Tuesday 18 March 2008

Black and Blue

Joe and I went to Black and Blue on Wigmore Street for a well deserved lunch. I've heard mixed things about their steaks ranging from how brilliant they are to quite the reverse.

Black and Blue is a great name. Arguably my favourite chain restaurant name. It's the Ronseal of the steak house world. It's name alone had raised my expectations. I was looking forward to London's best steak. Charred on the outside and mooing in the middle. So soft that I would barely have to chew.

The space is open, airy and welcoming. Families and business people filled the booths and open tables. Stylish old fashioned Oxo posters filled huge wall spaces. Green leather booths make good use of the excess cow that we don't want to eat. Joe and I thought the fact that the restaurant smelled of a mixture between fish fingers and sweet and sour Chinese food a bit strange. I was expecting the smell of charred meat that you get when everyone starts BBQing on the first vaguely sunny day of April!

Joe's chargrilled king prawns looked fantastic. Blackened and dunked in a rich buttery, garlic sauce. It's just a shame Joe didn't feel like sharing! My retro prawn cocktail was delicious. Crisp lettuce. Plenty of sauce. Lashings of prawns. And just the right temperature. I would have liked to had a bread roll to go with it like the woman on the table next door was brought though.

Now for the serious stuff. Rib eye steak. I asked for mine to be black and blue - charred on the outside and rare in the middle. It was beautifully tender. Perfectly rare. But it was far from the pinacle. It was a million miles away from being the Platonic form of steak. That abstract ideal that is unreachable. The kind of thing that even Heston struggles to create. But they should have got closer to it than this.

Whilst I was pleased with it's juicy rareness, it didn't have much flavour. Underseasoned. Undercharred. Where's that meaty, smokey, BBQ and wood chip experience?

It's all about the promise. At Pizza Express they promise you a good pizza cooked and served quickly. Simple. They don't promise much more than that. If they bring you a good pizza in a short period of time you leave feeling pleased that Pizza Express is a good place. They cook a far better pizza than I can do at home.

If you transfer the same thing to Black and Blue - they promise you a black and blue steak - charred on the outside and tender in the middle. In my one experience of their steaks they only delivered half of the promise which isn't good enough if they want to become the UK's leading chain of steak restaurants. I put my steak knife down after finishing wishing that I had been allowed to cook it myself.

Overall, it's got a lot going for it. Cool atmosphere, a menu where you want to eat everything, an amazing name and a good wine list. I just wish they did better steaks!

London is a bit barren when it comes to places that specialise in steak and deliver on it. La Pampa in Clapham is unreliable. Black and Blue isn't as great as I had hoped. Hawksmoor on the other hand was fantastic - it's just a shame it's the wrong end of town. L'Entrecote in Marylebone is pretty special. And I have never had a bad steak at Mon Plaisir.

If only we were in the same league as the Americans when it comes to cooking steaks. Beef Officianado's site is fantastic. It almost makes me want to emigrate! Us Brits don't seem to get it.

If anyone has got any suggestions for where to find the perfect steak in London please let me know!!!

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