When it comes to lavs, I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur. From Sketch’s unisex egg toilets to the immaculate powder rooms of the Ritz, it’s nice to have a bog with a bit of character.
Unfortunately, the facilities at the recently refurbished Grill at McQueen rank pretty low; somewhere below an aeroplane toilet but above the piss-drenched, blood-spattered lavatories I once briefly visited in a Camden pub, about ten minutes before getting my phone nicked. This is because, after a luscious steak and an entire bottle of red wine, nobody feels like schlepping down to a banging nightclub and having a wee whilst someone in the cubicle next to you screeches, “Carole? CAROLE?! Are you still in here? I need to borrow your lipstick!”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s a fine place to be when appropriately attired and in the right mood, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit awkward in my cashmere sweater and ankle boots, vying for sink space with girls in mesh dresses and avoiding the lady selling spritzes of Impulse body spray.
Rewind three hours. Mike and I were meeting my old friend Maxine and her new boyfriend Rich for dinner, but as out-of-towners they’d been thrown off course by the sprawling tentacles of the Old Street roundabout and were running late. We had to enter the restaurant via the bar, which had a couple of bouncers and velvet ropes set up for the crowds later on. The dining room is intimate and very leathery, with squashy sofas, big brown bucket chairs and, of course, Steve McQueen’s face, which stared down at us from various pictures and a big TV screen that had been incorporated in the decor. Even the walls were upholstered in quilted, bourbon-brown leather, which rather gave the impression that one was dining inside a giant baseball mitt.
The new McQueen has been reopened, with much fanfare, with a couple of Hawksmoor alumni, so you’d have to be mad (or a vegetarian) not to order a steak. But first there were starters – Louisiana Crab Cakes (£12.50) for me and Yakisoba BBQ Belly Pork (£9.50) for everyone else, which stole the show with its tangy red slaw, stilton and candied walnuts. The meat, slightly fatty but not slimy, like belly pork should be, collapsed with a sigh at the slightest prod from a questing fork.
Next, a round of steaks, priced 10-20% lower than their Hawksmoor counterparts and, dare I say it, just as good. Gold star for the sirloin, which was thick and pink and as juicy as a freshwater clam, though my medium-rare rib-eye was also succulent and well-cooked, with an irresistible char. Richard James, the ex-Hawksmoor chef now in charge of slinging the steaks at McQueen, has played a blinder.
Purists will shun sauce with a good steak but commoners like me like a bit of extra lubricant, especially when it tastes as divine as the undoubtedly artery-clogging Stilton Hollandaise. I was impressed with the flavour but not the price tag – £2.50 for a miniature ramekin seemed a little steep, but perhaps it was my arteries they were thinking of. Chips were fine, a little slim for my liking but we’re in nit-picking country now so I’ll leave it at that.
Steaks are hefty – there’s nothing smaller than 300g on the menu – and Max and Rich already had the meat sweats from the cumulative effect of a monster steak plus a Shake Shack at lunchtime, so we left pudding and instead had another, er, two bottles of Malbec. We did see someone on the table next to us demolishing a wedge of white chocolate cheesecake the size of a doorstop, which gave us pause for thought, but then we remembered our already creaking waistbands and stuck to the wine.
Our bill came to £153.50 on food + £121 on a LOT of drinks + service, so ~£75 each, which was reasonable considering the quality of the food and the sheer quantity of wine we drank. (Plus we were there for the last day of the 50% off soft launch, which knocked quite a bit off the total.) It’s definitely in special occasion territory for most, though I worry that the nightclub overlap may put people off. Although the ambiance is good and the kitchen staff have the chops to really make this place do well, the dining room needs its own entrance and its own lavs…and its own TripAdvisor page, lest its reputation is tarnished by one-star reviews from butthurt clubbers who got thrown out by the bouncers. But, if you don’t mind pushing through the bar on your way out, it’s a fantastic little steakhouse. (And, on the bright side, at least there’s always someone to borrow lipstick from in the loos.)
The Grill at McQueen, 55-61 Tabernacle St, London, EC2A 4AA
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.