When choosing a restaurant, I try to follow one simple rule more than any other – If I can achieve the same results in my shoebox kitchen, I’ll give it a miss. This rules out many a just-alike-a-mamma-never-used-to-make pasta joint and even more Costello-cum-soup-kitchen-avocado-on-toast spots. It also rules out most steakhouses; as nipping down to Bones and Blades and firing up the balcony Webber never ever disappoints.
Yes, steak is one if the single greatest things you can put in your mouth. But I find increasing expense usually delivers diminishing returns. The bill at a high-end steak restaurant – especially those sporting a Michelin star – rarely justifies the enjoyment.
The minimum standard you expect from any restaurant that purveys slabs of cow is that it’s well cooked and flavoursome and – this should be a cause of celebration, by the way – most Hong Kong restaurants deliver this. When dining out in Hong Kong, a good steak is, dare I say it, almost ubiquitous.
So, why do people pay the extortionate prices? I, if you’ll indulge me, have a theory. It’s a theory born in California…
The Magic Castle is a one-time highest rated LA hotel on Trip Advisor. In almost every respect, it’s a run-of-the-mill, 3-star, fibreglass-fronted, probably cockroaches in your bed sort of Hollywood hotel. With one exception; it has a thing.
A thing is both easy and impossible to define, implying, as it does, both everything and nothing. In the Magic Castle’s case, the thing is a red phone. A red phone which when called, will dispatch a silver platter of ice-cold popsicles to your sun lounger.
It’s thing creates a moment of memorable magic that renders the Magic Castle utterly unique, resulting in unanimous five-star reviews.
Which brings me back to steakhouses. More than any other category of eatery, steak restaurants need a thing. Something you remember beyond a well cooked hunk of meat. Something that makes people say ‘You know… that steak restaurant with the [insert name of thing here]’.
Often a chef will create a thing of the beef itself, resulting in an alms race of cow pampering. To my mind however, it matters not if the heffer was massaged by half a dozen virgins while it gorged on Château Latour as Jack Nicholson whispers filth in it’s ear, it’s eating won’t justify the mortgage you’ll need to pay it.
You can hide a multitude of bovine sins by making a thing out of the side dishes. La Vache for example, hides very average steak with bottomless fries. While it’s bigger sister, Buenos Aires Polo Club, hides bad value with a conceptual thing.
Not to be outdone, that life-sapping, vapid, money pit of a place, Macau, takes the experiential thing to extremes. Every 30-minutes the lights of The SW Steakhouse dim, resting gamblers look-up from their phones, and a wonderful, utterly bonkers puppet cabaret springs into action. Hey presto, a thing.
Which finally, finally brings me round to the focus of this week’s review, Beefbar.
Beefbar is a Monte Carlo based chain (I’m not sure of the collective noun for Michelin-starred restaurants, so chain will have to do) of up market steak restaurants. It’s Ice House Street premises have all the trappings of ostentatiousness; marble, leather, cold lighting and colder service.
I, along with some man friends (one of whom was a stag for the evening) were ready to line our stomachs in the most opulent fashion and find out what Beefbar’s thing is.
After obligatory beers, we each started with a mini burger (again, just call it a bloody slider) and I opted for the jalapeño option. This was three bites of a wonderfully decadent, sopping wet burger, light brioche bun and a lingering kick of jalapeño mayonnaise. It had me salivating for more beef.
Beefbar has a many cuts from many breeds. People partial to cows that undergone a degree of bothering can choose from both Kobe and Wagyu. Those of us who go by size and price can choose between US and Australian Angus. I went for a 500g boneless ribeye Angus (even at $880, it was one of the cheaper cuts).
It arrived in a beautiful cast iron baking dish – a dish which I’m sure has never seen any cooking action. As someone who appreciates good kitchenware, it pained me to see the expensive enamel without glistening bloodied juice or sticky caramelised fat. I would much prefer the steak to arrive on a plate.
And how did it taste? Well, it was a bloody good steak – but at nine-hundred bucks it bloody well should be.
A host of sides were also ordered, and I remember the creamed spinach being particularly good. But, thimbles of annealed Béarnaise were no match for the fries and offered scant accompaniment to the steak.
A small copper saucepan of Robuchon-esk mash potato, laden with Comte and lacquered with a caramelised lid, was the star of the sideshow. It was smooth, sumptuous and quite divine.
The same can’t be said for our wine. We ordered two bottles of Bordeaux. The first tasted like a concoction of vinegar and port. The sommelier reluctantly replaced it, citing something strange about their method of storage as an excuse. The second left a mass of black pelleted decayed cork (not dissimilar to cockroach entrails) in our glasses. In a Michelin starred restaurant, serving wine that poor once could be excused as bad luck, serving it twice is incompetent, charging full price for it is unforgivable.
The wine left a sour taste and we ordered dessert rather reluctantly. The dessert however, were all very good. We enjoyed a light chocolate soufflé, a raspberry donut and some sort of banana and marshmallow mouse. This made-up somewhat for the wine.
It would be cruel to say that Beefbar’s thing is bad wine. It would also be too generous to say it was the mash potato. Sadly, Beefbar has no thing. It’s thingless. It’s the Lord Varys of the Hong Kong steakhouses. As such, I can happily give it a four-star review, but I unfortunately can’t recommend that you go. If you want great steak, give me an hour’s notice and I’ll fire up the Webber.
How much? $10,475 for five
Where? 2/F, Club Lusitano, 16 Ice House St, Central
Who goes? People with more money than tastebuds