What I learned whilst judging The London Steak Awards

Hawksmoor Knightsbridge
Hawksmoor Knightsbridge

Over the past four weeks I’ve been helping to judge the 2015 London Steak Awards. The competition, sponsored by Graffigna, involved the meat-loving public voting for their favourite London steak restaurant on Facebook and Twitter and a panel of judges visiting the top four to confirm just who it is that serves the best steak in London. The panel consisted of Luiz Hara, aka The London Foodie; Jon Hawkins, editor of Foodism magazine; Matthew Zorpas, aka The Gentleman Blogger, myself and an alternating guest judge.

Obviously the first thing I learned was what a jammy bastard I am to be judging the London Steak Awards. Over the past five years steak restaurants have been popping up all over London and the standard has never been higher. Here’s my take on the top four.

In fourth place: Roxie

Roxie is a small chain of four restaurants dotted around West London. It was set up 16 years ago by some South African friends who couldn’t find a decent steak house in London so decided to create their own. We visited the Putney branch, which was busy even on a Monday night, and had a comfortable, lived-in feel to it. My sirloin was fine but it lacked the depth of flavour of the other steaks we sampled. But at £14.95 it was less than half the price of most of them; Roxie offers great value for money. The wine list however was only passable, and they don’t offer corkage. 6/10.

In third place: Marco Pierre White Steak & Ale House

The grizzled Knorr-peddler may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I visited with an open mind, despite some recent unflattering interviews. This competition is about the meat, not the name above the door. And the meat is very good indeed; my 14oz ribeye (£35) was juicy and flavoursome with an intense char and real depth of flavour. Service was friendly and entertaining, and the high-ceilinged, sunken dining room is spacious and bustling (though very warm on our visit). The wine list is serviceable and not overpriced considering its City location. But most importantly, they offer some of the best steaks London has to offer. 8/10.

In second place: Mash

Mash is a capacious, polished, subterranean steak house near Piccadilly where somehow it is always night. You walk past two impressive glass-walled meat lockers and a well-stocked island bar into the main part of the restaurant, which consists of a series of comfortable red leather booths. You can select steaks by country of origin and cut; the floor staff are highly knowledgeable and helpful (as are the bartenders and sommeliers for that matter). The 90-day aged 500g Danish long-bone (£48) had an intense, though not intensely gamey, flavour; but the Australian tomahawk steak was better value at £60 per kilo (so £30 per person) and had an appetising meatiness. Sides are very good, but the wine list here really needs to be seen to be believed. It’s comprehensive without being over-long, has one of the best selections of modern US wines in London, and, surprisingly for the West End, offers very good value for money. Mash is worth visiting for the wine list alone; but coupled with the quality of the meat, Mash is one of the very best steak restaurants in London. 9/10.

The winner: Hawksmoor

But the meaty crown goes to Hawksmoor. Now with five restaurants around London and an outpost in Manchester, Hawksmoor served up one of the finest steaks I have ever eaten in the capital. I shared a 900g porterhouse (sirloin and fillet on the bone, £40.50 per person). It had a substantial char on the outside but remained perfectly medium rare inside. It was intense in flavour, with both cut giving you all you could ask for; the fillet meltingly tender, the sirloin deliciously flavoursome. And the sides were also the best of the four restaurants; the bone marrow smoky and wobbling, the triple-cooked chips actually perfect. Though they have more impressively decorated rooms (we ate at Hawksmoor Knightsbridge), it was comfortable, convivial and had good acoustics. The service was enthusiastic and precise, and our waiter could answer even my most annoying questions. On top of this, the wine list is fantastic, boasting impressive variety within a medium-sized list, plenty of mature bottles and largely very fairly priced. You can spend a grand on something to impress if you want to, but there’s plenty of good wines between the £30-40 mark. They even do £5 corkage all day on Mondays. If you haven’t been to Hawksmoor, go to Hawksmoor. 10/10.