IN these environmentally conscious, economically straightened times, a thick, oozing slab of gourmet steak is surely the last thing on the minds of diners when eating out.
Not so – at least not in Edinburgh. The Capital is going gaga for red meat, and it isn’t only square-jawed Desperate Dan look-alikes leading the charge.
Thursday saw the official launch of Steak Edinburgh at No 12 Picardy Place, with Jason Wright – fresh from plaudits as chef at George IV Bridge’s much-praised, seafood-centred Ondine restaurant – at the helm.
Offering shared dishes across its menu and tableside carving, Steak Edinburgh promises “a new concept” in dining out as well as the perfect steak – and it isn’t alone.
The last few years have seen a spate of steak-themed openings in Edinburgh, from Kyloe restaurant at the recently revamped Rutland Hotel to McKirdy’s Steakhouse in Morrison Street, which draws on local butchery expertise dating back to 1895.
The Edinburgh School of Food and Wine is also getting a piece of the beef action, with its February 23 masterclass devoted to all things steak.
Far from being a luxury, high-end food item that most would imagine is firmly off the menu in today’s recession-hit dining-out scene, steak is, says Jason, fully in tune with a “back to basics” approach among customers.
“I believe people are getting back to their animal roots. Steak is a nutritious product that, if done well, fires so many senses and it’s so versatile,” he says.
“The varieties of beef we serve – Black Isle, Limousin and Aberdeen Angus – are all locally sourced. I could even tell you the individual names of the farmers who provide us with our Black Isle.
“Steak is certainly an element in the dining out scene that’s been forgotten for a long time. People are looking for a simpler, more basic eating out option, particularly if they are going out
during the week. Red meat is ticking all the right boxes just now.
“It’s becoming more accessible and affordable. You only have to go to supermarkets now to see that, with steak a much more widely available product to buy and prepare at home.”
The notion that steak should be a product accessible to everyone is shared by Rutland Hotel manager Murray Ward, currently overseeing the hotel’s Kyloe steakhouse.
“Edinburgh is now catching up with other places in Scotland and the rest of the UK on the steak front,” he says in a comment running counter to the view that Edinburgh is the testing ground for everything new and cutting edge in the foodie world.
“When we were planning our venture, the first thing we had to do was go beyond Edinburgh – to places like London and also Glasgow – to see why it is steak restaurants are doing so well.”
“I think it shows that steak has a broad, populist appeal that Edinburgh, maybe because of its fine-dining reputation, has been slower to pick up on.”
However, innovation on all fronts is still essential. “Presentation will be crucial at Steak Edinburgh (left),” says Jason. “We’re bringing everything bang up to date. I’ve got rid of your basic tomato and mushroom garnish that you tended to get with just about every steak. I’ve made my own, homemade tomato and brown sauces and a selection of specially produced mustards for every table.
“The girls will be able to get their dainty starters that won’t fill them up. We’re also doing plate sharing from starters right through to desserts. This place is about bringing people together.”
Taking steak’s image beyond its traditionally macho associations is also key to Kyloe’s approach.
“We believe a good steak restaurant is about not taking yourself too seriously,” says Murray. “I like to think that when you come to our restaurant, you’re coming to something accessible.
“We have a young, friendly management and kitchen team, and we’re getting lots of groups of women and children at the moment. On any given weeknight, I can honestly say it’s 50-50 in terms of male-female clientele.”
Steve Brown, a chef and tutor at the Edinburgh School of Food and Wine, says: “I think, fundamentally, that when people go out to eat, they want something they can rely on. Steak is certainly something that you can trust and rely on – for taste and quality.
“And, no matter what your preference, whether you like tender or tough, there’s a bit of beef for everybody.”