Alongside the various food fads to have infiltrated London’s restaurant scene in recent years there has also been a renaissance for a time-honoured favourite: steak. The capital has always been home to a sprinkling of good steakhouses, but the arrival of big-hitters such as Gaucho, Hawsksmoor, Goodman and CUT has ushered in a new standard comparable with anywhere in the world.
Adding to that growing market at the tail end of last year was MASH – the first foreign outpost of the eponymous Danish chain, which counter-intuitively has nothing to do with creamed potato and is in fact an acronym for Modern American Steakhouse.
Situated in the heart of Soho, the ambiguity also intrudes on the restaurant’s aesthetics, starting with the garish bright red signage in the street level entrance acting as an unsightly clarion call for passers-by. Danish design is the explanation, but to parochial eyes it may well give the impression of the kind of middling, mid-end eatery that should generally be avoided.
A winding staircase takes you down to the lobby area which in turn leads you into the subterranean dining room and separate bar. We had heard about its size prior to our evening visit but were still left agasp as we cast our eyes around its vast confines. It is almost Vegas-esque, both in scale and appearance, all the way down to the plush red carpets, dark wood panelling, and countless mirrors and chandeliers.
The room is lent added character by an impressive Art Deco ceiling, a grateful survivor of the venue’s renovation from a nightclub called “Titanic”. Women and children first? Not when there’s steak about.
After a brisk aperitif at the bar (a shared rum and pineapple cocktail and a few devilishly salty popcorn kernels), we were shown to our table and were pleased to be seated in one of the room’s smaller red leather banquettes. Booths in London restaurants are almost exclusively reserved for groups of four or more, but in a venue this big, space is presumably not at such a premium.
Whilst the menu does offer a few non-steak dishes, there was never a chance of us wavering from our mission, leaving only two questions: which cut and of what provenance (Denmark, America and Uruguay being the options)? To help with our decision, we were shown by our friendly Danish waiter to the ageing cabinet housing the not-so-sacred cows and given a brief tutorial on what we could expect both in flavour and texture from each cut.
Keen to experience the flavours of a steak dry-aged for up to 70 days, I opted for a Danish Long Bone Ribeye cooked medium-rare, whilst my companion chose the American IBP-Prime corn-fed Bone in NY Strip cooked medium, which came with a promise of extreme tenderness. For sides we went for fries, bone marrow, haricots verts and creamy spinach.
Being a steakhouse, it would be remiss not to offer an extensive wine list and this is another box that MASH ably ticks. Several pages in, I found my favoured light bodied Merlot, hailing from California and available by the glass, whilst my companion enjoyed an elegant and fruity Pinot Noir.
Prior to the main event, we tried two starters that we felt would offer a test of the kitchen’s abilities beyond steak. I had the snails with garlic, whilst my companion sampled the Norwegian smoked salmon with potatoes and spinach.
The de-shelled snail meat had a distinctive rubbery texture that I’ve always found pleasing in a slightly childish way, whilst a garlic and onion broth added delicious piquancy.The salmon was met with equal praise, thanks to its dense and subtle flavour, whilst the sauce binding the potatoes and spinach together were described to me as “divine”. Not only were the ingredients of both dishes exceptional, but they were also served in generous portions. This would not normally raise a complaint from me, but knowing what was to come, I could not help but wince.
Our steaks arrived some 10 minutes later and we were treated to the theatre of seeing them expertly carved for ease of eating. The rich, gamey succulence of my Danish rib-eye hit me like a mallet, and I was soon in full carnivore mode, just about resisting the urge to dispense with my cutlery and devour the beast as nature intended.
My companion’s NY strip – despite being cooked medium to my initial disdain – turned out to have retained all of its stunning tenderness, and in this regards the contrast with my own cut was glaring. I asked our waiter which choice would have delivered the best balance between texture and flavour and he suggested an Uruguayan cut.
But there were no regrets, since our chosen steaks allowed us to enjoy the best of both (Old and New) worlds, and for the remainder of the meal we jumped frantically from one plate to the other, savouring their distinct qualities. Occasionally we would remember our side dishes, sitting awkwardly like the forgotten children of parents temporarily blinded by lust. The fries were good, the haricots verts excellent, the rest unremarkable.
Pleasing though they also were, desserts of cheesecake with raspberry sorbet and pancakes with nougat and vanilla ice cream would suffer a similar fate, destined to remain an afterthought in the memory of an unforgettable meal. But at a steakhouse – any steakhouse – and in particular one as good as MASH, that is really the way it should be.