Quite possibly the most difficult restaurant in London to get into. That’s certainly the first appraisal you’d give this bijou Mayfair restaurant that’s been made GQ’s restaurant of the year, and is a firm favourite of many a well-heeled diner and reviewer alike; the late, great Mr A. A. Gill was a fan.
I have been trying sporadically to get a table for the last eighteen months or so, but it has proved impossible and, despite the online booking system, booking by phone can only be made on a Saturday and Sunday. This difficulty in obtaining a reservation of course is potentially worrying to someone like me. Is the reason it’s always booked up because its become the ‘it’ place and is now more style and name over substance? Should I finally eat there, will I be disappointed and find I’ve wasted my time, energy and, worst of all, money on the place?
But now, after finally managing to get in for dinner with a friend who was helping to organise the Shepherd Market Christmas lights party, I have my answer. The ground floor being taken up almost entirely by the small bar, diners are led down the narrow staircase that even Paula Radcliffe might find tight, let alone The Fat Controller. Running across the kitchen window it leads to a low ceiling basement and cosy burgundy dining room that seats few more than twenty. The Georgian prints of ladies, gentlemen and landscapes evoke the eighteenth-century courtesan that resided in the same building. Best of all, given the current usage of the building, are the two large, original, cast iron ovens bearing the royal coats of arms, dating back to Victoria. The staff are convivial and deftly squeeze through the tables with trays of drinks and food.
We decided to go with just the one course each (prices aren’t cheap), though we did order a few rounds of the bread and burnt onion butter to keep us going while we waited. The bread, drizzled with olive oil and charred on the grill, was the perfect way to wet the appetite. The silky smooth, light as air, whipped butter with burnt onion powder just melted into it as you laid it on in large dollops.
When it came to what to have for the main, there was but one option: the house special for two, the rib eye from a ten-year-old Galician milking cow, a dish described by A. A. Gill as having “a taste that is morbid and musty, the flavour of an oboe played in the hay barn. It’s not like your sickly, diabetic, corn-fed muscle”. Served with pink fir potatoes topped with charred onions, pickled walnuts and melted Tunworth cheese, it’s sauce is so gloriously beefy and packed with red wine that it’s as if they made it by getting the cow drunk before taking it to slaughter and then just served the cooking juices as the sauce.
A mouthful of the steak covered in the sauce reverts you to a Hobbesian state; it’s kill or be killed, as you fight your dining companion with duelling forks and parrying knives for every last sliver of this exquisite piece of bovine cooking. But we are saved from ensuing anarchy, with its brutish life and lack of arts, by the wondrous accompaniment. Don’t ask me how (I could tell you but we’d both fall into a sleep to rival that of Sleeping Beauty’s) but the combination of the potatoes, cheese, spinach, pickled walnuts and onions miraculously works together. When eaten with the beef it’s like seeing the world in Technicolor for the very first time after a lifetime of black and white. In that setting, the only thing missing from the meal was a pewter tankard to transport you back to the old Georgian beefsteak clubs.
Inevitably, of course, there is a downside to all this, and that’s the cost. The rib eye comes in at £88 for two and, at a weight of 600-700g, that’s more expensive than Hawksmoor per 100g. Mains in general are around the £30 mark with starters as high as £20. Kitty Fisher’s isn’t cheap then and, while we all enjoyed it, we found it hard to say that each dish was entirely worth it. The worst offender for this was the sirloin for one with the same accompaniments as the rib eye. This came in at £32 and was ordered by two of my fellow diners. We were all shocked when it turned up and the sirloin wasn’t a full steak, but four thinnish slices of a sirloin steak; this, by comparison, makes the £44pp for the rib eye good value. The cooking is faultless so it’s unsurprising that it costs, but the reason the costs are so high is that the small restaurant has only 30 odd covers, by my calculation, on the night. Despite this, I’d go back, if I can ever get in, but I’ll be ordering carefully and certainly trying more of the light snacks.