I used to be a vegetarian. Couldn't eat so much as a haddock. Unless it was Quish, the "haddock-style" snack made from delicious soya-based textured vegetable protein. Increasingly, vegetables seemed to lack a real sense of purpose unless they were accompanied by a good helping of meat. So, after 16 years, I became a carnivore again. I was always more of a health-vegetarian than a pain-and-suffering vegetarian or a could-better-feed-world-without-wasting-resources-on-animal-flesh vegetarian, so it didn't trouble me too much.
But the more meat I ate, the more boorish and opinionated I became. Vegetarians do live longer than carnivores – but what's the point if they don't have a decent meal to look forward to? I found myself cornering vegetable eaters, and saying things like, "the West wasn't won on salad". Or "I didn't fight my way to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian". Maybe the steroids in the meat were changing my character. So I vowed to only eat organic and free-range. I didn't think it would present a problem at Sophie's Steakhouse.
As Sophie's is in a "frightfully, awfully, terribly" part of London, where the women have nothing more to worry about than thick ankles, I was unsure of the market for a traditional steakhouse. But Sophie's isn't traditional; it's a non-threatening, female-friendly sort of steakhouse – a steakhouse for sissies. So no pictures of sports heroes hanging on the wall. Not that I would have been able to see, uncomfortably wedged as I was behind a pillar. At Wimbledon – or the Royal Opera – they give discounts for this sort of thing.
My partner for the evening was Bill. Now Bill knows that the only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, and drink what you don't like. So he doesn't bother – and does what the hell he likes. As we studied the menu, he kept saying things like, "Red meat is not bad for you. Blue-green meat – now that's bad for you." Once he had worked his way through the platter of complimentary salami, he ordered up a Black Angus burger with crispy back bacon and Emmenthal, and a side order of thick-cut chips.
I, however, could not win over my subconscious. I had, after all, been doing my homework. Aside from all the growth promoters, a 14oz T-bone has 1,236 calories, 93g of fat, and 268mg of cholesterol. Sirloin is a bit kinder. Which is what I would have ordered, had I not decided to stick to organic and free-range. So I ordered a chicken. Which had lived a nice life before it was slow-roasted in a rotisserie with tarragon and thyme. And then put to rest next to red-skinned mashed potato.
But still I wanted steak. On the journey to Sophie's I had been remembering a Texas steakhouse that offers a 48oz steak. Quality unspecified. And a place that offers the better part of a side of beef for free. The catch is that the punter has to eat the entire meal – not just the meat. The biggest steak at Sophie's was a 10oz ribeye, or a 10oz contre filet (sirloin), the serious steak eater's cut of choice.
All I could do was look round the room in envy. By craning my neck round the bloody pillar. My choice – like my view – was severely restricted.
The staff at Sophie's were badly overworked. So badly overworked that the couple next to me complained of a 40-minute waiting time. But the high-protein, low-carbohydrate Atkins diet craze, coupled with government reassurance about mad cow disease, means that steak is very voguish at the moment. Which is why every table was taken. I think it goes even deeper than that. When the caveman beat something over the head and dragged it back to the cave, it wasn't sushi. Or Quish. Or a chicken, actually, unless the caveman was inordinately small.
Dinner was worth waiting for. The chicken came with just the right ratio of mash to meat, and left me with buttery lips. Bill's burger was deemed "magnificent". And Bill has been to America, so he knows about these things. But a quick advisory about cooking categories. "Medium" used to mean no pink visible, but at Sophie's, it would be "well done". Be specific about your requirements. If you can actually track down a waitress to be specific with. And she can find you again, hiding behind the pillar. See how cranky I am now? Maybe it's got nothing to do with the steroids.
Sophie's Steakhouse and Bar, 311-313 Fulham Road, London SW10 (020-7352 0088). You can e-mail Richard Johnson at email@example.com. .Reuse content