At first glance, steak and chips looks like a simple meal – after all, meat and potatoes have been a key part of the British culinary identity for centuries. But getting steak right is almost alchemical in its complexity and in the wrong hands it can be so disappointing. Even before it's cooked, steak needs a lot of tender loving care – the best spend weeks dry-ageing, intensifying their flavour and deepening their colour – followed by attention from a chef who knows exactly how to achieve the perfect level of char outside and juicy, bloody pink within. And then there are the chips, which should be salty, golden and crisp with a hot, fluffy interior. (Nobody likes a droopy French fry.)
Fortunately, you will find some of the most delicious steaks in the country around Regent Street and these are my favourites.
The first Hawksmoor steakhouse opened 10 years ago in Spitalfields, East London. Today there are six multi award-winning Hawksmoors dotted around the country. The beautiful Air Street branch splits its menu equally between beef and seafood, using British bred cattle and fish from British waters. For me, there's little better than Brixham crab on toast followed by rump steak slathered in bone-marrow gravy.
MASH, despite its American vibe, is actually a Danish company. Although the kitchen serves a range of rich, buttery cuts from the USA as well as Wagyu so tender it practically disintegrates, it is the grass-fed Danish beef which draws me back. Aged for 90 days (the norm is more like 28) the sides of beef sit in meat lockers overlooking the dining room; when cooked they are satisfyingly chewy and extraordinarily full of flavour.
Eating at Brasserie Zedel is like stepping back in time as well as crossing the channel. The big art deco dining room is always bustling, with smart waitstaff scooting back and forth with plates of celeriac remoulade, bowls of perfect fish soup and rouille, crème brûlées and îles flottantes. I'm always happy to see an onglet (hangar) steak on a menu – they have a firmer texture than other, so-called posher cuts, and pack a beefy punch. The skinny, crunchy chips are pretty close to perfect, too.
At Gaucho, the steaks come from Argentina, and the menu skillfully blends British standards (cauliflower cheese, roasted mushrooms) with Argentine favourites (chimichurri, ají molido and ají amarillo chillies). I always struggle not to over-order on the starters: fried tostadas with rabbit and peppers; ceviche with guacamole; smoked ham empanadas and Argentinian chorizo sausage…
Heddon Street Kitchen
Heddon Street Kitchen is headed up by the one and only Gordon Ramsay and the chef runs a sleek, tight ship here. The menu is stuffed with tempting options (it's hard to resist an enormous beef wellington for two), but the charcoal-grilled steaks are delicious. (Do leave room for caramelised lemon meringue pie though.)