By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
Flat Iron, Burger & Lobster, Patty & Bun, Suvlaki, Chick ‘n’ Sours, Bao, Top Dog, and MEATliquor. These are just a few of the less than imaginatively titled restaurants to have opened in London over the past few years, leaving little to the imagination when guessing what each respective menu may offer. Limited menus that are practically plastered in full above the doors of these restaurants have become such a big trend on the London eating out scene that it’s a great surprise that there’s not a ‘Bangers & Mash’ or ‘Steak & Chips’ on every Soho street corner. Well, let’s give it another year or two shall we? And following a slew of new openings that have already opened this year, one of the latest to join the ranks of the aforementioned is Beef & Brew, located in Kentish Town – having taken over the former site of Pane Vino. And having opened just two months ago, this is the ideal time for London’s foodie elite to visit, just in time to catch the hype, but when the majority of teething problems should have been ironed out.
To state the obvious, there’s a strong focus on beef at this restaurant, and the humble cafeteria-like setting is slightly reminiscent of an aged Butcher’s or Pie & Mash shop, except there’s a bar instead of a counter. In the kitchen, head chef and co-owner Jessica Simmons having previously worked within some of Angela Hartnett’s restaurants including Murano and the Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room, and having also worked briefly in the kitchen of London Fields Brewery, that would explain the equally strong focus on beer at Beef & Brew. To begin, the extensive drinks menu features a strong number of craft beers – mostly brewed in London – as well as a house special that’s a promising start. Even the cocktail list has a focus on beer, although it’s a shame that ours were a little less than brilliant. Beef & Brew’s take on a Lagerita is well priced but the taste of tequila is far too overpowering. My Michelada on the other hand is similar to a Bloody Mary although it uses beer instead of vodka. The flavour combination is satisfactory, but having not been mixed enough – each mouthful delivers potency of one particular component at a time – and the sole hot sauce mouthful is not particularly desirable.
Fortunately the main courses are much better. The focus here – like Flat Iron – is said to be cheap, less loved cuts of steaks. Alas, two steaks are available, a cheap cut (onglet) and an expensive cut (fillet) – but in fairness they’re both very well priced at £10 and £15, respectively. Inquisitive about the quality of a £15 fillet my companion (the butcher) opted for the dish – served all piled up on a chopping board not really big enough to carry the steak, sauce and chips. The latter of which were served straight onto his lap. That’s not surprising however, given the slipperiness of the floor that embarrassingly sends me hurtling into another table on once occasion, only to be fobbed off by another waitress with a look as if to say “you’ve had one too of our cocktails, sir”. As a matter of fact, the fillet (or chateau as it’s called here) was near perfect, sliced thick and cooked medium-rare as ordered, while the thickness of the steak allows plenty of caramelisation to take place on the outside. The best dish we tried all evening, nonetheless, was certainly the Instagram-friendly French dip. A well-glazed brioche finger bun was packed with melt-in-the-mouth beef cheek as well as an inspired slice of beer infused cheese that uses Schiehallion – a pilsner brewed by Harviestoun. All of this is topped off with a tacky, yet loveable, ceramic cow-shaped creamer that’s filled with outstandingly rich beef gravy. The overall plate is one of the finest things I’ve eaten in quite some time.
It’s not only beef that’s on the menu here, however, there’s also some fried chicken and vegetarian options that include cheese on toast with chilli jam, a beetroot salad. Then there’s the sides, chips – once speedily replenished – were chunky and salt baked, boasting a crispy exterior while the inside is fluffy and well executed. Gnocchi ‘n’ cheese – a refreshing break from the unadorned macaroni cheese that’s almost always on offer at any steak restaurant was very good, indeed, smothered in rich melted cheese and jalapeños to add another flavour dimension to the dish. The broccoli side was also refreshing, sliced and charred juxtaposed to what we’re all used to. Alas, green salad on the other hand was the least exciting of the four; comprising a dish of leaves scattered with walnuts, which – like Madonna – was chiefly over-seasoned and under-dressed.
Also following the limited menu theme that’s become so popular, the menu offers just two desserts. Malt ice cream Affogato was served as a shot of cold espresso with a floating scoop of ice cream – not unpleasant but succinctly bitter, while the ‘Brewers mess’ was far more exciting, comprising decadent treats of chocolate brownie, salted caramel and chocolate sauce. A rich, delicious trio of complimenting flavours, albeit steeply priced at £5 considering the size of the small glass used in place of a dish. There’s a lot of promise shown at Beef & Brew, the beers are good, the mains are better, but the sometimes-irritable service is a bit of a let down. If only they can manage to overcome what are hopefully still just teething problems.
Beef & Brew can be found at 323 Kentish Town Rd, London, NW5 2TJ.