Everyone's ordering off-menu these days, and William Sitwell isn't one to ignore a trend. He didn't get off to an easy start at Hush on Ludgate Hill, however.
I quite like ordering off-menu. You know the sort of thing: you go to a fish restaurant and ask for a steak. You don't like the look of the puddings so you ask for ice cream.
Nine times out of ten, you’ll get what you want. The one time out of ten you might get injured. But it can be worth the risk, if only to test the chef’s mettle. Ok so this guy can cook fish, but can he grill a steak?
The things is, chefs are now cottoning onto the off-menu lark so are preparing themselves. Fish restaurants are loading up with steaks. But they then need to do something self-defeating, which is to advertise it. After all, this stuff is too good for chef minions to eat for their tea. So they tell their PRs, who do their duty and tell me.
So there I was at Hush’s new branch on Ludgate Hill, just adjacent to St Paul’s Cathedral. Being a brasserie they have nice-sounding dishes like chargrilled half chickens and hamburgers, salmon fishcakes and lobster pasta.
But my duty was to peruse the menu and then say with a wink to the waitress, ‘I’ll have to steak fillet burger, please.’
Which I did. Which was greeted with a blank expression. Then words like, ‘Sorry, Sir, we don't have that dish on the menu.’
‘Yes I know you don't have that dish on the menu, but I’d like to order it. You know, off-menu style,’ I replied, then paused and added a few other words I had forgotten which I thought might act as the password. ‘And can I have the steak fillet burger with truffle and parmesan fries.’
Again nothing but bemusement. So I uttered the words that made me sound even more of a prick of a customer trying to wreck some poor waitress’s day. ‘Can you ask the manager to come over?’
She retreated, and a smallish beardy sort of man approached. He may not have had a beard, but even if he hadn’t, he looked beardy to me.
‘How can I help Sir,’ he said buoyantly (and beardedly) to me.
‘I’d like to order the fillet steak burger with truffle and parmesan chips,’ I said. ‘Actually we’d like to order it.’ And here I’m ruining the magic. ‘That’s me and the PR here sitting next to me who said I should come here and order this off-menu thing so I can write about it for my Scoffs thingy.’
‘Of course, Sir,’ he said and retreated to the kitchen, pausing just to pick up a small knife and plunge it into the neck of the waitress who sank to the floor, blood pouring from her gaping wound.
Anyway, the story ends with the burger arriving. The steak, in between two lush baps, was tender and delicious, bloody, but not as bloody as the late waitress. And the chips were crunchy, naughty and should have induced a heart attack, but they haven’t yet.
If you have the energy, go to Hush and order off menu. Then pause for a pee-break and wonder if when Alan Bennett recorded the audio version of Winnie-the-Pooh he considered that one day snippets of it would be vaguely heard but ignored in the loos of a restaurant in EC4.