When I grew up in Sri Lanka it was a largely rural, mostly vegetarian country. The peasants were vegetarian out of necessity – meat was expensive and refrigeration unavailable. A bit of dried fish was a delicacy used to flavour an unrelenting diet of rice and lentils. However, in London these days it appears that becoming a vegetarian is a rite of passage to adulthood, like puberty. I tried being a vegetarian once for an afternoon and broke out in spots. Meat is a bourgeois global reward of status and achievement. Your food pisses and shits on their food.
I was visiting a temple to carnivores – and perhaps just male ones. I can’t imagine a well brought up woman wanting to eat at a place called Beast. A beast of a bear and a young eastern european beauty with a lilting accent and first world teeth greeted us in the foyer. The bronze statue of the bear is the beast the restaurant’s named after, although confusingly bear is not on the menu. In fact there is no menu. One is fed a giant Norwegian Red King crab and a big slab of aged Nebraskan Black Angus, bookended by cheese and dessert. That’s it. It’s a posh take on surf and turf, that perennial blue collar date dish, at £75 a head (about US$ 125).
The bear in Beast is Russian. Some nice chaps from the former Soviet Union came to London and opened a bunch of restaurants celebrating the food they didn’t have as children. Beast is run by the same Russian team behind Goodman’s steak restaurant and the fast food chain Burger & Lobster (see my review here: Surf ‘n Turf, Damien Hirst and Winston Churchill’s Mother).
Stepping off the lift one is confronted by a glass fronted illuminated refrigerator holding massive cuts of beef and salt blocks. Next to it is a tank full of enormous Norwegian Red Crab, each the size of a man’s head. Open for less than a month the restaurant was mostly empty at lunch. The main room has three long tables running its length – this is a communal dining experience. Twosomes sit abreast of each other, foursomes across from each other. The candelabra adorned tables looked like they were set up for a wedding feast. Not that you would bring a date here – this is not a room for quiet conversation. This is a space for eating vast quantities of food and quaffing expensive wine (I couldn’t find much for less than £100 a bottle).
The bar serves a straightforward menu of cocktail standards – Bloody Marys, martinis, daiquiris etc – good but unexceptional. I was with the Naked Cyclist (his family members allegedly cycle naked through London). An animated discussion with the wine waiter on which wine works best with steak and crab led inevitably to us ordering a bottle of red and a bottle of white. Lunch lasted almost four hours. We started with a quarter wheel of parmesan accompanied by artichokes and pickled vegetables – one picks at this, mindful of what is to follow. Brits don’t have much fondness for US steak which tends to be corn fed and tasteless. Our rib eye was perfectly cooked, juicy and flavourful – although much of the flavour came from chargrilling. The crab was sweet, rich and plentiful. Seasonal sides included delicious heritage tomatoes, green salad and asparagus. Dessert was a double act of cheesecake and a lemon mousse. We finished with a couple of well made espresso martinis – frothy with a depth of flavour and not too much sweetness.
So what’s the verdict? This is a concept restaurant without the need for expensive chefs – denizens of the former Soviet republics probably excel at boiling water and lighting grills. The value is in the ingredients, not the cooking. Having said that, the Beast delivered on its premise. We enjoyed our meal. The service was friendly, attentive and slick. We didn’t mind the communal experience given that the restaurant was mostly empty. Would we like to share a meal with a roomful of Hoorah Henry’s and the womenfolk they attract or rent? More than most, your neighbours at the dining table at Beast will effect your eating experience. Fortunately your chances of being seated next to a vegetarian are slim.
MORE BEEF : Check out Martini Mandate’s top 5 steak restaurants in London