My favourite pork dish was eaten in Berlin fairly recently. My favourite lamb dish is probably one of quite a few eaten in English restaurants. The best chicken dish I have ever had is harder to establish but it was probably in France (along with the best duck one too). And what about the beef? Surely the land of Les Rosbifs can produce the best beef plate of food?
I guess it depends on what we are talking about. I recently visited Miller and Carter – a steak chain. I’m old enough to remember the old Beefeater and similar restaurants knocking out leather with cream sauce when steak was a luxury dish in the 1970s. As Brazilian and Argentinian steak restaurants emerge in the UK and we are producing our own wagyu its a good time to reevaluate the genre and what it is doing with one of my favourite meals – steak and chips. The finest steak I have ever eaten was a superb ribeye at Joe’s Prime Steak and Stone Crab in Las Vegas but I could probably add a couple of other American steak restaurants to that list. The American approach to steak can be a little religious – see the vast steak chillers with glass doors in some Las Vegas restaurants and the choose-your-own approach of some others.
Someone recently said that they would rather buy a nice piece of steak and cook it at home than pay for it in a restaurant. I disagree for a number of reasons. Firstly it is hard to find really good aged steak. Costco are a good source of British aged steak cut thick and at t reasonable price but many butchers and restaurants serve something which is far too thin to appreciate the flavour and cooking – the crust to flesh ratio is all wrong, particularly if you prefer something on the rarer side. On this note I would say the best steak tartares have been French. Secondly, embarrassingly, I still struggle to get the degree of pinkness right consistently and so I’ve only ever served it once at a dinner party (too much stress and last minute work). Quite honestly, a restaurant can get the degree of cooking more accurate than I can. The fat is a crucial part of the steak experience. One of the remarkable things about Joe’s steak was the rendering of the fat to make it delicious and tender. Finally, good steak needs a combination of temperature that a professional kitchen can deliver – from a searing naked flame to a gentle oven. Having said that, only a tiny proportion of all the steaks I have eaten have been fabulous. The vast majority are average and a good proportion have been poor. I can cook a poor and average steak for myself – it takes a restaurant and all its equipment and expertise to cook a great one.
I also struggle with accompaniments. I love the simplicity of the French approach – green beans, chips and some bearnaise sauce takes a lot of beating. Chips are essential but most other things on the plate are inappropriate – the steak needs to be the star. I don’t particularly like sauces – Diane, Rossini, Pepper….anything. give me some decent horseradish cream or dijon mustard and I am happy. You can easily attempt to hide a poor steak under masses of rich sauce and I’d rather know what was going on.
So how was Miller and Carter? First impressions are good – it’s tastefully decorated in dark wood and red pleather seating. There are a lot of covers going on and booking ahead is essential to avoid a wait. This is a good sign – the kitchen will be knocking out a lot of steaks and so they ought to know what they are doing. The format is simple…choose your steak from the standard selection of ribeye, rump, t-bone and fillet. Choose how you want it cooked and then choose a dressing for your standard iceberg lettuce wedge and then a sauce for your steak. The recommendation for most of the steaks is that they are cooked medium which I find interesting but it avoids a lot of extra reworking from dissatisfied impulse diners who order wrongly. I had a 12oz ribeye with dripping sauce. My fellow diners went for the 50 day aged 8oz ribeye. We had a side order of soft-shell crab and roasted root vegetables.
The steak appears on a rectangular plate with a chunk of onion loaf, the iceberg lettuce, a chargrilled tomato and a decent can of chips. First things first – I could easily ditch the undercooked and wet tomato and the overdressed iceberg wedge – both cheap gimmicks in my opinion unless they are done much, much better. The sides were OK and inexpensive but not outstanding either. The onion loaf was tasty though and hit the umami mark well. Its a bit like a large wedge of onion bhaji. The chips were good – hot and crisp. The steak itself was good. Flavoursome but, if I was being critical, I would say that the cooking was very rare (fine with me) and I don’t understand why the butter sitting on top is not melted – I would have expected it to go on top during resting. The star of the show was a real surprise. The dripping sauce is one of the finest things I have tasted for a while. I assume there is a fabulous stockpot going in the kitchen which is fed by some sensational rendered trimmings. All I can say is that the small jug of dark brown sauce was good enough to eat on is own – wonderfully beefy with an oxtail depth to it. Whereas other sauces will bring another flavour into the dish this stays very firmly on the cow palette and really complements the steak.
The whole meal for three with a bottle of wine was £125 including tip, predrinks, two desserts and a cocktail. It’s OK pricing I think for a steak meal but expensive by general restaurant pricing. However, if you went and ate pasta or a burger it would be more comparable. Desserts were interesting without being exceptional. Overall, I will go again and I will just have a regular steak without sides and try it cooked medium. I will certainly have double helpings of the British beef dripping sauce!