The first time I ate steak tartare was a couple of years ago. I was in Paris with a man I hadn’t known for very long and, for some inexplicable reason (perhaps that one), steak tartare seemed like an adventurous choice. When my lunch arrived, I gawped at the simplicity of it and jested that this here, one of the most popular raw meat delicacies in the western world, looked like a 1-2-3 easy as a-b-c job. Imagine 250grams of packeted minced beef courtesy of the local supermarche with a raw egg plonked on top. Well, simple or not, it was delicious but, really, I could have made that.
The second time I ordered steak tartare was last week at Jasper Gorst’s latest foodie venture in Hampstead, The Old White Bear. As is the case with most debonairly located gastropubs (a few seconds down from the North End theatre) it’s a multi-whim establishment; fine wines a’plenty, food designed for foodie palates and lighting soft enough to make it a glowing ember beckoning all those passing through to come in for something – if not just a look.
After a satisfying portion of bread and butter served on a wooden slab, I surveyed my plate of steak tartare taking time to ponder over the mini mounds surrounding the meaty centrepiece – anchovy, shallots, capers and mustard. Clearly, presentation is everything to Gorst; the dish instantly looked less of a rushed operation and more of an objet d’art. The beef, a flesh coloured scoop containing capers (maybe too many?)and shallots with half an egg shell weighted by yolk sat atop like a bauble. I could not make this. Nor would I want to.
That is what going to an edgy new restaurant is about after all. I don’t ask for much more than a cosy interior, a nod towards the 19th century, maybe some handmade English pine dressers, tables and fireplaces. And, yes, I may even doubly appreciate a floor and tables that are covered in vibrant rustic tiles imported from northern France. I was told the general vibe was ‘warm rustic’ and that’s how I found it.
The menu may cause some confusion when it comes to pigeonholing the restaurant’s cuisine. It markets itself as a European/English restaurant which would normally suggest an equal share of French and English dishes. It could be accused, however, of adopting a no stone unturned policy with the option of plates dressed in Italian and Spanish charcuterie and vegetable antipasti. Lest the word ‘accusation’ seem too attacking, I might add that for some, it’s the promise of good Italian, Spanish and French cuisine that is the very reason people flock to Hampstead for food in the first place.