27 January 2012

Goodman City, London – Restaurant Review

The debate about who holds the crown of 'London's best steakhouse' rages on. However, it's clear that there are two contenders streets ahead of the others: Goodman and Hawksmoor. Admitting a preference for one or the other can be as polarising as the Coke/Pepsi, PC/Mac, Stones/Beatles debate.

Like all great dichotomies, though, which camp you fall into is quite revealing. Goodman oozes old school charm, reminding me of the classic steak houses of the US, while Hawksmoor feels younger and edgier and much more 'London.' Then there are their different philosophies on steak with Goodman opting to offer a choice of grain or grass-fed beef from different breeds, while Hawksmoor sticks to meat from one breed of grass-fed cattle.

I've tried both places, having loved Goodman's flagship outpost in Mayfair as well as enjoying a stonkingly memorable meal at Hawksmoor Seven Dials. However, I've always thought of myself as a Goodman man, preferring the variety of beef they offer as well as their slightly better accoutrements. However, following a recent visit to Goodman's second London outpost in the City, I wasn't so sure any more.

Goodman City opened in London's financial district in the summer of 2010, perfectly located to take advantage of the nearby bankers seeking (quite literally this time) their pound of flesh. The room itself is dark and moody, filled with tables of serious-looking besuited men sitting on leather banquettes. There's a faint conspiratorial whiff of deal-making in the air, which I'm sure in bygone times would have been accompanied by the whiff of mellow cigar smoke. At the front of the restaurant is a large bar area, while at the back of the room is the kitchen and a glass-walled ageing room filled with Jurassic-sized hunks of hanging meat. It is, in other words, exactly like a steakhouse should be.
Soon after we were seated a tray of beautiful uncooked steaks was proudly presented to us and it was a real struggle to choose one. However, this early promise was not to last, and pretty soon we were experiencing the first of many slip-ups from the kitchen. We'd ordered a couple of starters to share but after a while the manager came over to let us know that they'd overcooked ("murdered" was his exact word) our wagyu ribeye and were in the process of cooking a new one (yes, I know, we had ordered steak for starters to go with our main course of more steak). Without us asking, we were offered a bottle of wine on the house and no charge for the starters. A generous gesture I thought, especially as I barely noticed the delay, but then maybe I'm too used to the more relaxed pace of service in restaurants here in Norway.

When the starters finally arrived they were pretty good indeed. The 250g Australian wagyu ribeye steak (£62.50) was served medium-rare and was delicious; full of intense beefy flavour and marbled with soft creamy fat. The menu states that the wagyu is between grades 7 and 9 (the scale goes up to 12, but 9 is generally thought of as being the best) but, although still tender, I was expecting a bit more of that 'melt-in-the-mouth' feeling that is the hallmark of wagyu beef.

A second shared starter of thick slices of Frank Henderman beech-smoked salmon from Clare Island in County Mayo (£12.50) was some of the best smoked salmon I've had – wonderfully delicate with a much milder flavour than most other smoked salmon. It was served with discs of pickled beetroot and dill cream cheese and a small brioche-style piece of bread that turned out to be somewhat redundant.

The main courses arrived next but with them came more errors from the kitchen. Three out of the four steaks we ordered were cooked incorrectly, not by a small margin mind, but by quite a bit indeed. A 600g medium-well Belted Galloway ribeye (£39.50) arrived rare, while a 700g steak of the same cut (£45.50) ordered medium-rare arrived blue with a cool, jelly-like centre. My friend's 650g USDA T-bone (£40.75) that was ordered medium-rare arrived medium-well. Only my 600g Belted Galloway ribeye was cooked accurately to the requested medium. A very apologetic waitress took the three offending steaks back, leaving me to eat my steak while my friends looked on and salivated.

Essentially the two main functions of a steakhouse are to source good beef and then cook it accurately. Anyone with a bit of cash and an internet connection can do the former, but it takes skill and concentration to do the later. With just one out of the four steaks we ordered cooked accurately, clearly something had gone very wrong in the kitchen that night.
My Belted Galloway bone-in ribeye

My Belted Galloway bone-in ribeye had a nice depth of beefy mineral flavour that only dry-aged grass-fed beef gives, although it was on the tough side. Maybe it could have been rested a bit more? It did have a wonderfully smoky crust to it, no doubt the result of it being cooked on a Josper grill over fiercely hot charcoal.

