to become a regular (Hawksmoor open in Cov Ggn next month :) I feel strongly that everyone deserves a fair shake.

I will eat there again. I'll only eat steak, but I will eat there again.

David said...

I got a 'too big' message for the last comment so you may not get to read all my inflated opinions.
I'm sure you're gutted.

Anonymous said...

good points and the details are more specific than elsewhere, thanks.

- Murk

Eggwhisk said...

I ate at one back in the late 80s. I will never forget how horrified I was at the 'tomato salad' (not sure if it still exists) which was about £3-4 and consisted of one sliced up tomato on a saucer. I know good food is supposed to be simple but that seemed to be taking the concept too far.

Since then I saw a West End Aberdeen Angus restaurant featured in one of those 'Restaurants from Hell' type programmes, and there was rat poo, cockroaches etc etc all over the kitchen and the place was reprimanded.

Very brave/foolhardy of you Chris! I wouldn't have gone back

Anonymous said...

Nurture passes nature.

-----------------------------------

Martyn said...

I'd forgotten it existed. But what really put me off, many, many years ago, was the rat and its young one crossing the aisle just ahead of me.

Martyn Nutland
Gueschart, France.

Anonymous said...

Please can we pay for someone to stand outside the Leicester Square branch with a sandwich board listing all the places you can get a better steak at equal or better price?

I go past it every day, having only seconds before passed about 20 brilliant restaurants just yards away.

It makes me sad. And angry. Then sad again. Then tempted to throw a brick through the window.

Anonymous said...

We all know how bad this place is - it's a classic tourist trap the same as the pus around there. The only people who go there are tourists. So, your going there has done nothing other than bring more publicity to this poor show so you wasted your time as well as your money.

*mental note. Never read food blogs.

Anonymous said...

You nailed this place. We were some of those unlucky tourists who went there becauwe it was close to something or other. The food was horrible and the waitress told me my signature on my credit card didnt m atch the signature on the bill. I took the bill back, crossed out the 15 percent American style tip and made it 10 percent, then asked if that was better.

Anonymous said...

Chris: Were you paid to slag off the Angus? I've been to some of the best places in London and abroad, and the Angus compares very well. Had a meal today in the Piccadilly restaurant. The ambience was fine, the service polite and friendly, the steaks excellent (but too large). The chips were crispy and not oily, and the mushrooms and garlic sauce were vert good. Salds were, well salads, I'm not a rabbit! Very reasonable meal, and not expensive.

Emma said...

This is hilarious - I too am ashamed that tourists think this is Brit food. I am astonished that the worst response you've got for this very honest post is "What the fuck did you expect you nugget?" from the loquacious craigo. When I posted a not-particularly positive review of Frankie & Bennys several years ago - that was WAY softer on the vomitous crap they sold there than you have been here - I was blown away with the venomous comments I was inundated with from loyal customers, ex staff and the like - I ended up taking the blog down it it was so upsetting. Bravo for your bravado - someone has to tell the world about this shite!

Alex C said...

So - have you considered heading up to Argyll & Bute to compare the school dinners to this then? :-)
At least they have the good grace to charge only £2

Cheers
Alex