Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Steak Out?

I've seen a lot of people on the tube lately wearing Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. They look like twats.

In fact, they looked a bit like fringe Star Wars character Lobot, and he looked like a twat.

I've stopped telling people that though, because the first couple of people I mentioned it to said 'nah, they look cool. Big headphones are back in. Big headphones look cool'. 

If I'd let them carry on, they'd probably have told me Lobot was cool.

OK, I suppose it's a change from the tiny white iEarphones which have become the height of ubiquity, and an oblique homage to the Rebel Alliance, but they still look like twats. Twats.

Anyway, I realised a long time ago that I'm not the arbiter of what is cool and what isn't and that 'fashion' is a cock I don't particularly wish to suck.

But, like it or not, the prevailing perceptions of coolness impact on all of our lives, no matter now little we want to play along. It affects how easy it is to dine in certain types of restaurants for a start.

Where are all the steakhouses gone?

When I were a lad, this whole town used to be steakhouses. 'Twere all you could see for miles around, so it were.

Well, not quite, but back in the 1980s (and for a long time before that by all accounts), going out for a steak was pretty much the height of gastronomic cool. It was where you took somebody you wanted to impress. It was what you ate when you were doing well, or had something to celebrate.

The predominant meme was a fundamental belief that 'steak' was the king of foods, and it had a cachet about it that set it apart from just plain, ordinary beef.

By the 1990s, we were all more sophisticated - food had to be more Ms. International Vegetarian Sophisticate, and less alpha man meat. 

London's once-thriving network of traditional English steakhouses has now dwindled to a handful of fairly naff places in the West End whose target market seems to be tourists, hungry after a long day's sightseeing and shopping for union flag t-shirts. The only places selling steaks in any great quantity are Wetherspoon pubs on Tuesday Grill Nights, and even they offer non-steak options

Steak became the plain, ordinary beef that it used to look down upon, and after more than 20 years, it still hasn't really ever come back into fashion.

Sirloin, Rump, T-bone, Fillet - whatever cut you preferred, and whether you had it rare, medium or (shudder) 'well-done', you weren't eating coolness personified, and even a peppercorn or bernaise sauce wasn't going to give it the credibility of sushi or shaved Parmesan.

My skills with music and writing'n'shit have earned me a bit of a cult following myself - or possibly a cunt following, I'm not sure - but I'm under no illusions that I'm ever going to be the epitome of cool, and maybe steak doesn't either. 

But enough people fundamentally enjoy the flavour and cavemanny experience steak to make it a possibility.

Gaucho - the big beef comeback?

Steak needed a new angle and, frankly, to taste a bit better than it did 25 years ago, if it was ever going to make a return to the echelons of coolness.

The Argentinian outfit Gaucho might just be the chain to do this. Their outlet on the wharf - one of half a dozen or so in London - and I approached with an open mind when taken there for lunch this week. It's steak. With a bit of a cult following. Just like me.

Gaucho Canary is different from the slightly tacky Gaucho restaurants found in the States where skewers of meat are theatrically cut at your table, but these guys are clearly out to impress, and that's reflected perhaps in the prices (£50-75 a head for a good meal with wine).

The seats are upholstered with real cow hides, the kitchen is open and buzzing, and the various cuts of meat are brought to your table so you can make an informed choice as to which steak you'd like, and how big you'd like it.

All the cuts are there, albeit with South American names like Lomo (fillet) and Cuadril (rump), and some are available Churrasco-style, marinated to perfection. 

They do all the sauces you'd expect (not that you'll really need them with a Churrasco Cuadril), and you can choose your side orders from an exciting range, including sweet potato with chorizo, wild field mushrooms and spicy roast potatoes.

The wine list is extensive, perhaps too extensive even, and a spicy Argentinian Shiraz was just the ticket; one of many which would I'm sure have been a more than acceptable accompaniment.

Dessert of the day was a well-executed Tiramisu, accompanied by a generous portion of pistachio butter, which didn't really go with it, but which tasted like a dessert in its own right. Two sweets for the price of one can't be bad. And at Gaucho prices probably affords much-needed fiscal relief!

Premium pricing aside, I do have a couple of criticisms - they don't offer steak knives ('because their beef is so soft a regular knife will just cut through it') and I found this a little arrogant, not to mention unhelpful. Yes, a well-done fillet might fall to bits on the plate, but if you're eating rump, cooked blue, it's going to need a little assistance on the way from plate to mouth.

And they insist on using metric weights, which just seems wrong when ordering steak. Give it to me in ounces, man, ounces.

But these are trivialities really - Gaucho has reinvented the high-end steakhouse for the age of Beats by Dr. Dre, and done so pretty convincingly.

Maybe steak will never become the ultimate food again. Maybe we're all too diverse and worldly now, but if anyone can make it cool, Gaucho probably can.

On The Wharf...

Gaucho Canary
29 Westferry Circus
Canary Wharf
E14 8RR

1 comment:

  1. Henry, my cat, once tucked into a juicy fat steak. Otherwise known as 'Your Mum'. LOL!!!!

    Anyway, to cut a long story short, Henry was rather unhappy with his dish, so instead I treated pussy to some partridge stuffed with mallard - the sort of shit they would give to fat bastard Henry VII.

    And do you know what, Ben? Do. You. Know. What? He yummed it up, yes. And he hasn't been the same puss since, so it is so it is.


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