Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Flat Iron, Shoreditch


If you were to design a restaurant that ticks every box on the "London Restaurant Trends in 2012" list, where would you start? No reservations obviously, that goes without saying. You should describe yourself as a "pop up" too, even if you have no intention of ever "popping down". A no-choice menu, they're awfully trendy aren't they, printed on recycled paper in that typewriter font that Polpo use, and absolutely no currency symbols. There should be a cocktail bar serving drinks in wildly unsuitable glassware, tables should be uncomfortably close together, and make sure you have as much exposed brick and bare light bulbs as possible. Once all the above is in place, then it hardly matters what the food is like does it? They'll be queuing down the street.

Sigh


Flat Iron is an operation so desperately on-trend in so many ways it's almost a parody. There's the tin cups of popcorn from Spuntino; the huge block of ice behind the bar from MeatEasy; the juleps in metal cups from Hawksmoor. There isn't a single item of d├ęcor or presentational quirk that hasn't been "researched" (ie. nicked) from somewhere else; even the waiting staff's outfits looked rather familiar. All of which would be excusable, of course - deeply irritating, but excusable - if the One Thing they have on their menu - the titular Flat Iron steak, a cut from the featherblade - was any good. It isn't.


Before I get to that though, a couple of things that weren't terrible. The chips were quite good - cooked in meaty dripping, nice and crispy, and a pretty generous portion for £2.50 - sorry I mean "2.5". There's a decent beer list, too, consisting of bottles from the London Fields brewery (uber-localism is fashionable, after all) as well as the always-popular Brewdog. And service, from an efficient gaggle of attractive twentysomethings, was spot-on, meaning despite everything I was quite happy to pay the automatically-added service charge.


But oh dear, the steak. First of all, it had a very unpleasant smell, sort of a cross between a cowpat and a high street butchers. I'm not entirely sure why, but perhaps I'd rather remain in the dark on that. It had also, I think, been slow-cooked in some kind of waterbath as the colour was uniform inside, a common shortcut in lesser steakhouses that need to churn out hundreds of dishes an hour with inadequate grilling facilities, but still annoying. But usually, even when rubbish restaurants sous-vide their steak, they at least finish it off over charcoal to provide a bit of texture and a nice smoky flavour. Not so here as far as I can tell - they arrived soft and gelatinous inside and out, admittedly tender but with no crust and no sign it had been anywhere near a flame. And why provide a (grubby) ironic butcher's cleaver as a steak knife if you're going to slice up the meat before serving it anyway?


"But it's only £10" I can hear you say. "What did you expect?" Well, yes it is only a tenner, far less than you'd pay for the cheapest steak on the menu anywhere else, and on the face of it quite a bargain. But it's a false economy. This was a bland, incompetently cooked bit of cheap meat - why pay £10 for a deeply unsatisfying steak when you can either pay more for a good one, or eat something else entirely? Except, at Flat Iron you can't because steak is all they do. Because no-choice menus are trendy.


It wasn't just the steak that irritated, though. The tables all seated about 12 people so if you turn up as a couple (and as you can't reserve, most people do) there's a good chance you'll end up sat between two complete strangers, sharing your conversation as well as your elbow space as the distance to your friend opposite is slightly too big for confidentiality. And each of the cocktails we ordered - a Bramble infused with thyme (for some reason) and the house julep - were very sweet although I'm willing to admit they might have been OK if you like sweet cocktails.

Of course, inevitably, depressingly, Shoreditch is lapping it up. The queue trailed out the door by the time we'd paid up (the best part of £25/head once a cocktail and portion of chips each had been added) and plenty more hipster types were milling about in the bar area waiting for spaces. In this most slavishly trend-conscious part of town it seems few can resist the lure of somewhere that so expertly, if so cynically, gives people just what they want - the illusion of an "underground" discovery, the lengthy queue, the bragging rights of securing an oversubscribed table, the cocktail served in a jam jar. As for what happens when you sit down to eat, well, who cares about that?

3/10

28 comments:

Deepa Mistry said...

As concerned as I am about your rubbish steak experience I am also wondering what the hell the man in the white shirt is doing in the first picture.

I mainly noticed him because he was the only non-hipster in it.

Christian_Ace said...

That used to be such a great pub years ago, its a shame that in the name of progress they had to fuck it up.

NoshableAdam said...

