It is currently being said in the foodie blogosphere that meat is on the march in London. Restaurants with names such as Meat Liquor and Meateasy have recently opened or acquired a modicum of fame; and the turn-of-the-century hopes of veggies everywhere, that the rest of us would forgo dead animals in aid of the planet, our stomachs and the animals themselves is yet to be fulfilled.
In fact, meat never went away; rather, the fad is for sticking this solid, authentic word into the name of establishments to signify the solidity and authenticity of the food inside. It is also presumably intended to tell vegetarians they might be better off next door, and in the case of Meat People, in Islington, north London, I imagine the pun is intended, too: come here to meet people, among like-minded people who do meat.
This is a steakhouse that does cocktails. It has a short menu; trendy, charming and young waiting staff; stylish décor; excellent beef; better mains than starters; better desserts than mains; fine fish; and superb historic and cultural pedigree. It's a Grade II-listed building that used to be called Alfredo's, before it was called S&M, for the sausage and mash chain. And it featured in Frank Roddam's 1979 film Quadrophenia, starring Phil Daniels and Leslie Ash, inspired by the album of the same name by The Who. For all these reasons, I suspect it will become a local favourite.
The pork-belly starter (£6.50) comes with a mixed-bean salad and has been "roasted slowly for five hours". That tastes like roughly four hours too many since, as is more often the case than not with pork belly, it is too dry. The seared scallops (£8) with chickpea purée and criolla sauce (made from red peppers) are serviceable only, which at that price isn't good enough. But the ox kidney (£6.50) with portobello-mushroom carpaccio is excellent and has a very intense, woodland aroma. You can also get grilled mackerel, rocket salad, and cured meat.
The mains aren't restricted to meat. There is a marvellous wild-mushroom risotto (£13), expertly cooked so that the texture is thick without being gloopy, which, with the aid of requested Parmesan shavings, might be the best thing on the menu; and the pan-fried sea bream (£13.50) with beetroot and broad beans is thoroughly worthy of its price.
But it is the giant hunks of seared, sizzling and generally uncomplicated meat that these guys pride themselves on, and with good reason.
The 225g onglet steak from Ulster is cheapest at £13, and probably worth passing over in favour of the 300g grilled rib-eye from La Pampa in Argentina. Remarkable to think: at £18.50, this is actually decent value in our inflationary capital. This fatty, greasy, but moist slab is very flavourful, and when accompanied by the béarnaise, blue cheese or chimichurri (parsley and oregano) sauces, goes down an absolute treat. There are also beef ribs – £16 for 400g and £32 for a kilo – that have all the barbecue vapours you could hope to muster in the Deep South.
All of the sides are skilfully done. The asparagus with Parmesan and soft egg (£4) is a welcome aid to digestion after all that carcinogenic beef, and the roast courgette with chilli and balsamic (£3) would serve as a fine starter, too.
It is in the nature of steakhouses to pump you with heavy desserts at the end of an exceptionally calorific meal – one reason for the mass obesity of urban America. Here is no exception, but the final courses are very good, so I would suggest that you fast for a week in preparation. The lime cheesecake with white-chocolate sauce (£5.50) is a wonderful collusion of citric acidity with smooth cocoa, and the filo-pastry tower with a berry compote and a little too much icing sugar (£4.80) is memorable.
The wine list is very reasonable, and the cocktails are simple and made to order. The décor is all tiling, lemon-yellow leather and unfussy upholstery, and has the Deco character of the 1920s. That is why the clientele here is young and romantically inclined, and gives the impression of generally being on the way up rather than the way down.
The same could be said for this restaurant, so that most of its customers will leave feeling it really is the sort of place you want to meet people.
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
Meat People 4-6 Essex Road, London N1, tel: 020 7359 5361 Lunch and dinner daily. About £150 for four, including three bottles of wine
Upstairs at the Grill 70 Watergate Street, Chester, tel: 01244 344 883
They know their steaks and agreeably priced wine at this venture, where the aim is to bring Manhattan style to the Roman city centre
52 Tanner Street, London SE1, tel: 020 7234 0676
A very authentic Argentinian, just south of Tower Bridge; highlights of the menu include fabulous meat and tasty puddings
108 Blythe Road, London W14, tel: 020 7610 4578; 277 Upper Richmond Road, London SW15, tel: 020 8788 7733
This quirky duo of west London bistros offer a simple, meat-based formula that hits the spot (with a fantastic wine list as a bonus)
Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2012' www.hardens.com