Brecher managing partner Nicky Richmond is craving comfort food as the year draws to an end, and finds some of it at the Guinea Grill.
By the end of the year, when I’m work-knackered and even more crabby than usual, I crave the warm fug of a cosy room, lots of dark wood, tartan carpet and old-fashioned waiters in formal suits. I know, shocking. The Guinea Grill ticks all those boxes. It’s a restaurant that screams OLD CHAP. They use silver-plate vegetable dishes, you know the ones, oval and slightly scratched and the vegetables are served by the waiters. So are the younger guests. I think I heard the word “madam”. I noticed two slightly older men sporting fine syrups. Never an improvement, whatever the wigmaker tells you.
The Guinea Grill is one in a long line of ale houses situated on this very site since 1423 or thereabouts, when Mayfair was just open fields and farmland. With some of the braying outside, you could be forgiven for thinking it still was, but that’s just the property industry at play.
It has been a Young’s pub since 1888. I’m not sure that they redecorated when they took over. Apparently the pub became the place to be in the 1950s, when it started serving steak to homesick Americans. There was no menu and you were given a knife and asked to place a mark on a steak, to show which bit you wanted. Sadly, no such excitement these days.
The steak is still the thing though. The Guinea prides itself on being one of the founder members of the Scotch beef club – they say that they have tried beef from other parts of Britain as well as the US and Argentina, but they are loyal to prime Scotch and I can see why.
There is no getting away from the steak. To get to the restaurant, you walk to the left hand side of the pub, through the thronging masses, where you will be greeted by a very jolly chap in a dapper green uniform. We had a little unexpected conversation about the wonder of a Uniqlo light down coat and were then ushered into the restaurant. At the entrance, a display fridge, with large slabs of meat ready for your eating pleasure, the contents of which would give a vegetarian pause.
Given the whole steak-club-history thang, it seemed rather churlish of me to order a pie, as previously planned. When faced with the reality of a 16oz bone-in rib steak, I am afraid that my pie-resolve crumbled. And B, my regular partner in crime, had already decided to order the 16oz bone-in sirloin and I couldn’t cope with the thought of dish envy.
Side orders – creamed spinach, fried onions and horseradish sauce. I saw that there was reference to a baked potato, which would take 30 minutes. What does that mean? Part-cooked and they finish it off in the oven or (heaven forbid) microwaved then cooked, or what? A beautifully baked potato is a thing of joy; crispy blackened flaking skin, dotted with sea salt, fluffy interior, drenched in butter. A microwaved, partly-baked potato finished off in an oven is an abomination. I decided not to risk it.
The steak, all 16 ounces of it, took up much of the plate. It was impressive, properly cooked, beautifully charred on the outside and a fine piece of meat. I could not fault it. Tender, tasty, cooked exactly as requested, they clearly know how to deliver up a good steak. Enormous amounts of creamed spinach –soft but not sloppy and with a dash of nutmeg. Onion medley – red, white, shallots, you name it, it was all there, fried to a lovely gooey brownness. I do so love onions. I do so wish they loved me quite as much.
We had skipped the starter, wanting to make sure that there was room for the whole of the steak, so we both felt that we could manage a little dessert. There were plenty of nanny’s nursery specials: Christmas pudding with custard, apple crumble, sticky toffee but no, we chose that non- dessert, coconut ice cream with chocolate sauce. God knows why.
The coconut ice cream was passable, tasting bought, rather than home-made. There was some chocolate sauce on it. I had been thinking a nice little pewter jug of hot chocolate sauce, in which to drown the ice cream and perhaps a bit of flaky wafer action. Disappointment arrived with a squirt of what would appear to be commercially bought sauce, which tasted just like ones we used to settle for in the 1970s, before we understood about good food and dark chocolate. A tablespoon at most. And such small portions?
And the wafer – some sort of tasteless biscuit-y gingersnap-y thing which you could happily break your teeth on. I’m sure that was home-made. I’m not sure where you would buy something quite that horrible.
The lack of care given to the dessert was in stark contrast to care taken with the rest of the meal and I wouldn’t want you to not actually go there because of a little bit of Gelato disappointment. Step back in time, loosen your belt, stick to the steak and you’ll be just fine.
Best for: Chaps. No one will bat an eyelid at your red trousers
Worst for: Hen parties