Eating out with a kid can mean either something fast and unfulfilling – somewhere we have to refer to in our house as "Les arches d'or" to disguise our destination – or somewhere smart where the adults try to relax while the nippers get bored.
At The Palm, new London outpost of the "classic American steakhouse" chain, I thought I'd cracked it. The New York original, which I'd visited for a strip steak and fries years ago, is great – all dim lighting, comfortingly familiar dishes and a caricature-laden décor to distract youngsters.
We rock up to Pont Street's Palm ready to savour something that combines the ease of a steak joint with the sense of occasion that comes with visiting a historic landmark.
The interior is almost a facsimile of the New York original (opened in 1926 and still run by the same two families), with cartoon faces smiling down at diners – everyone from Popeye to Hugh Grant. The dark-wood panelling works, as do the crisp white tablecloths. But at 1pm last Sunday, the place was eerily quiet, and deathly cold. They seem to have that US over-air-conditioned atmosphere to a T; mercifully, our helpful waiter does offer to crank up the heat.
To the menu: a symphony of American greats. Steak is the main event, but there's lobster, crabcakes, Caesar salad and burgers too – everything a New York wannabe or expat would want. In fact, the few other occupied tables ring out with Yank accents. As wannabes, we try to cover as much ground as possible. The 10-year-old wants, as per, a burger. There's no kids' menu, which is disappointing for a family-run and angled place, but she assures me she'll eat it all up. We'll see.
The burger doesn't have a measurement, unlike the steaks. You can order an off-menu 7oz filet or sirloin, but we're hungry, and order one 10oz each, with hash browns and spinach on the side. Side orders are served "family style for two" but half orders are available... Why not make them smaller? I guess it's an American thing.
In retrospect, perhaps starters weren't a good idea. Mr M's lobster cocktail (£13) is generous, and well seasoned with chopped avocado, tomato and spring onions. My Slater Special (£11.50) consists of a crabcake the size of a tennis ball and one shrimp Bruno (no, not that one) in a little lake of mustard sauce. Even the tweenager wants seconds of that.
Inevitably, the burger is the size of a Frisbee, and half goes uneaten – but not before I have taken a bite. It's a splendid specimen, properly ground steak with a properly soft bun and, as requested, ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard on the side.
My filet is, of course, enormous. Ordered medium (and we all know how wide that category can be), it is pleasingly charred on the outside, graduating to a pink centre. No mean feat, I know from my own attempts, and I've never tried to cook a steak the size of a house brick. It doesn't taste like a brick, but filet is always the "texture over taste" cut and this is no exception. I can confirm that the sirloin is the real deal – marbled with fat and lots of flavour. The Palm "proudly serves aged USDA prime beef", which is the highest-grade meat you can get in the USA.
But, dear god, the prices. The filet is £39; the sirloin £35. And that doesn't include those side dishes, which are delicious (I even ask the chef for the secret of the hash browns, which is steaming the potatoes before frying, apparently).
We share a monolithic New York cheesecake, which is again the real deal with that microscopic hint of sourness that I love, and well worth £6.50 because it's easily enough for three.
So, no one managed the fabled "surf and turf" that is a fixture of such places – The Palm in New York sells 25,000lbs of lobster a week. But with that, we would've had to have been rolled out of the door.
The Palm has a celebrity following – Bono and Mickey Rourke can certainly afford the exorbitant steaks. Me? I'd definitely come back for a burger and fries (the house bargain at £12), but I'd rather buy a rib of organic beef that serves six for the price of a single steak at The Palm.
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets
The Palm, 1 Pont Street, London SW1, tel: 020 7201 0710. Monday, dinner only; Tuesday-Sunday, lunch and dinner. About £120 for two people, including wine and service
Second helpings: Sensational steakhouses
Linlithgow, East Lothian, tel: 01506 834 532
If you're looking for a classic red-meat experience, this celebrated inn (also famous for its wine list) is hard to beat; prices are eye-watering, though
Santa Maria del Sur
129 Queenstown Road, London SW8, tel: 020 7622 2088
Is there better steak in London? Brilliant, if very basic, this is a Battersea meat-eaters' haven
Hudson Bar & Grill
14 London Street, Bath, tel: 01225 332 323
A solid operation, in a culinary desert, this friendly and helpful pub-conversion is of particular note for its fantastic steaks (and great grills generally). A good wine list too
Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2009'Reuse content