Monday, 19 November 2012

MASH, Soho

It's been a protein based week in our house. First we had the delights of Hawksmoor Air Street, and now MASH, a new Danish steak-focused import situated on Brewer street. (Between us the myself and the Ewing have dispatched well over two kilograms of the finest cow, and while potentially that could be seen as a 'healthy' thing - think Dukan, Atkins et al - there also seems to have been a fair amount of carbs slipping on to our plates, too....) So, could our Scandinavian steak live up to expectations.

The dining area is all big leather booths and low lights, with a 'clubby' sort of feel where you half expect to look over and see Patrick Bateman handing out bone coloured business cards to suits with slicked-back hair. Standing for Modern American Steakhouse, MASH is reminiscent of several steakhouses I have visited across the pond, so in that sense they seem to be doing exactly what it says on the tin. With the sharply dressed waiters, in their starched white shirts and bow ties, it all feels rather elegant. But luckily not too imposing for a committed scruff like me.

The first thing that hits you, after checking in your coats and descending the stairs, is just how vast this subterranean space is. In its previous incarnation it hosted Marco Pierre White's sinking ship, Titanic, and they have chosen to retain many of the original art deco features. Looking beyond the cocktail bar that dominates the entrance, I was captivated by the two glass cabinets full of meat that create a bovine barrier between the bar area and the restaurant. I only got to briefly glimpse into them as we were lead to our table, so I was pretty excited to get a closer look when our waiter offered to take us over and run through the different cuts with us.

Steaks here span the globe, with British beef notably absent from the roll call. They offer four different types; Uruguayan Hereford beef; American beef, hormone free and corn-fed from Omaha, Nebraska; Australian Kobe-style beef (£50 for 200g); and the the feather in their cap; Danish beef, dry aged on the bone for up to 70 days. The menu doesn't specify what the Danish cattle have been fed on, our waiter said corn, but without much conviction. The beef is far darker and less marbled than the US beef, but I'm not sure whether that's to do more with diet or ageing.
Returning to our table we decided to skip starters (asparagus soup, fois gras, tartare, smoked salmon, etc, all a tenner each) to concentrate on a duo of bone in rib eyes, one from both the US and Danish cattle. The Danish waiters we spoke to - many of the staff have bought over for the launch - were very effusive in their praise for the beef from their homeland. But, sensing that we might think them biased, suggested we tmight try both to make a fair comparison.

Keeping with the quiet drama of the place they wheeled a mobile cutting station to the table, ready to carve our hunks of beef. Normally I find such spectacles pretty naff, leaving me feeling a bit awkward  when I really want to  be left alone to tuck in. Luckily the whole process was mercifully brief, and I actually enjoyed watching them being expertly carved up in front of our eyes.
I also enjoyed our bottle of Argentinian Malbec Reserva. I generally avoid talking too much about wine (probably because I don't actually know much to start with...), but this was a cracker, with a scent of red berries and warm leather. Although it was fairly hefty, at 14.5%, it made a great pairing with the meat.

Greater Omaha bone in ribeye (approx 600g) Our waiter suggested we started with this, being the milder and softer of the two steaks. The steak cut like butter, but was underseasoned (the smoked sea salt on the table perked things up no end) and a little 'greasy', as corn fed beef often is. (Giles Coren memorably called it 'mouth mulch for toothless octogenarian Floridians', and that was one of his kinder comments.) 
If you like you steak juicy and mild mannered, with the only real depth coming from the caramelised crust, then this may well be the one for you. As it was, I found it fine, but lacking in the wow factor.
Danish dry aged long bone ribeye (approx 500g). This was far more like it. The meat was a deep crimson colour and drier looking than the Omaha beef. Although still perfectly tender and juicy, the Danish beef possessed a gentle chewiness and depth of flavour that put it miles ahead of the US offering for me.

After hearing the fries at MASH were pretty poor,  I plumped for some of their eponymous potatoes to accompany my steak. Served strewn with onions and crispy bacon, these were Very Good. The Ewing wanted some macaroni cheese, and this, too, turned out to be a fine example. There were no bells and whistles, just well cooked pasta in a rich, cheesy sauce. This was the sort of version I remember eating as a kid, and the perfect carb comfort blanket.

To counteract the soporific potatoes and pasta we also ordered the fried jalapenos. A fiery mix of  simply sauteed, grassy red and green peppers and pieces of white onion. The menu did warn they were spicy, and, as I sat there choking back the tears, I realised they weren't joking.

The two steaks; Omaha at the top and Danish below. Although decent steak shouldn't need anything to make it sing, I can never resist the lure of a Bearnaise sauce (once sauce is offered with every steak ordered, with extras at £3.50 each). While MASH's version wasn't quite reaching the perfection of Hawksmoor, it was still rather fine, and the pepper gravy packed a spicy punch.

The lure of an after dinner cocktail proved too much, and we fell for the charms of a 'Lakri-licious', a poky mix of of Lakrids-infused white rum, Heering Coffee, Galliano L'Autentico, Elderflower & Chilli.

Liquorice, beloved by the Danes, remains a very polarising flavour and for many years has been something of a bĂȘte noire for me. Recently I find my palate seems to be changing, and although it still makes me wince and grimace a little, I ahave actually started to strangely enjoy it. The same can be said of this cocktail; a slightly creamy, strongly anise-scented drink, with the  fresh zest of lemon and the gentle warmth of chilli coming through at the end.

Rossini Organics provide the ice creams, and we shared the chocolate, peanut and liquorice flavours, along side a scoop of crimson raspberry sorbet. Again, I worried about the liquorice flavour dominating, but these made a surprisingly harmonious combination; the ice cream perfectly rich and smooth, the sorbet with a cutting sharpness. I can thoroughly recommend a mix of chocolate and peanut, with a raspberry chaser.
As well as the ice cream and sorbet menu they also offer a selection of sweet standards - cheesecake, pancakes, chocolate cake etc - priced the same as the starters at a, rather steep, ten pounds a pop.

The damage; as you may expect, it ain't pocket change. We visited during their two week soft launch, bagging a big 50% discount on food that bought the bill in at just over a ton. I found the steak itself, even at full price, pretty fair value. The meat is good, and there's plenty of choice to satiate all palates. It's when you start adding in the other items the bill can quickly rack up; with sides at £4.50 each and a tenner for a simple bowl of soup, or cake and ice cream, MASH remains firmly in expense account and special treat territory.
Reviews of MASH so far seem a little bit divisive, rather like their liquorice ice cream. But, despite feeling sure nowhere could steal the mantle from my beloved Hawksmoor, I really rather enjoyed my dinner here. All the things that normally leave me feeling a little cold; the attentive, smart service; highly polished surroundings; and the element of theatre that come with dining here, really made our meal.
While it may not quite yet have the wow factor to propel it to the top of London's hard fought steak steaks, MASH makes a worthy competitor to keep the best on their toes. And if you fancy a little meat treat in Soho, then you can do  far worse than their Danish rib eye with macaroni  cheese, accompanied by a glass of Malbec and all topped off with a scoop of that liquorice ice cream.

Mash on Urbanspoon

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