A side of truffle chips were crisp on the outside and pleasingly fluffy within, while a dish of creamed spinach, made with seemingly equal quantities of spinach and cream, was deliciously decadent. A salad of tomatoes and onions was our token gesture at being healthy (it was January detox month after all). Easily the best of the sides, though, was a dish of mac & cheese, which had a wonderful truffle aroma to it. The one letdown was the béarnaise sauce, which was much too thick – disappointing, as this was one of the highlights of my meal at Goodman Mayfair.

After a while my friends' three steaks arrived along with some fresh side dishes. However, one of the steaks was still very undercooked and was sent back for another session on the grill. Third time's the charm I guess and this time the steak returned accurately cooked with a very apologetic manager who gracefully took full responsibility for the kitchen's errors, and by way of apology (again, unprompted by us) assured us that we would see no bill at the end of the night.

Desserts were fine although nothing special. The topping of my apple and raisin crumble (£6.50) was a little hard and didn't have that melting buttery softness a good crumble should have, while the apples could have been cooked a bit longer as they were still quite firm. Much better was the bottle of 2007 Pelee Island Vidal Icewine (£80) we had ordered (well the manager did say "go to town gents, it's on me" as he handed us the dessert menus), which was smooth and luxurious with concentrated flavours of stone fruits.

Sometimes a restaurant just has a bad night. Sometimes the stars align so that a catalogue of errors can befall one table. At these prices it shouldn't happen, but it does, and unfortunately it happened to my table. The real test though is in how the restaurant attempts to makes right these mistakes. And it's a test Goodman passed admirably. However, I don't think having the bill waived is ever recompense for a subpar dining experience. One goes to a restaurant with the full expectation of paying and in return you expect a good experience, part of which is the kitchen getting it right the first time.

I do think our experience was an unfortunate blip at what is otherwise a great steak restaurant. But slip-ups aside I'd say I much preferred the experience at Goodman's Mayfair branch; the food there was better executed and the atmosphere was more intimate. However, the mark of good service and a good restaurant is that Goodman City managed to snatch a somewhat Pyrrhic victory from what was shaping up to be a crushing defeat, and it is for this reason I'll definitely be back to give it another chance.

Food:            6 / 10
Service:        9 / 10
Ambiance:    7 / 10

Goodman City on Urbanspoon
Square Meal


  1. Haha, good stuff. Great when a restaurant fesses up like this. And waiving the entire bill was generous of them.

    I wonder if they had the Masterchef contestants cooking in the kitchen? ;)

  2. Oh that is a catalogue of errors, but good effort on their part to mitigate.

    That said, I would rather have the great meal I was expecting than get it (or lots of extra drinks) free as compensation for it not being great.

    My main issue with Goodman (and I've only been to the one in Maddox Street) is the noise levels. The interior design is such that any and all noise bounced back and forth across the room, wall to wall, ceiling to floor and is so loud I couldn't hear myself think. Not too much of a problem, that one, as my thoughts are seldom that exciting, but the biggest problem was not being able to hear either the staff (who had to shout when presenting their board of raw meat) or dining companions. Red raw throats at the end of the meal is fine when you've gone out for a chilli feast but not so great when visiting a steak house. That one factor alone, regardless of the decent food, is what stopped me from going back.

    PS I love Hawksmoor!

  3. I never made it to Goodman (sad face) although it does sound like your meal had a lot of drama. I have had only good experiences at Hawksmoor...

  4. Hi Nick, yes it was a bit of a balls-up, but it's a sign of good service they took full responsibility. And quite generous of them to waive the drinks bill too, as nothing was wrong with that :-)

    Hi Kavey, I agree with you completely. Getting it right the first time and having the experience you expected wins out over freebies every time. I must admit I can't remember the noise levels at Goodman Mayfair being bad, but then I went mid-week, so maybe it is less raucous then – though I hope that doesn't mean we were the loudest table there that night :-o

    Hi GC. Lots of drama indeed, but I think there was a reasonably happy ending to the story. Let's see what the sequel brings. Agree with you on Hawksmoor – all the ingredients for a great night out.