From Wagyu beef that melts in your hand to cuts aged for 50 days, the carnivores behind M Restaurants aim to serve the best steaks in the world.
As rugby fans in draughty stadiums, sitting rooms and beer-soaked pubs around the country jostle for the best view ofthe action this afternoon, a very different six-nations showdown will be taking place at M Restaurants in London.
The squads can be glimpsed in their dressing rooms, the bespoke glass cabinets that serve as ageing chambers for the players: Argentine grass-fed rump steak beside a USDA prime rib-eye and fillet steak from Kobe’s coveted Japanese Black cattle. Each destined, along with beef from South Africa, Australia and France, to star on today’s menu.
The curator of this bovine line-up is M’s executive chef, Michael Reid. ‘I’ve spent a lot of time sourcing beef from all over the world,’ he explains. He met M’s founder, the restaurateur Martin Williams, while both were working at the Argentine restaurant chain Gaucho. The pair’s aim for the first M restaurant, which opened on Threadneedle Street in 2014, was to ‘specialise in serving the best steaks in the world’.
It’s a monster porterhouse of a claim, but Reid has assembled an impressive product list at both Threadneedle’s M Grill and latterly at M Victoria Street, which opened last December.
The humidity- and temperature-controlled aging chambers (rare pieces of kit – Reid says only a few London restaurants have them) allow all the beef to age in-house. ‘Half we do wet-aged, half dry-aged, and all over different periods of time,’ Reid enthuses. ‘The youngest pieces have eight days, which gives firmness to the meat; the oldest might hang for 50 days for a flavour that’s completely different – gamey, almost cheesy, and rich.’
Each meat locker has pride of place in the sleek, René Dekker-designed restaurants, allowing diners to ogle its contents – ribs, briskets, rumps – and have their steak cut to a preferred thickness by the on-hand butcher. ‘Steaks were just the start,’ says Reid. ‘We now make our own salami and biltong too.’
As well as the highly prized Kobe beef, which is known for its exquisite marbling and which must come from a specific strain of black Wagyu cattle raised in the southern Japanese Hyōgo prefecture, Reid has brought in Wagyu reared in Australia – he namechecks the team behind the Blackmore ranch in Alexandra, Victoria.
Stroll into M for a steak and you could pay anything from £19 for the Argentine rump to £150 for a grade-10+ Wagyu – the top grade available in the UK, which has such a high unsaturated-fat content it ‘can even melt in your hand’. Reid is close to securing his most expensive signing yet, however. ‘I’ve been trying to bring over a rare breed from the northern Gifu prefecture in Japan. They only produce grades 9+ to 10+, and 85 per cent is consumed within the province.’
Reid has been hankering after this meat ever since he tasted it on a trip to Japan a few years ago, and is hoping to get his hands on the full hind quarter in order to age it at the restaurants, whole, for between 80 and 100 days – essential to ensure a juicy, tender mouthful. Should Reid be successful, it is, he admits, ‘likely to be the most expensive steak ever’. The cheaper cuts may cost £500; finer ones could set customers back £1,000 a steak.
The Kobe and Wagyu arrive at the restaurants at dawn, under lock and key, along with yellow-fin tuna, gilthead bream and hand-dived scallops – the key components of Reid’s other specialist menu, M Raw. Sushi, sashimi, tartares and salads tap into the ‘healthy-eating movement’, he says. ‘We’ve recently been experimenting with fermentation,’ Reid tells me. He has been tinkering with a dish called ‘carrot’, featuring the vegetable after six weeks of fermentation, as well as raw, pickled, a rosti and jus from a carrot reduction, all served with a date gel and brown-butter emulsion. ‘It is a really simple dish, and something I can have fun with.’ (I believe the latter statement, but he can’t convince me of the former).
What is also really fun are the private dens each restaurant boasts, available to members only. Football tables and a small-scale cinema await behind secret doors, as do personal drinks lockers and cigar humidors. If Reid does pull off the most expensive steak ever, all the money from its sales will go to M’s three charities: the Head & Neck Cancer Foundation; Body & Soul, supporting families affected by HIV; and the School of Hard Knocks, which, through sport, helps to get young people into employment. Grand cuts for great causes.
Recipes to recreate M Restaurant at home
Crushed avocados on toast
CREDIT: JODI HINDS