77 Brewer Street, Soho, W1F 9ZN Tel: 0207 734 2608
FOOD Five stars
VALUE Three stars
ATMOSPHERE Five stars
Cost for two with wine: £220
WHAT does London need? Crossrail? Yeah, that’d be nice. Separate pavements for tourists who just want to stand around with their mouths open like ventriloquist’s dummies? Uh-huh. Another steak house? Really? The market for dead cow must have hit saturation point years ago. Steak joints are like rats: in central London you’re never more than 10 metres away from one. Between Hawksmoor, Gaucho, Goodman, Tramshed, STK , Boisdale, Mark Hix’s Oyster And Chop House et al, London is pretty well covered for steak.
The Modern American Steak House – or MASH – disagrees. It thinks there is room for one more. Is there, though? Is there really? Well, maybe. For a start, it’s a more interesting concept than its mundane moniker suggests. It’s actually a Danish chain, specialising in Danish meat, albeit served the Yankee way. They should have called it DASH (Danish American Steak House) instead.
To reach the restaurant, you have to descend into the bowels of Piccadilly. The front desk looks a bit like the foyer of a cinema but as you get lower, things start to pick up.
The dining room is a listed former ballroom built in 1913 and designed to look like the interior of the restaurant on the Titanic. Let’s hope the waiters aren’t superstitious: of all the 66 restaurant staff aboard the ill-fated cruise-liner, only a clerk and two cashiers survived; many were locked in the lower decks to stop them from rushing towards the lifeboats so the rich folk could fit in.
Anyway, it’s stunning: the designer given the unenviable task of making it work in the context of a modern American diner deserves some serious props. Somehow it just works. The centre of the floor is filled with diner-style red leather banquettes, while the sides have open-plan seating. The space is gigantic and swathes of it are closed off on quiet nights like the Monday I visited. The intimate booths, though, mean you don’t notice that you’re among only a dozen or so other diners.
We started off sitting at the bar, where a pair of personable Danes struggled to explain the concept behind the cocktail menu (something to do with the American civil war). They also force-fed us popcorn, which was apparently smoked in cinnamon but tasted just like regular popcorn.
Surf and turf is the theme and, as neither my guest nor I were going to budge on having steak for the main event, we went for the half lobster to start. A good choice; a meaty creature served with three kinds of artery-clogging dips, although it could have done without the jacket of carrots and cucumbers (£18 for a starter is also on the expensive side, even for lobster). The MASH tartare came with a line of crisps jabbed into it, making it look like a mashed up stegosaurus. I ended up picking the crisps off it but the tartare itself was excellent; a potent concoction with enough capers and chillies to jolt you into alertness ahead of your impending hunk of cow.
Then on to the steak. Before ordering we were invited to inspect the meat, which was hanging proudly (or forlornly, depending on your point of view) in a giant glass locker. In a Danish-American steakhouse, the Danish long-bone rib-eye seems almost obligatory and we went for the smaller Uruguayan fillet to sit in its shadow. The waiter will carve them both for you beside your table so you don’t have to fight over who gets the best cut. The long-bone was so full of flavour it tasted like it had been smoked. It was cooked to perfection – a glistening rim of fat running around a gigantic 600g slab of burgundy meat, which left a satisfyingly bloody imprint on the chopping board. It is also mouth-wateringly expensive: you may get what you pay for but even then, £42 is a bit steep.
The fillet, though delicious in its own right, couldn’t possibly measure up. It had the silky, buttery texture that a great fillet should but was never going to match the flavour of its marbled sibling (not that you can fault the chef for that, of course).
The sides were all heavy, decadent affairs: cheesy spinach; creamy mash with bacon in it; onion rings with fatty shells the size of your fist. I feel like I shaved a year off my life expectancy. Not that it stopped me ordering dessert: a fine but ultimately forgettable crumble.
MASH, though, stands or falls on its steak and on that front it is a bellowing, stampeding success. It doesn’t come cheap, but then good steak probably shouldn’t.