Arun Kakar visits the a new restaurant from the founder of Hawksmoor and finds an inventive and sometimes-surprising treat
‘My favourite animal is steak,’ once quipped Fran Leibowitz, succinctly articulating how a lot of steak purists feel about steak: it is the definitive way of cooking meat, the purest expression of meat perhaps, a dish wholly reliant on the essential quality of its base ingredient.
It’s also a precarious dish to plump for when dining out. The gulf between bad and brilliant is huge, with new offerings facing the challenge of prising customers from restaurants that command loyalty in a way that few other cuisines do. A good steak is a good steak, right? There’s a reason why Smith & Wollensky has its own, very popular loyalty program.
For Gridiron, helmed by Richard H Turner and Stephen Englefield, this task is framed by its attachment to the lobby of the COMO Metropolitan on Old Park Lane. Upon entering, it’s clear that there’s plenty of reasons to be excited about this undertaking.
Firstly, the names. Turner is the group executive chef of Hawksmoor, the steak lover’s equivalent of the Ivy, while Englefield counts the Jugged Hare and Caravan on his CV. This place has pedigree.
The COMO is not exactly known for its shabbiness, either. It’s the type of place that people talk about when they talk about a ‘modern’ Mayfair hotel: spotless, shiny and sleek, buffeted by a sort of psychological attentiveness to its service. Mere eye contact is all that is necessary to raise the attention of a staff member.
Things are more relaxed in the restaurant next door, but no less attentive. A spacious, intimate area, the restaurant is anchored by its hefty open kitchen. Pride of place here is the live-fire grill, a hefty metal cavern in the centre that resembles the mouth of a dragon.
We get things going with, admittedly, more than a few snacks and starters: crispy fried scampi with Jalapeno tartare, some pig head croquettes along with a necessary plate of olives are enough to whet the appetite. It’s a selection you would find in a gastropub but elevated with the panache of fine dining sensibilities. No aspect of our dishes is mediocre.
It’s followed by – and this is where things really get rolling – a selection of starters. Highlights are the seabass ceviche, which comes smattered with fennel, dulse and wasabi. It’s a resoundingly fresh dish which sharpens the tastebuds and slots in quite seamlessly with the other, meatier dishes.
The best dish of the round, however, is the delicious lobster ensconced in a wrap of angel hair pasta and shellfish sauce. Sweet, creamy and not the least bit rubbery, it’s not the sort of starter we were expecting to precede our steak but it certainly arrived with a warm welcome.
This selection is enhanced still by our drink for the night, a bottle of excellent 2014 Joseph & Philippe Roty Bourgogne Rouge, a rare vintage which produces the uncanny feat of adding depth to whatever we eat.
Time for the main event. According to Turner, Gridiron’s hefty live-fire grill is ‘designed for maximum contact, creating a good Maillard reaction whilst still allowing flavour from the some to flow through the diamond cut holes’. Neither of us have any idea what this means, but decide to test his thesis by plumping for the Angus T-bone, which advises a 45-minute wait.
It turns out (partly thanks to the wine, it must be said) that this isn’t a huge amount of time to wait if, like us, you’ve gotten a bit carried away by the first part of the menu. When the steak arrives – a huge, hulking slab of meat – we’re ready to take it on. Its arrival is also supplemented by Tunworth mashed potato with braised trotter, crackling and a selection of vegetables. We don’t want to feel too guilty about our indulgences.
The steak is worth the wait, and though we might not understand it, it confirms Turner’s thesis on its first bite. Smooth as butter, it carries flavour like a sponge but without any stringiness or wasted space. Ample respect is paid to the incredible quality of his cut of meat, which arrives sliced and velvety. We go for some bearnaise, which is tasty but not necessary. One can’t help after trying the two together, it is best to let the steak speak for itself.
Oh, and it’s huge. The menu says it’s for two to share, but this is optimistic: three people could easily dine on this . We finish it anyhow, out of politeness.
Of course, it works brilliantly with our sides, especially the mash, which is an essential order for any visitor. Soaked in gravy and creamy to the extreme, this is to mashed potato what Ben and Jerry’s is to ice cream: slightly confusing, totally over the top yet absolutely coherent when linking up between its constituents. It’s moreish too.
By the time we’ve finished the last of the wine over a winning selection of cheeses, we reach the conclusion that our meal, from top to bottom certainly places Gridiron’s steak as among the best in town. It’s inventive but gets the nuts and bolts of a bloody good steak just right. What more could you ask for?