45 Park Lane, W1K 1PN, www.45parklane.com, 020 7493 4545
Cost per person without wine: £70
IN the past, finding high-quality steak in London meant ordering plump filet mignon in a superior French restaurant and hoping the chef knew what to do with it. That’s all changed in the last few years. Gaucho had shown there was a market for steakhouse chains that didn’t have Angus or Aberdeen in the title (Lord knows there never seemed much of a market for places that did). But it is Hawksmoor in Spitalfields and Goodman in Mayfair that have demonstrated how expert sourcing, superb cooking and youthful flair can make steak exciting and fashionable.
Now the latter places are both due to open third venues, Richard Caring’s Caprice Holdings will soon open a steak restaurant in Grosvenor Square and Park Lane’s newest glitzy hotel has a steak-specialising dining room as its focal point.
It’s the creation of Wolfgang Puck, a gregarious Austrian who is one of America’s most celebrated celebrity chefs and restaurateurs. He cooks for the Oscars; he’s pally with Hollywood’s biggest stars; his empire of high-gloss restaurants, stretching from LA to Singapore, makes Gordon Ramsay look work-shy. And now here he is in London – with his best US chefs in tow – opening a steak restaurant in 45 Park Lane, the Dorchester’s new boutique sister hotel.
Really it’s boutique only in that it has less than 50 rooms and an address for a name; other than that it’s pure Hollywood. A gleaming, glossy slab of anti-austerity extravagance, with a sumptuous lobby that gives way directly onto Puck’s dining room.
A word to the wise: ask to be seated at the far end of the restaurant. We were bunged next to a curtain that half-separates the dining room from the lobby. My view, just past the lobby, was of a couple of chaps in shorts reclining with their laptops on the lobby’s grand red sofas, flip flops distributed around the floor. Sometimes, if they hitched their legs up just so on the sofa, I could catch sight of their underwear too as I glanced up from my food. Like, no thanks.
Anyway, flip flops and Calvins aside, it’s a sparkly, spangly kind of a place. The table tops are polished, pink-tinged mirrors, like great sheets of rose gold; the chandeliers look like sci-fi cloudbursts; the music is, well, much as you’d expect in a Hard Rock Café as it happens, though this is apparently Puck’s personal playlist.
The menu is like a global index of top-notch beef: USDA prime cuts from Arkansas, wagyu from Down Under or from Chile, Casterbridge Angus from Devon. It’s all cooked over hard wood and charcoal on a grill of Puck’s own design, then singed under another grill burning at 650 degrees.
While we were inspecting the menu, a strange thing happened. Our waiter brought us little white plates, “for the amuse bouche, sir”. Okay, I’m not that fussed by having my bouche amused, particularly when I’ve got a lot of steak to force down it, but if you insist. We made our orders, chewed on some jolly good bread and watched as the waiter glided in, silently removed the plates and glided away again. I summoned a more senior looking chap. “So, the amuse bouche….?”
“Sorry sir, miscommunication,” he said ruefully. “But, er, can I point out the beautiful Damien Hirst butterfly pictures on the wall?”
Gee, thanks. Our starters arrived. Choosing them had been problematic – there’s 13 to pick from, all priced between £10 and £18 (well, this is Park Lane), covering rather diverse bases, from sushi to oxtail broth to bone marrow flan. I went for some soft, perfectly cooked veal tongue, accompanied by artichokes and a peppery salsa verde. My friend had Puck’s signature starter from his original Californian restaurant, Spago – a hearty pile of crab and lobster in a tomato and horseradish sauce, which tasted for all the world like a prawn cocktail.
For steaks, I enjoyed the tasting dish of three different New York sirloins: American, English and some Aussie wagyu, though initially no one bothered to explain which was which (the maitre’d finally appeared and took care of this). The corn-fed USDA was sweet and unctuous; the wagyu was spongily soft with flavour that lingered marvellously; the grass-fed English was, I’m happy to say, my favourite – earthy, austere and rather glorious.
My friend’s USDA rib-eye was everything it should have been, too: huge, evenly pink throughout, sweet as a sugar lump and squelching with bloody juice. The chips and onion rings were expertly made, but had gone cool.
Look, it really depends what you’re after in a steak restaurant. No doubt the service will slicken up – you don’t get to Puck’s level without knowing how to ensure a well-running dining room. If you want glamour, lavishness, buzz and a vast bill, CUT does the business. If you want a low-lit, jazzy atmosphere, go to Goodman. If you want old-fashioned class with a dash of hipster cool, go to Hawksmoor.
In other words, there’s fine steak to suit all tastes now, and more to come. That’s a very good thing – and even if I find CUT too fanch-shmancy by half, I’d hold nothing against those (and there will be many) who’ll find it the bees knees.