HIGH TIMBER: THE HEAT IS ON
Let battle commence.
I have, as I have been travelling the country, become a bit of a connoisseur of electric hand dryers. The ones I encounter at the shabby service stations, where I have to stop rather too frequently to point Percival at the porcelain, are of course rubbish with a slow stream of cool air doing little but delay you from buying an over priced hot chocolate from Costa.
In restaurants and pubs, however, the ante has very much been upped with a whole new breed of machines on show including the thus far daddy of them all, the Dyson Airblade, which leaves your mitts dry as a bone in a mere ten seconds (on show in the johns of St John, for the London centric) and without any call for that slightly comical need to push the button with your elbow to avoid touching with your wet hands.
But, the Dyson’s reign looks like it could be a short one. Now, hand dryer fans, there is the Xcelarator, a machine so powerful that it could crack the space/time continuum. A machine so powerful that my hands are still tingling some twelve hours after my last visit to the toilets of High Timber, a new South African owned steak house over looking the Thames near the Millennium Bridge. It is worth a visit just to give that a try although I suspect they will soon be forced to place a sign outside warning away the pregnant and cardio challenged.
To be fair, however, impressive as The Xcelarator was and lord help me it was impressive enough that not just a prostate the size of a grapefruit made me revisit more times than was strictly necessary, our main reason for being there was the hope that High Timber, in soft opening mode, would prove a welcome addition to London’s burgeoning steakhouse scene.
The menu is short, but shrieks of good provenance and the main events, the cow of course, is all sourced from that flat capped Cumbrian superstar farmer, Andrew Sharp who ages whole ribs for 28 days before they are butchered in house. The wine list, on the other hand, will be lengthy, given that the operation is, I think, a joint venture between one of the previous owners of Vivat Bacchus in Farringdon and Jordans, suppliers of some of the very best South African wines on offer in the U.K.
Starters are priced at £bugger me apiece and after nibbling on some slightly ordinary bread with excellent butter, we shared well presented plates of “Pulled Pork Shoulder of Middlewhite Pork” at £7.50 and “Chicken Liver and Foie Parfait” at £8
The former, a rillette by any other name, was in serious need of seasoning to bring flavour to the otherwise bland shards of meat and would also have benefited from the addition of some grilled bread to smear it on, and a few cornichons to add salty contrast.
The parfait, too lacked depth needing more of that salt stuff, but HP’s main concern was the lack of texture in the over whipped dish and the fact that the brioche crumbled to the touch like an ancient relic exposed to sunlight making the trip from plate to mouth almost impossible.
Good meat is not cheap and, although the £26/7 for our chosen cuts of rump and rib eye might make a few eyes water, it is consistent with the other worthwhile places in town. On the plus side, the steaks are served with a braised mushroom, vine tomatoes, watercress, onion rings and chips. On the downside, if you are charging top whack for your steaks, do you really need to extract another £1.50 for a small jar of sauce even if it does turn out to be one of the best béarnaise I have tried in a long time?
The steaks come served on a wooden board and both looked the part with the requested char. Both too were cooked rare as requested with only the distinct rings of colour inside suggesting that they needed to rest a little longer. It may be my preference for things aged and maggoty or the lack of fat on the rib eye, but while HP nodded in approval, I felt the steaks lacked flavour, needing perhaps another week of ageing.
Of the accompanying sides, plus points for the Chalk Valley watercress, which was delicious and peppery and for a meaty mushroom spiked with chilli. Marks off for serving tomatoes on their vine, which meant they exploded tomato water everywhere when I attempted to separate them. Ambivalence towards the bhaji style onions rings in a spicy breading and a scream of "for shame" for dreadful chips. Fat, undercooked, pale like a northerner on the first day of their holiday in Benidorm and, worst of all, with the skins still on. It still bemuses me how restaurants can do this and pass it off as a benefit. Ho hum.
Our wine was a thing of beauty and beautifully priced. Seeing the De Toren “Z” on the menu prompted me to order the Merlot based Bordeaux blend from the Den Dulk family in Stellenbosch, whose estate I was lucky enough to visit almost a year ago. Despite being a potent 14.5%, it was soft, elegant and fruity, worth every penny of the £29 being charged.
Desserts too are well priced at £5.50 and, although I have not quite figured out our waiter’s declaration that selections of sorbet and ice cream were ‘homemade but not made here” they were a suitable full stop to our meal.
With a soft opening discount of 50% from our food bill and the addition of a charge for very charming service, the bill came to £84 (nearer £120 without the discount), which brings it into line with Goodman and Hawksmoor.
It still has a way to go before it can mount a serious challenge to the two best steakhouses in London, but when it comes to hand dryers, High Timber is already in a league of its own.