Simon Kelner: When the bill arrives, it's still just a hunk of beef

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The Independent Online

Has anyone told the restaurateurs of London that there's a recession on, that there are strikers on the streets and that the entire global financial system is about to collapse? Austerity? Make mine a double. Hardship? Get out the white truffles.

Every week, it seems, there is a new restaurant opening in London, with ever more dizzying prices. And the current vogue seems to be high-end steak restaurants where you need a Greek-style bailout when the bill arrives. Call me a foodie Philistine if you like, but I've never really been able to get behind the movement to treat a hunk of beef like it was vintage wine. OK, I can tell the difference between a bad steak and a good one – which, let it be said, is often about the cooking more than the quality of the meat – but I can't then go up another level to the carnivorean grand cru. I make this point because a few days ago I was dining with a friend in one of these new establishments in London, and to facilitate our decision-making, the waiter brought a tray with various joints of meat wrapped in napkins.

"And this one," he said, introducing the top of the bill, "is rib-eye from Chile, absolutely melt-in-your-mouth delicious." My friend was sold, and while she knew this wasn't any old ribeye, what she didn't know was that it was, according to the menu, "100 per cent pure breed Wagyu beef from IX region of Araucania in Chile".

I'm sure that if we'd wanted to know what his brothers and sisters were called, we'd have been able to find out. Wagyu is a breed of Japanese cow that produces, according to experts, highly-prized meat of distinct flavour and intense marbling.

Anyway, let's fast-forward a little. The steak was good, but not that good. And what are you supposed to say about it? It was possible to admire the medium-rarity of it, but you couldn't really wax lyrical about the sublime skill and ingenuity of the chef. Or the marvellous compedium of flavours. It wasn't like getting your first taste, all those years ago, of Marco Pierre White's oysters and tagliatelle in champagne sauce. Or even Heston's triple-fried chips.

In the end, I'm afraid, a steak is a steak is a steak. This one was different in one respect, however. Well, we're well past the days of the £2 gallon of petrol and the £1 newspaper, and now we've arrived at the £85 steak. Yes, that's right, 85 quid! For a steak! And what's even more astonishing is that this is the going rate: there are around half a dozen restaurants in the capital charging a similar amount. And you know what: my friend complained that she'd been sold a false bill of goods. "It didn't melt in my mouth," she said. "I had to chew it."

There was only one thing for it, we agreed: they ought to be taken out and shot. Oops.