SCORE: 72.5/100 / CCC Rating: *** / Cost Rating: £££
Ambience: 7/10 / Wine: £24.50 Doña Paula, Argentinian Malbec 2012, 6.5/10 / Toilets: 5.5/10 / Service: 8/10 : Food (excl. steak): 14/20 / Steak: 17/20 / Menu/table quality: 7.5/10 / Value for money: 7/10
It is a cold, wet and brooding Monday night in the City of London, and winter has clearly stamped its frosty seasonal mark; perfect weather for The Cow Club Council to settle in somewhere warm and dry to feast on great steak! From the institution that is Boisdale's of Bishopsgate, seemingly trading since time immemorial, all we ask is a suitable steak...
You approach this underground bistro via a clandestine passage, which belongs distinctly to Conan-Doyle's menacing Edwardian London. Likewise the decor apparently originates from the same era; a part of the spruce 'Dorchester Collection' this is not, but the vintage tartan-trimmed theme (chairs, stairs, and skirts) speaks of a genuine original heritage, not a synthetic attempt at one, and that authenticity is palpable throughout the evening. It is what classic steak restaurants were once like prior to the Gaucho revolution - before they became sexed-up 'steakhouses' during the 'modern era of meat' - unique, charming and very blue-blooded.
Detail is rich, ranging from the crested butter sheet to the logo-embossed cutlery, not forgetting the exceptional Sabatier steak-knives (which would make short work of even pure carbon). The tables are perhaps a little small for the Council's liking, but this is because they have to be, for such a confined and cosy space. Concealed speakers stream a gentle suggestion of 1920s jazz, and soft lighting compounds the sense of warmth. There are also an array of tasteful photographs lining walls, featuring such important celebrities through the years as Mohammed Ali, Margaret Thatcher, The Queen Mother, Bridget Bardot, Sophia Loren, Michael Cane, Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, John Lennon - none of whom have eaten here, but it is a well executed gimmick nonetheless. It's a bit of a shame that it's so empty, and yes it is a Monday night, but the Council have been to steakhouses which are positively bustling on a Monday; a victim of 'novelty fatigue' which blights the city and it's ADD-suffering workers. It is however, intimate, original, genuine, and certainly feels less empty than it is.
The main event is the steak, and it's a point on which the Boisdale's website clearly prides itself. The menu is focussed, offering just 6 cuts of meat, as if to say 'why lay out redundant choices - each that we offer is excellent'. If that's what it's saying, then it's absolutely spot on. Whilst the 7oz grass-fed 20-day dry aged filet is not big enough, what it lacks in size, it reclaims in quality. For a filet, the subtle yet consistent marbling is really impressive, and affords it quite a rich texture in the mouth and an unusually intense flavour. There's even the slightest suggestion of a gunge-like texture, which sounds unspeakably horrendous, but actually tastes fantastic -
especially when accompanied by the Bordelaise sauce, which is exceptional for its depth and richness, and utterly complements the Boisdale's 'beef flavour' - though ignore the runny mushroom sauce. Also it must be declared that this is a truly great interpretation of medium rare; appropriately-charred outer, with a soft inner, and retaining all of its initial and sustained juiciness. The Sirloin is likewise beautiful. The crackling is distinguished, with excellently permeated fat leading to a high level of tenderness and flavour intensity, with again, a fabulously dispatched 'medium rare'. It would appear they have the steak component VERY well covered.
Service didn't remember who had ordered which filet or which sauce, and the restaurant proper was so empty that it was hardly a test of their ability to work at full tilt. They were nonetheless polite, engaging, attentive and helpful (though displayed no desire to help with our meat-selection). Boisdale has a guest steak on the menu, but there is in fact no guest steak tonight, which is vaguely amateur. The restrooms suffer too much urine AROUND the urinal (speaking to their not having been tended) and are cold, with a profoundly repugnant aroma: they are a reluctant afterthought rather than a comfortable part of an indulgent evening.
There's a wide range of steak sauces, but sides are small and lacking in breadth, comprising 3 potato dishes inc. chips, a spinach, vegetable and mushroom option - what of mac & cheese, fried egg, onion rings etc.?). Limited yes, but it almost saying 'please focus on our steak, which is really that good'.
Some other points of dissatisfaction grate; dessert (chocolate fondant with whiskey and orange ice cream is the standout, banoffee pie is not) constitutes a mere 4 mouthfuls at most. And of the steak, yes, quality is strong, but size is insufficient, for oftentimes, people go along to a steak restaurant expressly to have "a big juicy steak with the lads". This was not big, but it was good. The Council would rather be left wanting more of a good thing, and this left us just right.
Netting off the positives and negatives leaves an experience well worth having, and whilst there's clear scope for Boisdale's to bring their offer into the 21st century, it all works when put together; small tables, tartan chairs, and branded crockery gel appropriately in this setting, offering an elegant insight into a more civilised age of steak. This place is not really for a romantic occasion, it's for the connoisseur, and well deserving of its top-of-second-quartile status. Bravo.