Every Sunday I wake up, usually after a bit of a lie in, and I grab my phone and head straight to twitter. I scroll for a few minutes until I find it; Jay Rayner’s newest Guardian Observer restaurant review. And I read it eagerly, with hunger, and it’s a hunger that intensifies the more I read when the review is positive. This happened when I read Jay’s review of Neil Rankin’s restaurant Temper in Soho. I finished that review and I was starving, and desperate to try it for myself. He made it sound like a carnivore’s Mecca and I wanted to gravitate there immediately.
But with so many other restaurants on my list, and so many restaurants opening up every week and joining the list, it took a few months before I finally grabbed the chance. My friend and fellow food blogger Shona and I found ourselves with Easter Saturday free of plans and the opportunity to fill our bellies with Rankin’s highly regarded food.
I arrived first and was shown to our table, down the stairs and into the restaurant where in the centre of the room, centre stage, is the kitchen, open and hot, with burning coals, sparkling embers, billows of smoke and waves of heat. The chefs who stand on each of their stations which face out to the rest of the room each wear thick aprons with leather straps. With the fire behind them, it looks like they belong in a blacksmiths or a butchers. It’s all very masculine and theatrical.
I was shown to our table which was actually a couple of bar stools around the counter – front row seats to the show! I observed the kitchen while I waited a few minutes for Shona to arrive, and gave the menu a quick browse (I had of course checked it out several times earlier in the day!)
The menu is of course meat central, in fact unless you plan on only eating the side dishes or the desserts, there is nothing a vegetarian could enjoy on this menu. A pescatarian could enjoy a few of the taco starters but the mains would be strictly off limits. A vegan would starve.
Once Shona had arrived and we started our evening with two extremely large G&T’s (topped with nutmeg and a slice of orange) our waiter came over to explain the menu and give us his recommendations. I always think it’s interesting to see which dishes the staff consider to be the best.
The idea behind the menu is to enjoy some of the soft shell tacos to begin with, which come in threes (always awkward when you’re in a pair) – he recommended the soy-cured beef (£7) and the Pil pil prawns (£9) and they arrived a few minutes later. The taco shells which were roughly the size of a water glass circumference were fluffy and warm. We were sat in front of the taco station and watched as the chef meticulously prepared hundreds of taco dishes throughout the evening, no time for a rest before the next check came on.
Both the beef soy and the prawns came in a pot and self assembly was required (what’s a Bank Holiday without a bit of DIY?) We began to load our tacos with each of the fillings and between the two, the beef was far superior with a beautifully warm heat that was balanced by a squeeze of lime juice. The prawns, while delicious, were inelegant within the taco and left each mouthful slightly unbalanced. We ended up cutting the third prawn in two and eating it on its own and using the remaining floury tacos to use up the remaining beef.
We lamented briefly over the remaining oil left within the pot that had hosted our prawns – so much chili infused flavour going to waste, it craved a big chuck of bread to soak it up… but then we wouldn’t have had any room for what came next.
For the mains there are four meats to choose from, all which come on top of a freshly baked flatbread. We could see those being baked in the centre island of the kitchen, above coals which glowed. 200g of meat is recommended per person, and our waiter insisted that the goat was a must order, and he also spoke extremely highly of the lamb, but with four meats to choose from (Beef £9.50, Pork £7, Lamb £7.50 and Goat £9.50) and a recommended order of 200g each, it seems like the obvious solution was to order 100g of each, which we did. Our waiter told us that was a good choice.
We also knew (thanks to Jay) to order the beef fat potatoes with Ogleshield (£5), and our waiter said that the smacked cucumber (£3.50) was also a fine choice. It all arrived together and highlighted the problem with counter top seating: not enough space for piggies like us!
We got stuck in, ordering a bottle of the “structured” Spanish Merayo red for £31 to wash it all down which was smooth and packed with spiced berry notes.
Starting with the goat it was easy to see why it was the waiter’s favourite; succulent and rich with flavour, a little bit smokey and running with juices. I wrapped mine within the flatbread which I topped with the selection of sauces we had ordered on the side (for £1 each) – the MSG ketchup was deep and sweet in that savoury way MSG is, while the green sauce made with coriander and chilli was fresh and tangy. The chipotle sour cream was there to sooth the heat of the spices. I heaped them each on to make a champion wrap of meat and powerful flavours. It was divine.
The lamb while distinctive was not too dissimilar in taste to the goat, however it had a more intense tenderness, practically melting in the mouth. I preferred this but only slightly.
The beef was pink (much like my cheeks which by this point had gotten used to the gentle roasting my body was getting from the the kitchen) and inelegant strips of fat could be seen running through chunks of the portion, but these only added to the real flavour of the meat. With each mouthful would be a cube or so of soft juicy fat and I savoured those when they came. I wondered why I so often struggle to lose weight while I pondered why fat is so delicious!
The pork which was pale and sprinkled heavily with salt was on the cooler side by the time we got to it, having gossiped extensively between each mouthful, taking our time to savour every bite, but this didn’t hinder the enjoyment of the meat. In fact, in the time it took us to get to each plate, the flavour of the meats had soaked through to the flatbreads beneath elevating their already delicious flavour. The many benefits of dining with a girlfriend who isn’t in a hurry to stuff her face!
Despite enjoying 200g of meat each alongside our tacos, we weren’t full and knew that dessert had to be given a go. Throughout the night we were positioned next to the pass and had nosily eyed up the puddings which had been sent out all evening; the two most popular puddings seemed to be the Butterscotch Kouign Amann (£6) served with Dulce De Leche Ice Cream and the Deep Dish Brigadeiro Cooking with a condensed milk custard (£5.50) so we ordered both to share.
The cookie is served in an individual pan which has glanced at an oven briefly before making its way over to our counter. As soon as our spoons delved into the pan it was clear that this was to be the most indulgent comfort dessert we had ever experienced; a cookie that had been barely baked, left on the edge of the stone oven for all of about 45 seconds giving it a hint of a crust while beneath a gooey melting pot of sugar, flour and chocolate swam beneath.
“The oven and the cookie are like two people who have matched on Bumble but never started a conversation”
For those with a sweet tooth, you’ll be in heaven. For us, the novelty wore off as our teeth began to ache, though there was no denying how exciting a dessert this is.
However for me the excitement came with the second dessert. A Kouign Amann is a pastry made of laminated dough like a croissant, and is buttery and indulgent even before a ladles worth of butterscotch is drizzled over it. It is crisp and enjoyably brittle, and with it’s many layers the butterscotch is able to dribble its way into every crack enabling the sweetness to infiltrate every bite. But it’s somehow not sickly, maybe because its direct comparison is.
The simplicity of the dish teamed with the skill of the pastry kitchen (including the making of a gorgeously smooth ice cream) is something to be in awe of and I’m not saying this lightly when I say it’s one of the best desserts I’ve ever enjoyed in London. I’d have it again in a heart beat.
I haven’t loved a first visit to a restaurant in such a long time, and I’m so thrilled that Jay’s review was spot on – I knew I was right to listen to him! Our bill was surprisingly reasonable considering how much we ate, splitting the bill straight down the middle we each paid £67 including service, wine and literally ALL the meat.
If you struggle with loud environments I’d suggest booking a table in one of the booths at the edge of the restaurant, however if you want to be part of the action and watch the meaty magic unfold, sit at the counter and embrace the sizzles and cracks from the fire, the clinks of the plates and the grunts of the chefs plating up your meals. Don’t wear too many layers and don’t hold back on ordering all the food.