Vulgarity takes many forms, and some are more tolerable than others. Wolfgang Puck, the Austrian-American who transformed popular eating habits in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, specialises in a type that is forgivable because it is honest. There is nothing worthy, ethical or sanctimonious about his latest opening, at 45 Park Lane in London's Mayfair; rather, it is unapologetically ostentatious and expensive. You visit knowing vast sums of money will change hands, and expecting to be extremely well fed. Both those things will most likely happen, so you will leave happy, which, after all, is the aim of the ritual.
Puck opened his first restaurant, Spago, in West Hollywood in 1982. It was renowned for its haute-cuisine pizzas. Three decades later, he has become probably the world's most celebrated steak chef, mainly because of the branches of The Cut he has opened in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Singapore. Now it has come to London, sitting by the Dorchester hotel.
The interior might, as some critics have suggested, resemble an airport lounge; if so, its visitors must be flying first-class. The dark-tan leather sofas, sparkling cutlery, immaculately uniformed doormen, gleaming table-lamps and marble flooring all ooze money-no-object. The main room is deep and thin, almost corridor-like, on the ground floor and adjacent to the whizzing sports cars and restored Routemaster buses of W1. On the table next to us, a posse of young executives with over-gelled hair spend 35 minutes inspecting their nails, after which David Haye, the recently retired heavyweight, turns up dressed neck to toe in black. The Cut is the sort of place where boxing champs keep their entourages waiting.
The wine list is very expensive. My friend Dominic asks the sommelier for a recommendation, and is directed to a wine that is £98. I have grown very fond of Beaujolais recently, and there is one here for £38 – almost the cheapest on the menu. Of course it is excellent, and delivered by staff who have the confidence to leave their customers well alone, which is always a relief.
On the lunch menu, the starters vary from Austrian oxtail bouillon (a broth) with chervil and bone-marrow dumplings (£9) to an Australian wagyu (a breed of cattle highly prized for its flavour) steak sashimi, with spicy radishes and Greek cress (£18). The broth is hot with the taste of iron and the chervil – a kind of delicate parsley – is ideal in accompaniment.
There is an extensive seafood selection for the mains, the most expensive of which is a sautéed Dover sole for £39. But this is my first Puck experience, so it seems insensitive to avoid the mammals on offer, most of which give the appearance of having been massaged to increase their fat quotient. For £48, there is a tasting of New York sirloin, which is, in fact, cuts of American, English and Australian steak. These are faultlessly done. There is variation in the marbling, so that with all cooked medium-rare, the English is the most succulent, while the Australian gives off the strongest aroma.
You get a sauce with your main course, and can add an extra one for £1.50. There are five to choose from – béarnaise, home-made steak sauce, Armagnac and green peppercorn, wasabi-yuzu kosho butter (concentrate on the first and last words) and creamy horseradish – each of which is mouthwatering.
The best steak I have ever eaten is not on my plate, but sitting across from me, an Australian wagyu costing £70. The first thing that strikes me is the rhombus shape; the second is the powerful, gamey aroma; and the third is the obvious tenderness as Dominic takes his knife to it. Inside is glistening, crimson flesh that appears to have led a relatively gilded life, by bovine standards, and on eating it there is a melting flavour that rebounds around the mouth as if it were a pinball.
The desserts are £9 each. There is a superb banana cream pie with chocolate sauce and banana ice-cream, though "sauce" is quite some billing, given the (delicious) brown smear on the plate. It finally renders this meal the most calorific I have had this year.
My lingering impression is that a visit to Puck's latest steak house could give you a heart attack; but if it proves fatal, at least you'll have gone out in style.
Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets
Cut at 45 Park Lane, London W1, tel: 020 7493 4545 Lunch and dinner daily. About £250 for two, including wine
The Guinea Grill
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Decked out in rustic style, this new grill-restaurant is a pleasant place, offering the best steaks for miles and a good-value lunchtime deal
Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2011' www.hardens.com