The steak experience
Meat & Co
8, St George’s Road,
Tel: 2138 5000
I am not sure what came first. Was it summer or the barbecue? If the barbecue came first, then nature came up with a season to suit it. And what barbecue is complete without the trashiest of foods – the pink sausage?
As wrong as the pink sausage is, this homogenous conglomeration of bits of animal that even a butcher would not serve is the most fought over titbit at the sizzling metal grill.
There is so much water and rusk in them, that they are probably even suitable for vegetarians. They are also testament to the games our minds succumb to when faced with something that looks and smells like something else. They are the right shape for a sausage and they sizzle just like a sausage. They even smell like grilled food. So we convince ourselves that they’re a sausage and devour them.
I pushed this boundary at a barbecue last week. I had six, identical Maltese sausages grilling away and a friend asked me what they were. I pointed at the first three and confidently claimed that they were wild boar and summer truffle sausage. I pointed at the remaining three and proclaimed them lean pork belly with green apple and chive. She opted for the latter and munched away quite happily. Language is nasty to our olfactory.
This happens to us all the time at restaurants with fancy descriptions. Most of us hardly ever query why the description and the flavours don’t match. If our mind is expecting a flavour, we can probably detect it in places where it surely does not lie.
I paid a visit to Meat & Co, the restaurant that has replaced La Dolce Vita in St Julian’s.
We were met at the entrance by a young lady who asked for reservations. I feared the worst but she popped upstairs and was back down in a jiffy, happily asking us to follow her upstairs and offer a choice of indoors or terrace dining. We opted for the terrace and the views of the bay that this offers.
The place has been totally redone and a truckload of money has been spent very tastefully so that the interior looks fabulous. The dark, warm colours, the lighting, the open kitchen and the wine display blend into a welcoming and decidedly smart space. The level of detail goes beyond the décor and extends to cutlery, wine glasses and tableware that far surpass the steakhouse I was expecting.
An Italian gentleman, who looked like he was running the place, accompanied us to our table and informed us that La Dolce Vita will be back at some point, just above Meat & Co. He went on to tell us that this was not a steak house – more of a steak ‘experience’. So far, it looked much more like an experience than any steakhouse so I had to nod in agreement.
Menus are kept to a reasonable minimum, with a page of rather interesting starters that includes carpaccio and tartare. I can’t think of a better steak experience than that. Another page presents pasta and salads and makes way for an extensive selection of meats. This is where the dedication to beef becomes apparent, with Scottona, USDA, Chianina and Australian beef rubbing shoulders, as it were.
The grill also plays a warm host to various sausages, ribs and bits of chicken to keep most people happy. Why one would leave the house and order a chicken dish remains a mystery to me when I consider how easy it is to cook chicken but, as they say in Italian, a ciascuno il suo.
Scottona, also known as heifer – or a young cow that has not yet mated, sounded perfect. I can easily eat USDA and Australian beef elsewhere and have yet to trust a menu that states Chianina and serves Chianina so I wasn’t running any risks.
I settled for the Scottona T-Bone and my meat-loving better half was all for the Australian fillet. We’d share the tagliere di salumi e formaggi – a board of cured cuts from the fabulous Cinta Senese breed of pig and a selection of cheese.
As tempting as the tartare sounded, I figured I’m better off trying the Cinta Senese when I’d be having beef for main course. The menu states that their beef is dry-aged, by far the preferred method for a rich and buttery flavour.
There is no mention of the age of every cut though, so I thought I’d ask when I get to order. This proved impossible.
A young lady turned up to take our orders and, try as I might, I could not get my question across. I asked if she preferred that I speak Italian but she couldn’t speak Italian either. I gave up and just ordered the items I’d picked. It is a pity to have focused so much on the steak experience and have basic communication issues at the front of house.
Ordering wine turned out to be quite the reverse of this experience. A young man took our order and returned after a couple of minutes, apologising profusely about the fact that they’d run out of what I’d ordered.
He suggested a couple of alternatives that would match the profile of my original order and turned up with a couple of bottles for me to choose from, giving a concise and well-informed description ofeach. It’s been a while since wine was served with so much knowledge and style.
We ended up drinking a Centine by Banfi in Tuscany, easy on the tannin and bright on the nose, and that could do with being slightly chilled as our super helpful sommelier suggested. He popped back faster than I could say IGT, setting up an ice bucket next to our table.
The tagliere was all it promised to be, with cured cuts from all over the precious pig and just as many varieties of cheese. We were supplied with copious quantities of fresh bread in a brown paper bag and some excellent olive oil to go with the lot.
A little pot of honey, another full of olives and yet another with a caramelised onion marmalade helped create a wonderful tableau of intense flavours and rather interesting textures.
Next up was the steak. The fillet was a lovely cut, cooked blue as requested, and charred on the outside. The dry-aged meat retains an intense flavour and develops a well-textured bite so it doesn’t leak moisture (often mistaken for blood) onto the plate, even when its core is only slightly above room temperature.
My T-Bone was a bit of a let-down in terms of cut, with a generously untrimmed striploin side but not more than a square inch of meat on the tenderloin side. I decided it was more of an L-bone and ate my way through the striploin to leave the morsel on the other side of the bone as a finish-line treat.
The cooking temperature was great, seasoning mild and unobtrusive, and the texture as tender as is expected of a Scottona. The tenderloin was absolutely fabulous and I wondered which lucky person in the restaurant landed the rest of it.
I didn’t quite feel like dessert after the carnivorous feast so asked for the bill. By then the restaurant was packed and the bill took a while. Long enough for the person at the till to rack up a total that went just past the €100 mark.
We’d experienced all that Meat&Co had in store but somehow the experience didn’t quite add up to the bottom line on the bill. I suppose, however, that a place that looks so good, serves great cuts of meat and offers such a picturesque view must come at a premium.
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