CATTLE GRID: LOAD OF BULLOCKS
Is there anything more depressing than eating alone in a fast food restaurant ?
Well there are a couple of things that spring to mind. Eating in a fast food restaurant à deux "after the love has gone" is a pretty miserable experience. There was also that time when a co-worker at the adjoining urinal said “the porcelain’s a bit cold today” and I had no idea what he was talking about.
I'm not just talking about Mickey D-type depressing, either. The new wave of Burger joints (Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Hamburger Union and their like) all have that same pervading air of quiet desperation. It's eating as a form of penance rather than joy.
I must have been a very, very bad boy then - in some past life or even this one – to find myself in a poky new fast food joint, lighting set to miserable, eating Steak (alone again, naturally) in London’s fashionable Soho.
Cattle Grid W1 is the new offshoot of a chain that has branches located in those centres of gastronomic excellence Balham and (just shoot me now) Windsor. The concept – well, there just has to be one – is all about selling Steaks as fast food. This despite the fact that good STEAK IS NOT AND NEVER WILL BE FAST FOOD.
There’s the usual mission statement drivel about the whys and wherefores of the operation but all you need to know is that you first secure your table, then go up to the counter and order. Then you have to pay. Before you’ve even eaten. Which in itself is bad enough but then you have the card machine prompting you to leave a tip. Now I may be a bit dim but even I think it’s a bit rum to ask for a service charge before I’ve had any service. Or food.
There’s no starters or nibbles so once you’ve ordered you go back to your table and sit there, twiddling your thumbs until your food arrives. The Steak, when it turned up (brought to the table, thank goodnes) was well-cooked, rare as requested, but failed to live up to all the meaningless guff on the menu (“..best naturally reared…”, “British”). I’m just relieved they didn’t go on about “seasonal” or “local”. It tasted bereft of decent ageing and was a bit on the tough side (I really must get myself some new dentures). So far, so average. Its quality however, towered above the side dishes.
Chips, lazily made with skin-on potatoes, were not cooked to order and were tepid and unappetising. From their name I was expecting Onion Strings to be fine tendrils of allium in a tempura-like batter. What actually came was a bowl of sliced onion rings that had been smothered in batter and dumped into a fryer full of underheated oil. Really one of the nastiest things I’ve put in my mouth this year. Just beaten by…
…the foulest Béarnaise sauce I’ve ever had. And if you doubt the finely calibrated taste buds of Dos Hermanos then just look at the photo. Go on, just look at it.
There was no respite with the drinks either with an overpriced glass of rough New World Red doing a good job at removing the enamel on my teeth and a Kiwi Ale so insipid it made me think that beer should be left to the Master Brewers of Northern Europe and everybody else should stick to what they’re best at making: pissy lagers.
Despite the fact CG are cutting the overhead of waiting staff the prices still look pretty high to me for an express dining concept. My bone-in Sirloin was £16 and with all the other bits and bobs the bill was pushing £30 which will get you a much better Steak and Chips in a proper restaurant like Goodman or Quo Vadis which are only minutes away. I really can’t see the concept appealing to anyone bar the young and impressionable or the tin-mouthed in search of novelty. That’ll be most of Soho then.
As I believe HS once wrote, you can sometimes spend several hundred words wittering on about a place when it would be a lot quicker and more to the point to post a photo. In this case, you lucky people, you get both. I draw your attention to exhibit Number 10.