THE Square Mile has never been short a decent steak.
That much was true back in the 1850s when around 220,000 head of cattle were herded into Smithfield Market every year to be slaughtered on site, sending rivulets of blood running through the surrounding streets.
And it’s true now, with London’s beef bosses recognising a hungry customer in the deep, carnivorous pockets of City execs and installing a grill on every corner; from Hawksmoor at Guildhall to Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa at London Wall and, most recently, a Fenchurch Street outpost for Soho chop joint Blacklock.
The Grill on the Market doesn’t have the new-kid-on-the-block-sheen of Blacklock, nor a big name chef like Barbecoa to make it stand out.
What it does have, is a position opposite the historic home of meat in the Square Mile, and a tagline of “solid, honest and simple proper food” that admittedly does seem more at home in a country pub at about half the price.
Nonetheless, a recent refurbishment has lured us into this five-year-old establishment with the promise of a new look, new cuts, and a hefty ‘Book of Beef’ for those who like their steak with a side of facts they can trot out at the next group dinner.
The new look is mostly macho with exposed brick, low lighting and tan leather banquet setting, but cream accents and mirrored panelling do the job of lightening things up.
As for the ‘Book of Beef’, a guide to the different cuts, aging process and drinks pairings, we don’t see hide nor hair of it, but its absence goes unnoticed thanks to the encyclopaedic knowledge of our waitress who separates the Argentinian rib eye from the Australian rump in a language a couple of part-time vegetarians can understand.
But first, the starters; a hefty selection of light seafood and more-ish meat-free dishes, with a serving of ribs cooked St Louis style thrown in for true carnivores.
A beetroot and goat’s cheese tart is too much pastry, not enough punch, but piri piri spiced calamari is the salt ’n’ pepper squid you wish for at every local pub kitchen; fresh, lightly battered and with just enough of a kick.
For the main event we opt for a tender, juicy Argentinian rib-eye and 50-day aged Galician rump, slightly tougher due to the cows being allowed to romp around the Spanish hills for longer than most, but with an unparalleled depth of flavour.
Both arrive cooked medium rare to the minute, as requested, and with the obligatory slew of sides and sauces; thick cut chips, fresh greens and a colossal serving of buttery mashed potatoes.
The menu might be big on beef, but a strong seafood selection will satisfy non-meat lovers with cumbrae oysters, Dover sole and seared tuna sashimi. There’s also a cracking list of cocktails for those that dare to depart from the wine pairings.
Try an elderflower spritz to see you through starters, followed by a slightly more lethal Cuban passion (white rum, vodka, gin and Amaretto with grenadine) for mains. The Port-ini (you can work it out) will send you home feeling warm and fuzzy, just as the meat market opens for yet another early morning’s trade.