No Unisex, We're British
KNOWING MY fondness for frippery and resistance to retail, I was surprised when Foodepedia’s Führer posted me to the ‘Meat & Wine Co.’. Established on the approach to Westfield, London’s latest shopping juggernaut, it represents a South African firms first stake (and steaks) in the U.K.
Initial impressions were fabulous. Entering an archway glowing like flames, I thought I was dreaming. A princess greeted me beside a wall of wine and sent me to her twin upstairs. But her less romantic backdrop of titanium knives brought me sharply to reality…
This must be London’s longest dining room, fringed floor to ceiling with 4,500 bottles. The décor of deep reds and dusky oranges evokes a South African sunset. Hundreds of candle bulbs flicker epileptically. A bank of plasmas brings the cape closer, although idealised images of flora and fauna reminded me of Soylent Green’s ‘going home’ facility. An odourless, open-plan kitchen is centre stage.
We sat on Louis Vuitton like chairs at a table so substantial that it felt distancing at first. Below, crunch-defying shoppers were magnetised by the £1.6bn. mall, size of 30 football pitches.
From a meaty menu bound in great smelling hide, I started with curled, sweetly perfumed, boerwors (‘farmers sausage’). It sat on polenta like ‘pap and sheba’, lemon infused and made from maize. A glossy tomato sauce added moisture to the lightly charred, barely fatty beast. The only distraction was the plate, shaped like a tin bin lid.
My companion refused to reach across the 48” span for a taste of my big sausage, preferring her squid, delicately fried. Considering this starter is becoming as everywhere as prawn cocktail in the 1960’s, serving it in shards rather then rings was a welcome reinvention. Locks of see-through shaved peppers and onions showed evolution and added interest, as did softly textured, perfectly savoury-sweet Nam Jim with its smoothly rising heat.
From ugly, but fluidly flattering glasses, which I recognised as an almost unbreakable brand, we sipped a cherry, toast and fly biscuit scented Cabernet from Paarl. Despite the display, the list is concise, generally populated by easy bottles. One or two costly celebrities are bait for residual expense diners.
Eschewing antelope, we bought the marketing of steaks to ‘leave home for’. Mission statements mostly mean the opposite, although our 28 days dead beef rewarded the pledge. Armed with knives like weapons and advised “not to argue”, I immediately tucked into my best of British fillet. Although a touch overdone, it was still a pleasurably chewy, part bloody cushion. My companion does not share my sangfroid of things sanguine and took her Australian rib eye “triple cooked”. It maintained good moisture retention beneath its crust. We shared sauces of slightly thin blue cheese and vodka and thrillingly throat-clearing green peppercorn. Whilst clean chips were easily pierced, onion rings were clearly outstanding. As crisp as late autumn leaves and finely floury, I imagine I could eat 100s without nausea. Portions were edible rather than epic.
The loos refuted the rule, ‘no unisex, we’re British’. A manager must realise that this is potty, because a homemade sign reinforced the architect’s warning of enforced cubicle camaraderie. Adding to the desperation, with smoked glass doors, the privys were barely private. I returned to burst the molten centre of a comforting chocolate and pistachio fondant.
An unpretentious environment, Meat & Wine’s appeal is wide. The clientele were a hotchpotch of children, couples, suits and sportswear. African diplomats sat next to us; the former Polish Prime Minister and squeeze were within a pierogi throw. My only gripes were waiters uniforms, demoralisingly flamboyant in orange and brown, and gym like music. I could also include the imminence of retail therapy/commercial hell, where I was forced to march off lunch.
Were it not for the Führer, I would never have entered. But as I glanced through panes at the latest collections, I found myself marvelling at a venue which has adroitly avoided the trappings of ‘T.G.I.’, beef-themed art and fast-chipped, mooing models…
The Meat & Wine Co. - Westfield, London. W12 7GA. T. 020 8834 4889
Nearest Tube: Shepherd's Bush