Nice write-up, Chris. Only one thing: Flat Iron didn't 'knick' the juleps from Hawksmoor - the vessel the cocktail is served in is called a julep tin and anywhere serving them in anything else doesn't deserve to have a booze licence!

Amy said...

That steak looks like it's been microwaved. I don't care how cheap it might be, it looks horrid. Just goes to prove, get a gimmick and the masses will flock. Someone I follow on Instagram took the opposite view to you yesterday and was raving about how great this place was but I don't see anything other than mediocre and certainly nothing I would queue for in a million years.

Ooh I seem quite grumpy but cocking up steak is something I feel strongly about!

tori said...

Please tell me that sparkling wine is served in tumblers too; like you're a teenager at a party and can't be trusted with stemware. That's my favourite thing.

pharmaboy said...

Nice write-up, and definitely somewhere I'll be avoiding.

Your review struck a particular chord with me following a visit last weekend to Shrimpy's, near King's Cross. Similarly 'on-trend' details, similarly self-consciously hip clientele, and similarly shit food. As least you got away with only paying £25; Shrimpy's is nothing more than highway robbery, coming in at ~£75 for bad food for two.

I'd recommend you visit and review, were it not guaranteed to piss you right the fuck off.

Anonymous said...

Of course, being in Shoreditch one would expect the brick walls and trendy light bulbs, but even so I enjoyed Flat Iron and their steak. I found the steak to be succulent and full of flavour, and I'm not sure if you tried the aubergine but that's well worth a mention too. This is just my opinion but I do find your review rather needlessly scathing.

Patrick said...

NoshableAdam:

You are right but just as Polpo didn't invent filament light bulbs and exposed brick, and MeatEasy probably weren't the first to ever serve a cocktail in a jam jar, they are the ones who have made it currently fashionable.

I'd be very surprised if the Julep tin idea wasn't influenced by Hawksmoor.

Andrew said...

Terrific review. You are becoming Rayneresque in that your best writing is reserved for places that you dislike with a passion. Keep it up. I can recommend a couple of crap places for you.

Ben said...

Wasn't the previous incarnation of the formerly ace O&P a derivative gastropub? I think it was your review of that place that put me off trying it in fact.

Lizzie Mabbott said...

While it is slightly annoying that restaurateurs are finding it difficult to come up with original design ideas, I find the hipster hate very boring. I mean, they're not THAT bad, are they? And something amusing to look at, at least.

That steak does sound actively bad though.

CityJohn said...

Disastrous. Flat iron (aka "butler's") steaks are actually wonderful. You have to marinate them for about 30-45 mins and then sear them on something as hot as the sun. They only take about 90 seconds each side.

For this lot to have bollocksed up what really is no more complicated than cooking a McD's cheeseburger means a) they don't know what they're doing, and/or b) the meat they're getting really is suspect. £10 for the steak is about a 550% markup on wholesale already, so this looks like a cynical money-printing exercise anyway.

Anyway, I'm going to continue buying mine for £2 a pop and cook them at home with a simple beer, happily not surrounded by wankers. Not often, anyway.

thefworld.org said...

I think you can buy a pretty decent steak from the Ginger Pig (or from any good butcher or even from Waitrose if you're desperate) for £10, and do a better job at cooking it.
I live in Shoreditch and this hipster-food-mania thing is killing me. I'm all for style and "concept" but please serve me some decent food.
Thanks for saving me from another waste of time and money Chris.

jason #jpvr2 said...

This review is clearly vitriolic for the sake of it. If there's one thing worse than poor food it's bloggers being purposefully contrarian in a desperate attempt to garner popularity.
please revert back to reviewing restaurants in a balanced manner. that's where you can actually add value in an otherwise over crowded blogosphere

Anonymous said...

Whats most amusing is how many of you are keen to pass judgement on somewhere based on one pessimistic mans opinion. Why not go there for yourselves and pass judgement then? According to many, in not going you are actually missing out on an awesome steak.....I also like that a lot of you seem to be youth haters......Its a young creative part of town, of course its going to be trendy. If thats not your cup of tea, dont go there and stay in West where im sure things are more to your suiting

The Thinking Flat said...

Once again, suspiciously defensive comments being directed at Chris couched in the usual accusations of contrariness.

