Monday, 16 March 2015
Restaurant review: Hill and Szrok, Broadway Market
There is little more irritating than standing in a busy no-reservations restaurant waiting for a table. Every second of the quoted 20 minutes passes in freeze frames. You have already looked around and noted precisely how many mouthfuls each diner has left until possible vacation. You have practically gambled on those two in the corner not ordering dessert and you’re slowly edging over. You hate *everyone*, especially that couple who have ordered that second bottle of wine. Then two people walk through the room and embrace the waiter. After a quick chat and a bit of pointing he comes over; “they were before you. Your table will be about 45 minutes”.
We thought hard about leaving. We were perched on a tiny corner of counter and had a bottle of wine on the go, but it really felt like a bit of a piss take. Sure, these people genuinely might have been here before us. But they certainly weren’t there whilst we had been waiting and the heightened delay in sitting us down didn’t seem to support this. But it was late on a Friday night and the chance of dropping in on another local table without a similar wait was slim. This was also our second visit, and having enjoyed the first we decided to hang on. But any meal that starts with wanting to throttle the waiter is never ideal.
Early drama over and for the second time in two weeks we were huddled at the beautiful marble bar marvelling at what a wonderful concept the whole place was. The tiny space was thronging with people and every one of them was having a ball. Everything was simply and beautifully designed; a simple chalkboard menu, some meat-themed art and the odd bunch of garlic hung happily among the spotless white tile and marble. Plain tumblers, water bottles and cutlery in a cup completed the humble set up. I almost forgot that during daylight hours the space serves as a butcher proper; the ‘table’ moonlighting as the central platform for the evening’s high jinx would wake up in the morning as a meat slab. But the odd, unmistakable whiff of hung meat swirling around with the glorious smell of charring steak reminded me where I was. In a kind of Hannibal Lector way it was all very appetising.
We returned with the full intention of trying out some of the supporting cast of the short, confident menu. But as good as the butterflied lamb or pork chop sounded, the temptation to again order something from the list of steaks just proved too strong. The wing rib that we had gorged and raved about on our initial visit was unbelievably good and we just had to try and repeat that experience. But of course any pair who had just ordered 800g of rump needed something to keep them going first. Down plonks a plate positively loaded with pork rillettes, bread and pickles. And these were good ones; smokey and well-seasoned, proof that those old frugal dishes are back on trend for a reason.
I’m always a mixture of inquisitive and anxious when it comes to open plan restaurants that allow diners to look into the kitchens. A kitchen that runs like a well-oiled and disciplined machine is always a joy to watch. On the flipside, I have no desire to see a chef getting a dressing down from the boss or watch a mistake being made that would normally pass by unseen and without issue in a conventional ‘behind closed doors’ kitchen. Here I had nothing to worry about. Throughout our two visits Alex Szrok was the definition of chilled. He even had time to control the music. It was all very old-school; just one man and a stove, and he nailed it. The rump that we ordered on our second visit was soft and crusty and massively beefy in all of the right places. It was funny to observe a huge hunk of bloody steak sat on a twee patterned platter, but in practice it worked wonders. All of those resting and pan juices puddled around in the bottom, combining with the wholegrain mustard into the most joyous dipping sauce for those pink slithers of meat. A couple of weeks on and my tastebuds can still remember fragments of that deeply satisfying, savoury flavour. In terms of quality and taste it was up there with the best that I’ve had in London, all at a far more humbling price. We didn’t need much to accompany the steak but again the simple approach came up with the goods. A bowl of well-dressed greens and fluffy rosemary potatoes was all that was needed.
We had been annoyed to start with but by this point we had been well and truly won over. In keeping with the rest of the menu, the dessert menu was kept brief. By brief I meant one option. Cheesecake. And when a cheesecake was as tasty as that, that’s all they needed to offer.
Back to the concept; a butcher by day and a restaurant by night. It was like we had been invited to a lock in, someone had found a bottle of wine in the back and the butcher had decided to cook up a few choice cuts. There was a real makeshift nature, but once we sat back and embraced this and the fact that a small team had managed to create such a beautiful, bustling room of people all tucking into seriously delicious food then we realised quite how impressive it all was.