Let us say, just to start with, that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a steakhouse. A steakhouse is a lovesome thing, God wot. This whole Salty Cracker lark started with a steakhouse, the Hussar, and it’s still a favourite haunt. A steakhouse is perfectly capable of offering a superlative experience of its kind, and should be measured not against fancy Frenchy food or nouveau whatsits, but against the Platonic steakhouse ideal, redolent of warmth, informality, substantial food, lack of pretension, a certain speedy facility in the service, and above all, superlative steak as a centrepiece, a kind of religious icon of carnivorous pleasure. Hussar does it in everything except the service. Nelson’s Eye sets new heights to the steak bar and vaults them with ease, rendering its lack of actual side-dish accomplishments moot. I personally eat steak about twice a year, but I thoroughly enjoy it – and the evil chippy trimmings – when I do. The Evil Landord defaults to the steak-ey with his choices, and it’s absolutely OK by me.
All that being said, it remains a tragic truth that the Famous Butcher’s Grill simply doesn’t deliver. It should have rung warning bells when the Evil Landlord had to undertake a mini epic quest just to track one down – the branches in the suburbs seem to have closed down in the last year or so, which does not auger a franchise in the bloom of meaty health. The remaining branch is in the Cape Town Lodge, a hotel in the CBD, and even on a Friday night with live music was not a seething locus of steak-guzzling activity.
The ambiance isn’t bad: it has a reasonable feeling of cosiness, and really quite pervable scrolly brocade designs in the wallpaper and tablecloths. I can’t think that the live music is a plus, though; it’s too small a venue for a guitar dude with the amp cranked up high, and it was frankly intrusive. (He didn’t have a bad voice and the music was recognisable 70s-90s guitar pop, but reinterpretations of Chris Rea do not aid my digestion.) It also helps to be given a small, complimentary bowl of perfectly adequate leek-and-potato soup as a welcome and a talisman against the cold of the evening, which has been a little sharp-tooth-bitey winter recently. The waiter was pleasant, attentive and willing to be amused by the usual Salty Cracker antics; the service is mostly good, and our starters arrived astonishingly quickly. The food, however: the food is … adequate. Okay, shading down into “not up to scratch” in some areas. Mostly as ordered, but in the “serviceable” category rather than even the “good”. Nothing inedible, but nothing really exciting.
I wasn’t blown away by the starter offerings, but most of the usual suspects are there; deep-fried Camembert, calamari, the standard steakhouse fare. (I was deeply amused to see that they advertise a basket-of-blitong starter as “African Sushi”). Often this sort of basic starter off a small menu is done very well at a steakhouse, but my calamari had a rather dry, crumbly breading to it, and wasn’t exciting for flavour or texture. How difficult is it to spice up a breading? Honestly. Stv and the EL had the Camembert, fairly inevitably, which seemed to be OK – sufficiently gloopy on the inside and crunchy on the outside, and Stv managed to polish off the whole thing, which is something of a testament given his tendency to shrivel up and die when overly cheesed. Jo’s Avocado Ritz was a bit odd – piles of lettuce and a seafood mayonnaise pile under which some lonely avocado bits presumably lurked. She’ll have to weigh in on how it actually tasted, but it looked like very 50s cuisine to me.
We all had steak – T-bone, rump, fillet medallions. My medallions were nicely tender, cooked in brandy with a peppercorn sauce which was rather good; the grade of meat itself was excellent, and the specified “rare” actually achieved, although to the bleu end of the spectrum rather than the medium. (And, no, this isn’t because of all the vampire tv lately: I’ve always liked my steak rare. I only have it every six months or so, but when I do I crave it bloody). The only problem was that they don’t actually sear the outside properly, which means it was a sort of grey rather than being grilled to brown; in fact, this seems to have been a feature of all the steaks for the evening, rather a travesty given the “grill” delineation. Also, I seem to have got lucky with the fillet: Jo said her rump was tough, the EL reported his “stringy around the edges”, and Stv’s T-bone wasn’t properly cooked next to the bone despite a request for “medium rare”. The side dishes were perfectly arb as well as perfectly carb – mounds of bland mashed potato, undistinguished chips, the usual butternut/creamed spinach duo in the name of vitamins. (And what’s with that? As the EL pointed out at the time, all steakhouses seem to default to those two vegetables, probably because they’re easy to produce as large vats of glop. Or because there are deep underlying signifiers which one of these fine days I shall deconstruct).
All this being the case, it’s extremely lucky the EL found four hitherto unsuspected remaining bottles of Diemersfontein Pinotage under his bed, and brought two of them along; we polished them off, and it made up for a lot. We ended up full, but curiously unsatisfied; we didn’t bother to stay for dessert.
I fear that, on the Patented SC Scale, the Famous Butcher’s Grill is not that famous. The Judge from Really Bloody Steak awards the following:
Atmosphere: 6 / 10 (pleasant enough setting, points docked for inappropriate loud music)
Staff: 8 / 10 (Cheerful, attentive, vanished a couple of times and had to be extracted with forceps by the desk person.)
Service: 7 / 10 (quick to very quick, needed some prompting for water refills and wine-opening)
Food: 6 / 10 (meh. Could have been worse.)
Value for money: 6 / 10 (really would like to see more bang for my buck)