Whether these posters have a involvement with the restaurant or not, it looks as if they have and, let me assure you, that doesn't look good. Chris has built up a signifiant following of people who trust his judgement. I often visit restaurants on the basis of his say-so and avoid others for the same reason. By and large and with a few exceptions, I have agreed with his reviews.

Blogs are no more than an opinion. Restaurateurs are free to listen to them or not as they see fit. The problem for them, though, is that they ignore blogs like this at their peril. Angry retorts (your steak wasn't awful, it was awesome) make them look as if not only are they blocking their ears and singing in the face of criticism, they are making a statement about how much resentment they harbour towards reviewers holding an opinion contrary to theirs. It doesn't matter if it's an off night. Social media means that you only get one crack of the whip, and the consequences of getting it wrong are potentially serious whether the experience is representative or not.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter how many gimcracks you borrow from West End restaurats or how sexy your front of house staff are, if you serve poor food, your business will suffer.

Paul Hart said...

In all fairness Anon if you describe your steak as "remarkable" it better be fucking amazing and you make yourself fair game. Chris may be pessimistic but he has every right to tell it how he see's it.

jason #jpvr2 said...

I categorically have nothing to do with the place. just a regular reader who is put out by the underhand methodology being employed here in what I view as a cynical attempt to boost viewing figures

Chris Pople said...

Deepa Mistry: That's so strange, I didn't notice him at all at the time. No idea.

Christian_Ace: The pub downstairs is good actually, Flat Iron is upstairs and as far as I know not connected with them.

NoshableAdam: Ah I didn't know that.

Lizzie: I wasn't having a go at hipsters so much as restaurants that nakedly court them. At least, not really. I don't have anything against the red-trouser brigade - as you say, they're good for a laugh if nothing else.

jason: As you will hopefully discover if you read back through some of my other posts, I am never vitriolic without a very good reason. I hated Flat Iron because it was rubbish, and I said so. It just seems that people prefer reviews of bad places than good ones (usually).

Andrew Webb said...

Ok, here comes me…
So I’ve actually been there, and have to say I rather enjoyed it. Yes it features many a restaurant meme du jour, and is in the part of town adorned with HND level graffiti and populated by people with wonky haircuts and their ‘mankles’ on show. In that regardis it not just pitched at the community it finds itself in, just as The Toby Inn in Croydon (best review ever folks http://tinyurl.com/c4xkyjp!) is pitched at Croydon pensioners?

I was there for slightly different reasons that Chris, namely to try and introduce my readers to something new that they might see in the shops or ask their butcher for as part of the wider sisyphean task we have in the media to show that there is more to food that factory produced chicken breast and sausage etc. (see here http://tinyurl.com/cbsevkt)
Consequently the kitchen knew I was there, so perhaps paid closer attention to what was on my plate? Chris on the other hand was there to ‘review’ the restaurant experience as a paying punter. All I can say to this is restaurants print out and pin this image http://tinyurl.com/cl6jz6v near the pass you fools!

The kitchen
I will say this though Chris, having been round the kitchen which – to quote Matthew Fort in his review of the Anchor & Hope – is the size of the jail square on the Monopoly board, I didn’t see a water bath. They are cooking everything on a charcoal grill. Also I’ve had this cut in other places before, and it is good. It just sounds like you got a duff one.

Things I liked
Freshly made horseradish (and a moist eyed waitress), like Chris I thought the chips were good, which is all the more to there credit because the cooking process was planned with maris pipers I was told but they’ve not gone out of season. The salad with pickled walnuts was enjoyable. Service was also excellent I thought so they should get credit there too. I thought the mini cleavers fun (mine was as shiny as a pin)
Has anyone eaten in this space in its previous incarnation? They were trying to do white tablecloth fine dining style, yeah, above and East End pub. A friend went a few years ago, said it was rubbish.

Conclusion
So Chris hated it, and I thought it ok. That’s fine, that happens and restaurants and chefs have bum nights and great nights I suppose. In the end some things work for some that don’t work for others. I remember the lovely Helen Graves writing something once praising white pepper, to me it tastes like school dinners.

The restaurant review as a format (not this again!)
Robin Majumdar was recently on twitter talking about the newspapers’ critics and how much integrity and research they put in. One of the things I’ve been banging on about (since 2009! http://tinyurl.com/c39mdmx) is that I think it time to ‘reboot the restaurant critique’. (Actually Chris it’s interesting to read your comments on that piece from back then! Are we any closer to the things listed in your final thoughts?)

