CUT, 45 Park Lane, London W1
Saturday 17 September 2011
Everything about Wolfgang Puck is way over the top, from his Mozart-meets-Shakespeare name to the size of his Porterhouse steaks. His handsome Austrian features and camp-Schwarzenegger voice are constantly seen and heard on American TV. You can't click on
wolfgangpuck.com/restaurants without finding the great man gesticulating at you in his chef's whites. His diffusion range of Bistros and Expresses can be found in umpteen American shopping malls and airports. His fine-dining empire stretches from Beverly Hills to Washington DC to Singapore – and now London, where the fourth incarnation of CUT, his upmarket steak franchise, has just opened, his first venture in Europe.
It's very faux-elegant Mayfair: the frontage, opposite the Dorchester, is all gleaming gilt, streaming light and fawning doormen. Walk in and inspect the dining area – the swags of parachute-silk curtains, dark mahogany, cream marble flooring, cream and tan leather chairs, ceiling lights that resemble fat wire hedges fretted with fireflies, upper-level slatted louvres and glowing table lamps – and words like "glamour" and "opulence" spring to mind; though frankly, if it were 10 per cent more glamorous and opulent, it could be the dining-room of a soon-to-be-deposed Arab autocrat.
It all yells "Money!" and so does the menu. If the prices of starters make you gulp – tomato salad with anchovies, £12? Foie gras on rye with chutney, £17? – the mains could give you an aneurysm. The cheapest steak here is a petit cut 6oz filet mignon for £29. A substantial 14oz English rib-eye steak is £36, the American version £42 and the 8oz pure breed Wagyu from Chile is a mildly ludicrous £85. Your eye slides down the menu looking for alternatives – the pan-roasted poulet noire, the grilled pork chop (both £24), the lamb chops (£29) and tuna steak (£26) – but you know you've had it. The point of CUT is to eat Wolfgang's steak and pay a fortune, so you embrace your fate.
As the amuse-bouches arrived – tuna tartare, dressed with lime, ginger and soy, clamped inside tiny slices of brown toast, a kobe mini-beefburger served with cheddar, chopped onion, tomato ketchup and Bearnaise sauce; both heaven – so did the waiting staff. They were a small army of charming young things, radiating eagerness. There was a bread guy, a take-your-order chap, a water dispenser, two girls to deliver the chef's snacks, a sommelière called Vanessa, who offered us a gratis mini-tasting of reds. I was impressed by the way everyone knew every constituent of every dish; and the way our waiter Nicholas explained Angie's crab-and-lobster dish as "dressed-up prawn cocktail".
The crab and lobster, soft and creamy with a nice wallop of basil, made a beautiful circlet on a bed of solidified mayonnaise, lifted by a spicy tomato-horseradish sauce.
My scallop carpaccio was the most fabulous scallop dish I'd ever had – six slices of deliquescent silk, a scallop reinvented as a sextet of angels' tongues, drizzled with soy and a wasabi-kosho sauce, accompanied by cucumber, radish and some tiny flowers like Arctic violets.
It was impossible to fault any of it, except for the intrusive music, which blared forth a selection of 1970s and 1980s rock classics – Eagles, Bowie, Billy Joel, Blondie, Police – as if we were listening to Capital Gold FM or (eek) dining in the Hard Rock Café. Then the steaks arrived and all thought of music vanished.
In a burst of what-the-hell insouciance, I'd ordered the 16oz, 35-days-aged, USDA-prime, Kansas-reared, bone-in rib chop, a champion prizefighter among steaks. It was the size of a steamer trunk and the bone stuck out like a ladle. It had been anointed with salt, pepper and oil, grilled over hardwood and charcoal, then flashed under a 1,200F broiler for a few seconds. It was wonderfully charred outside, loose-textured and melting inside, given a final succulence by the armagnac and green peppercorn sauce I chose from a selection of eight. Angie had a "Tasting of New York Sirloin" which means you get three small steaks – from Kansas, Devon and Queensland – to compare. The wagyu from Queensland won, hands-down, not that it mattered. For a pair of carnivores, it was all sheer ambrosia. And the French fries were hand-cut with the skin partially on, perfectly herbed and salted. And the Napa Valley Duckthorn cab-sauv was a complex, savoury accompaniment.
We shared a phenomenal banana cream pie for pudding – the bananas marinated for 35 days in Tia Maria and orange juice, with butterscotch gelato – and left feeling like Mr and Mrs Greedy who, in the Roger Hargreaves book, "left the giant's table feeling very fat and very unhappy".
Mr Puck's London debut may seem, at first sight, a little too posh and pleased with itself. But this was my most memorable eating experience this year. One can only marvel at the Austrian maestro's dedication to luxury, polish and skill in so many areas at once.
CUT, 45 Park Lane, London W1 (020-7493 4545)
About £260 for two, with wine
Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"
Side Orders: Super steaks
The Mistley Thorn
The riverside eaterie serves delicious local Maldon beef – try their chargrilled rib-eye with cherry tomatoes and hand-cut fries (£15.95).
High Street, Mistley, Essex (01206 392821)
Delicious Argentine steaks are the speciality here, including a tira de ancho with chimichurri (£31.95 to share).
2a St Mary's Street, Manchester (0161 833 4333)
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This increasingly popular pub offers a range of Hereford steak, including pressed shoulder served with triple-cooked chips.
Kingham, Chipping Norton (01608 658327)
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