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.
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 décor 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?