Steak frites – such a succinct expression for such a splendid collection of dishes: onglet aux échalotes, entrecôte au beurre maitre d’, filet au poivre, côte de boeuf, bavette, rumsteck… béarnaise, vigneronne, roquefort… served with a simple dressed green salad and a generous portion of glistening, crunchy, soft, golden pommes frites…
As an ardent francophile, I love to drive and eat my way around one of my favourite countries and can seldom resist the allure of any of these classic steak frites offerings. Indeed, the problem is often how to decide between them.
That’s not a problem I had on Steak Frites night at Racine!
The first I heard of this fabulous event was when Daniel Young launched his steakfrites competition. inviting twitterers to tweet their steakfrites love to be in with a chance of winning a place at the inaugural event. My entry was excruciatingly weak:-
@KaveyF #Steakfrites is the perfect dish for any occasion: leisurely dinner at a rustic garden table to elegant meal at top restaurant to TV dinner!
But others were quite brilliant! The runners up:-
@josordoni: #steakfrites How do I love thee?Let me count the ways. I love thy rump, thy ribs, I could not love thee better. Except with chips
@timhayward: We’re losing him. Gimme a 12oz ribeye, MR with char, stat. I’m gonna need ‘naise and fries – lots of fries. Don’t give up on me #steakfrites
@TrishDeseine: #steakfrites are like a secret lover. You don’t want them every day, but when you do, they must be perfect.
@Sened: For the two simplest reasons: A steak. And Frites. It’s all there in the title, man! #steakfrites
And the winner:-
@the_rts: #steakfrites juices flowing, meat’s searing, frites frying, smell’s inspiring, melts like butter, heart’s a flutter for steak-frites supper
Luckily for those of us who didn’t win, we were able to buy tickets to steakfrites night number 2 a few weeks later. And I psyched myself up watching the fabulous Mastering the Cuts videos featuring Henry Harris, and filmed by Brian Jones.
Our group was allocated the private dining room at the back of the restaurant, where we gathered on arrival to enjoy a welcome drink and chat to fellow guests. We were seated a while later, divided between two large tables. One tiny criticism of the evening would be the somewhat crowded nature of the seating – too many people crammed around each table meant very little elbow room, let alone space for plates, cutlery, drinks and shared serving dishes. But the settings were elegant, the atmosphere convivial and the lack of space certainly encouraged getting to know one’s neighbours!
I was delighted to be sitting with Daniel, his wife Viv, fellow food blogger Biggest Jim and Willie Lebus, with more friends further down the table. The atmosphere was convivial with much high-volume banter throughout the evening.
As is the norm at Racine, baskets of fresh white baguette, sliced were placed on the table (and regularly refilled without prompting). Alongside were foil-wrapped pats of creamy, beurre Echiré.
Before the meal, Henry gave us an introduction to the steaks we’d soon be eating, talked to us about the source and quality of the meat (all from O’Shea’s Butchers), and about the cooking methods, sauces and sides he’d be serving. Daniel then gave a brief talk about the three wines chosen to match the steaks. And then, Henry departed back to the downstairs kitchen to get cooking, leaving us salivating in expectation.
Before too long our first steak dish was served – the onglet aux exhalottes with tartine de moelle a l’ail du printemps. Onglet is part of what we call skirt steak in the UK, and what the Americans refer to as hanger steak. And, just for info, bavette d’aloyau is another part of the skirt, and bavette de flanchet is what we refer to as flank. The steak was served with little toasts of bone marrow (moelle) and spring garlic (l’ail du printemps).
The dish, though no longer very hot by the time everyone was served, was unbelievably good. I adore onglet and it’s the cut I order most often in France, but this was definitely a cut above in terms of quality and cooking. The beautiful maroon sauce was deeply flavoured, with just the right balance of shallots and I wasn’t the only one to wipe every last trace from the plate with bounteous quantities of soft white bread! And there could not have been a more perfect side than the little toasts covered in fatty bone marrow and wilted garlic. I could have eaten this dish three times over, even after the other two plates of steak to come.
As all women at both tables were served before the men, it was hard holding back from diving in until all diners had been served. I would suggest going forward, that one table is served fully, women then men if you like, and then the second table, so that there is less waiting time between first and last dish to each table. Although one of my dining companions really liked the way the steak felt and tasted once no longer hot, I would have preferred to dive into mine when it still had more heat.
Next out was the filet au poivre with aligot d’Ambert. Henry decided to roll the large fillet, from the châteaubriand end of the cut, in pepper and cook it whole before slicing into generous cuts for serving. These hefty disks were hotly piquant around the edges, where the pepper clung firm, and meltingly tender within. Served with a potato and Fourme d’Ambert (cheese) puree. The sauce itself was delightful. For me, as expected, the fillet didn’t tantalise my taste buds as much as the onglet. This is a cut that is so much about the soft texture, and for me, it just doesn’t have the wow factor flavour of other cuts. Not that I left any, of course!
The third and final dish was a hearty côte de boeuf, sauce béarnaise with pommes frites et salade. Beautifully cooked, juicy, tasty hunks of meat with a perfectly balanced béarnaise, golden fries and a refreshing green salad – the classic steak frites. And Henry definitely earned many brownie points by sending out platters with the bones, for diners to nibble!
Replete and happy, we sat back lazily in our seats as Henry ascended from the kitchens once more to talk more about the steak dishes and see which ones everyone loved best.
So which one was the winner? All were superb but the onglet won on all fronts for me – the incredible flavour and texture of the meat, the delightful shallot sauce and the absolutely marvellous marrow and garlic toast accompaniment. And, the onglet won the show of hands vote too, I think, though each of the three steaks had its champions.
We weren’t finished yet, however – dessert was still to come. Henry whetted our appetite by giving us his recipe for a Valhrona chocolate sauce. To my immense regret, I failed utterly to make any notes, a failure I am now kicking myself about!
The chocolate sauce was served piping hot in individual jugs that we could each pour over our vanilla ice-cream. It was incredible! The very essence of chocolate with the perfect balance of dark, sweet chocolate and so silky smooth too.
Coffee was still to come but a fairly long journey home, and thoughts of work the next day made me decide to call it a night.
A marvellous night for steak lovers, but one to plan into the month’s budget. Steak frites night costs £75 including wine, £55 without (the latter being what I went for).
Thank you to Daniel Young, Henry Harris and Dino J for organising this fantastic evening.
Daniel will be running more steak nights in coming months, so do keep an eye out on his website.