Beast is the latest (April 2014) restaurant opening from the team behind the phenomenally successful Burger and Lobster. It is tucked away in a basement in a street north of Oxford Street so obscure that the taxi driver had never heard of it, in a building that was unmarked (apparently a sign is “on the way”). The dining room feels more like some sort of Viking drinking den than a restaurant, with communal bench seating along plain wooden tables. No less than 116 diners can be seated, or at least plonked on a bench, at any one time. The seating is not going to encourage people to linger, unless anaesthetised by wine, which is perhaps the cunning plan.
The format has been a no-choice £75 menu involving steak and king crab. By the time I visisted they had relented slightly on the menu flexibility and were offering a lunch menu with a sirloin at £40 for 500g, and striped prawns at £16 for a starter; desserts were £6.50. However this is not the place to come for a cheap lunch. The high prices are explained by the quality of the produce, as we shall see.
A wine list included offerings such as Domaine Fouassier Sancerre Les Chasseignes 2012 at £46 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £13, the lovely Donnhoff Spatlese Oberhauser 2012 at £90 for a wine that retails at £32, up to grander offerings such as Didier Dagenau Pouilly Fume 2011 at £150 for a wine that will set you back £46 in a shop.
Gamberi prawns, served both raw and cooked, were of exemplary quality, the raw version in particular lovely to eat (hard to score something this simple, but certainly 15/20). These Mediterranean red prawns are the Rolls Royce of prawns, and even in the markets of Italy they come with a price to match.
Recently Japan has relaxed its export rules, so for the first time you can actually order “Japanese wagyu” on a menu outside Japan with the prospect that the description may actually be true, though this has not stopped unscrupulous restaurateurs (especially in the USA) passing off their beef as “Japanese waygu” or even ‘Kobe” for years, when no such thing was legal. This version was from Gunma prefecture, a fairly obscure area in the north-west of Kanto province known mainly for its wheat-flower dumplings and kettle rice. The beef, served both raw and grilled, was very good, not overly marbled and certainly better than the wagyu beef from Australia and the USA that is usually to be found on expensive London dinner tables. However it is not in the league of the best from Kobe or (even better) Matsusaka (16/20). We also tried some grilled beef from Nebraska by way of comparison. This was tender and carefully cooked, with initially good flavour that fell away a little after the initial impression (14/20).
King crab was from Norway and served in its shell. The crab is shipped in live, in a fairly elaborate process explained via a video on the restaurant website. This was excellent, sweet in flavour and lightly cooked, a wild crab that certainly tasted better than most (15/20). There were a few desserts on offer, and I sampled a pleasant lemon mousse, a less good chocolate mousse and decent cheesecake (13/20 average).
A typical bill if you came to dinner and shared a decent bottle of wine would be around £110 a head all in, so this is a place that seems quite clearly aimed at heavy-drinking City traders on expenses as a target audience. It is unclear to me how much this will appeal to a broader public, given the high price point. The ingredient quality is not in question, from the lovely red prawns through to the Japanese beef and king crab, but I am curious as to how many diners will be willing to shell out (sorry) this much money for a successive courses of simply cooked protein, excellent though it is. I find this very difficult to score, but if you want to try out some top ingredients and bring a large credit card then this Beast has a certain beauty.
Full disclosure: I did not receive a bill for this meal.Book