Finally I think those of you commenting under ‘Anon’ should really register and tell us who you are though – honestly we’re all adults and able to have at least a debate on this eh?

Anyway, this comments already got so long I’ve had to fire up word and break it out into subheads and have used up my lunch hour! Enough!

Charlie said...

Yay! Keep up the good work Chris! My favourite part of the Pople rants are the "Anonymous" comments at the bottom enjoining us to "try the place out for ourselves and make our own judgment".

I work right around the corner from The Owl and Pussycat, and am dreaming of the day somewhere good opens up around here - at least there's still Viet Grill and the Cafe Caribbean counter in Spitalfields. I definitely won't bother with Flat Iron.

Charlie said...

Yay! Keep up the good work Chris! My favourite part of the Pople rants are the "Anonymous" comments at the bottom enjoining us to "try the place out for ourselves and make our own judgment".

I work right around the corner from The Owl and Pussycat, and am dreaming of the day somewhere good opens up around here - at least there's still Viet Grill and the Cafe Caribbean counter in Spitalfields. I definitely won't bother with Flat Iron.

Chris Pople said...

Andrew: Thanks for the comment! And well, you can colour me baffled. The steak we ate had absolutely no crust, no char, no indication it had been anywhere near an open grill. On the one hand, I'm impressed they managed to get a cheap cut like that so tender, it's just a shame it didn't taste of anything. Maybe it was a dud? Certainly enough people seem to have enjoyed theirs (including you).

@HungryBecs said...

Perhaps we have different tastes or maybe we had different experiences but I absolutely loved my evening at Flat Iron. As I say in my blog I'm not a huge fan of steak but this was the best tasting steak I had eaten in a long time.

Anonymous said...

Hello, despite all of your slating of this restaurant i was very pleased to enjoy a wonderful meal. Despite the one hour long line, the whole dining experience was wonderful. The steak was excellent, beautifully cooked and generally for ten pounds i guarantee you will not be able to have a nicer meal.

Anonymous said...

This is without doubt the worst review I have ever gone and read. From start to finnish, the photographs to the wording were delivered like a bad cocktail served at room temperature. This feels VERY amateur indeed. If you're bitter, or angry, or full of hate, there are people one should consider seeing. Organisations even. Writing and 'reviewing' that's made open and accessible to the public should be left to those qualified. I wasn't even that impressed with Flat Iron, but it trumped the quality of this blog with its head high.

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous restaurant! Can only agree with all you wrote Chris. Just that I was at the similar evil twin brother in Soho. But also there every must-appear-authentic-like ...box was ticked. And also the place is persiflage of itself. I really go on about that butcher cleaver. Most annoying part of beeing there was that they decotate their tables with tempting butcher cleavers what and I was so looking forward to use it, but then they already serve the steak cut! What's the use for the cleaver?!!! Even if the steak would be uncut, they serve it on one of those heat containing stones. Which would damage the cleaver, I guess. So there is absolutely no use for it. Except for the something-authentic-look. I asked them what that's all about and they explained the meat has to be cut in a certain way or else it might not be that chewable. The costumer might cut the meat in a wrong direction. The waiter and a dude from the kitchen suprised by this so smart observation agreed the butcher cleaver has no use. Except of couse only if you order the wagyu steak for £16. That one comes uncut. I can understand that point about tender meat. But what are talking about here? Meat! A steak! I don't think a steak eater needs to be mothered by a steak restaurant and temped at the sme time.
...and new brick walls that obviously are damaged with a hammer to look old and used off. What a cramp to get must-appear-authentic-like ... across.

Kate said...

Chris, I was interesting to see you link to this review on Twitter today. I didn't realize Flat Iron was a pop-up in Shoreditch before its incarnation in Soho. I went to the one in Soho and really enjoyed it. It was tender inside and charred on the outside, and having been to the debacle that is STK the week before, I thought it was a vast improvement (both in price and quality). I think that with places like this, if you're going to be churning out hundreds of steaks a day, there are bound to be duds. Woe to the restaurant whose duds fall into the typing hands of well-known bloggers!

Even though I don't quite agree with what you said about the steak (but definitely agree over the popcorn, oh god that popcorn), this is a good review. I have been enjoying reading your blog.

PS - 27 October Anon: What about Finnish people?