Driving like a fool out to Hackensack
Drinking his dinner from a paper sack
One of my favourite types of restaurant is the American Steakhouse. The sort of place that’s all dark and clubby with lots of wood. Where you can get a huge ice-cold Dry Martini and an unfeasibly large Steak, charred almost black on the outside and bloody within. There might be some sides of crisp frites, a crisp green salad or some creamed spinach. A bottle of a big suitable Red will definitely be involved. We don’t really do Steakhouses in London. Yes, you can get decent steaks: recently a cracking Cote de Boeuf in the Anchor and Hope and a Bone-in Sirloin at Hawksmoor come to mind, but they’re quite different beasts to say a Peter Luger or a Keen’s.
The Maze Grill is, unsurprisingly then, nothing like an American Steak house. It looks exactly like what it is – the new Gordon Ramsay restaurant - decorated in that utilitarian chic that the critics loved so much at Foxtrot Oscar that the place was closed down for a refurb. I dare say there’ll be similar gripes about Maze Grill. Me, I’m not fussed although I think tablecloths might be a good idea – the tables do look very bare and this isn’t a gastropub.
The USP behind El Gordo’s new joint, located just a few steps from the current Maze restaurant, is that Jason Atherton, the chef has got a new toy. He’s imported a broiler from the US, the idea being that it will allow very high temperatures to be attained and thus achieve a good char on the steak.
To go with the shiny new broiler is a menu featuring a largish array of steaks. There’s corn fed USDA Prime steaks, there’s grain-fed steaks, grass-fed steaks and inevitably some Wagyu steaks as well. Each category of beef comes in different sizes but I was disappointed that they all max out at 12oz and it seems strange that there’s not a Porterhouse on offer. I was told later on that bigger sizes were available on request.
All the beef with the exception of the Creekstone USDA Prime is Australian which is supposedly producing some good meat at the moment. If beef isn’t your thing then there’s a load of other meaty or fishy options together with starters, small plates, sides and sauces.
I’ve been eating a lot of grass-fed beef recently so the Creekstone seemed like a good option to see what the US corn-fed stuff was like – it’s a while since I’ve been to the States – and the fact that it had been aged for thirty-five days clinched it.
Before the steak a couple of pricey small plates. Pigs on toast, minced trotter topped by some Parmesan, a dish extremely similar to one I had at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, was nice but no more than a couple of bites. Salt and Pepper Squid could have done with a crispier batter.
Ominously, on the menu the Creekstone and Wagyu are listed as “Market Price” a phrase I understand when used in conjunction with seafood but have no idea when applied to steaks. Now, the server did mention something about the price (I heard mumble…mumble…mumble pounds) which I didn’t take in and didn’t double-check. Anyway, that 12oz Steak comes in at a whopping £42. So that’s what Market Price means. Sides and sauces cost extra so the bill mounts up pretty quickly.
The steak when it came looked a bit on the small side. I’m sure it was the advertised 12oz, it just didn’t look it. The requested char on the steak was non-existent which makes you wonder about the point of having the broiler. Maybe they haven’t worked out the best way of using it. Perhaps the steak was cut too thin to get the required colour whilst keeping the inside cooked to order. As it turned out the steak varied from medium-rare at the edges to rare in the middle. It was very tender and succulent but unfortunately not particularly flavoursome. It lacked, what I believe Americans term “minerality” and wasn’t particularly beefy tasting in spite of the ageing. Back to grass-fed beasts methinks.
Sides were a mixed bag. The Bordelaise sauce was ok and came with some nice little croquettes of bone marrow. Chips were flaccid, pale and in need of an extra frying – I saw some better examples going to another table. Perversely, Onion Rings were over-fried and tasted more of oil than onion. I have no idea what purpose was served by an under-roasted head of garlic with a bundle of thyme.
Chocolate praline delice with peanut and olive oil ice cream sounded interesting but was quite prosaic: a small chocolate mousse topped with a micro-scoop of ice-cream and a praline wafer.
I did have high hopes for the Maze Grill as I’ve enjoyed many of GR’s gastropubs and previously I’ve had an excellent meal at Maze restaurant itself but the Grill may be an opening too far for the ever-expanding empire. It’s not so much the prices, which are what you might expect in Mayfair (I’m excluding my steak here), it’s just the execution, which is a bit half-arsed, a bit timid. New York has never felt so far away.