Food #2: Steak tartare

I’ve wanted to eat steak tartare ever since Mr Bean did this:

Why it took me 17 years to get around to it is down solely to the fact that no restaurant I went to until I turned 25 actually served it.

It wasn’t a particularly big deal. I still managed to satisfy my desire for blue meat – a carpaccio at Didsbury’s The Lime Tree during my teenage years was particularly memorable. But lingering at the back of my mind was always that need to try the tartared beef that Rowan Atkinson tried so hard to hide.

(Hehehe – he put it down his pants!)

That’s why, despite being told that steak tartare is generally very bland because it’s made from beef fillet and is often served too cold, it made it on to The List.

And finally – after a lifetime of waiting – three months ago at a meal out for my dad’s birthday, I got the bugger.

Note: This is not the 'bugger' in question. It's just a random picture of steak tartare I'm using to add some colour to the post.

The Second Floor Restaurant at Harvey Nichols came highly recommended by a foodie friend of mine who once worked in the shop. It has a very pretty dining room with great views over Manchester and while you’re stood up waiting to be seated because there’s no space at the crowded bar, you can stare longingly at a £4,000 bottle of Château Pétrus 1982.*

But easily the most remarkable thing about it (because it’s a good restaurant but it’s not that good) is that it does steak tartare, which is as rare** in Manchester as a fat scally who understands that a pair of tights is not singlehandedly an adequate substitute for trousers.

If I’m honest, every starter on the menu at the Second Floor sounded better than this patty of chopped raw beef, with ginger and a langoustine. That’s not to say the steak tartare was unappealing, it was just less so than all the alternatives.

(And eating with four other people, I had the opportunity to taste a lot of the alternatives and they were all pretty damn good.)

Still, I was going to order it and nothing was going to stop me – not even the waitress explaining that there’d been a problem with the supplier and they didn’t have any langoustines in.

I was thinking earlier today about how to describe the dish; what I could compare it to in order that those who’ve never had it before can get an idea of what it’s like. It probably says a lot that the first thing that popped into my head was ‘tinned tuna’.

Steak tartare is more robust in its chewiness than John West and, needless to say, it’s much less fishy. But it’s not – at least not in the version I had at this restaurant – any more spectacular, in looks taste or texture.

It’s a total one-note food. One forkful was OK, after that I was bored. I spent most of my time eating it looking around enviously at what everyone else was having and thinking I’d made a mistake.

For a split second, I even considered hiding some in a woman’s handbag.

The thought didn’t cross my mind because I was eating some disgusting monstrosity that I wanted to throw away. It wasn’t that bad. I was simply looking for something that might help liven it up a bit. Something to stop it from being so dull.

It turned out everything I’d heard about steak tartare was true. Aside from a slight metallic taste that you get with cold, uncooked beef, it was flavourless. If you took 1,000 people, gave them all a chewy steak to eat, went around a few hours later with a toothpick to remove the bits of meat stuck in their teeth, assembled them together to make a burger and then stuck it in the fridge for a night, I doubt it’d be too dissimilar.

In short, it was another item off The List that turned out to be a colossal disappointment. I’m just glad that this time I wasn’t paying for it.

Verdict: Strong recommendation to avoid

NEXT UP: Duck foie gras


*1982 was a pretty amazing year for a lot of France’s top wine producers, including the legendary Château Pétrus. While I know I’ll never be able to afford to try wines from all the top estates (and I’ll almost certainly never have a vintage as good as the 1982), it is my ambition to sample a couple of bottles one day. Thus, The List includes the goal of tasting at least one First-Growth Bordeaux (Châteaux Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion or Mouton Rothschild) and at least one other prestige wine (Château Pétrus, Romanée-Conti, Château Cheval-Blanc etc).

I won’t start talking about Champagne or sweet wine or we’ll be here all day.

**Pun not really intended

Posted on August 19, 2011, in Foods To Try Before You Die and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Haha! Well, you had a singularly disappointing steak tartare experience. For myself, I love the texture of the raw steak but agree that it isn’t big on flavour. A steak tartare needs to have all the condiments to give it plenty of flavour: a nice lot of cornichons, capers, shallots, pepper, salt, anchovies, parsley all very finely diced into it with a good splash of worcestershire sauce and tabasco. And it has to be served with a big portion of crispy french fries.

    Find somewhere better and give it another go!

    • Thanks for the comment. I was actually fortunate enough to have steak tartare as part of a tasting menu at Northcote ( last summer and had a much better experience.

      The beef, from a dexter, was of vastly superior quality and it was cut thicker which gave it a better texture. The accompanying white radish, garden sorel and marrowbone toast were a big help as well. As you suggest, it does seem to be about the accompaniments with this dish.

      That said, I’m not sure I’m completely converted. There was a steak tartare canapé before that meal which I thought was even better, and quite significantly so. It seems to me, in my admittedly limited experience, that it’s a food which works best in small mouthfuls rather than as a whole dish.

  2. Robert Roddick

    Try the Brasserie of Terminus Nord, opposite Gare du Nord, Paris. My experience was; freshly made before my eyes; a portion was being produced every few minutes; the best that I’ve tasted without doubt.

  3. You’ve been shortchanged; it sounds as if you just had finely chopped raw beef.

    Good steak tartare takes a fair bit of time and effort to prepare – if you can, try it at either Le Caprice restaurant or at the Ritz Restaurant (both within 100yds of each other in London’s West End). It’ll cost you more to eat at the Ritz but that’s because it’s a very luxurious setting; very pleasant though and you’ll get your steak tartare prepared at the table by the manager.

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