Tom finds much to savour at a simple establishment that does one thing very well.
There’s a pleasing purity to The Popeseye, a small, no-frills Olympia restaurant that has quietly plied its trade for as long as I can remember. Like a Tokyo tempura shop or a Mumbai pav bhaji stall, it concentrates on one thing – in this case Scottish steak – and does it very well indeed.
You’ll find no starters or sides (save chips and basic salad), no bread, specials, garnishes or, god forbid, vegetarian options. The only sauces are the mustards and horseradish which arrive on a huge tray along with the steak. You choose your condiment, splodge it on the plate, before it’s whisked off to the next table. In fact, the only real decision that needs to be made is the size, cut and cooking of your beef. Blessed freedom, if you will, from the tyranny of choice.
Now I realise this is hardly revolutionary stuff. Angus Steakhouses have been doing it badly for years, while Hawksmoor excels. But there’s something deeply satisfying about this simply adorned, fiercely local place, with its spluttering candles, paper napkins, bovine paintings and service from what now feels like old friends. The wine list is a well-priced cracker, too.
Their beef is grass-fed, pure-breed Aberdeen Angus, hung for a minimum of 28 days and cooked, they say, without the need for oil or salt. But what really matters is the taste, sweet and gently ferrous, discreet rather than bold. It is the sort of steak you crave on a chill, grim February night, an eve sullied with half-hearted drizzle and the most vicious of winds. Tonight, I attack 20 ounces of Popeseye (a Scottish name for rump), cooked blue, with just the right amount of chew. It’s a mighty piece of meat. The ribeye has a little more fat, the sirloin a touch more refined. All wear a proper char, seared on a griddle fiercer than Satan’s ire.
Chips, fat as a trencherman’s finger, have a brittle, golden shell, and the most fluffy of interiors. They may well be the finest in London. Puddings, if there’s room, are home-made, hefty and very British. Otherwise, some well-kept cheese. It’s the sort of place where once the food is gone, you invariably order another bottle of wine. Just because, well, it feels like the right thing to do.
About £40 per head (depending on size of your appetite). The Popeseye Steakhouse, 108 Blythe Road, London W14; popeseye.com
DRINKS: Olly’s best reds for sofa sipping
Bordeaux can feel intimidating with so many blends, producers and years to consider. But choose good recent vintages such as 2015, 2016, 2018 or 2019 and your chance of a Bafta-worthy wine performance increases dramatically. Good value Bordeaux is usually tricky but strike now – there are loads on the high street. With Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot leading these smart blends, expect wines with striking presence. If it feels a bit chewy at first, decant into a jug to soften before enjoying with mature cheddar for a blockbuster night on the sofa.
FLEUR DE MOUSSAS MÉDOC 2019 (13%), £7 until 7 March, M&S. If you spot it on the wine aisle, grab it, together with a slab of cheddar. The night is yours!
CHÂTEAU D’AUZANET 2019 (12.5%), £8, Co-Op. Organic elegance from a lovely vintage with silky fruit. Tremendous value Bordeaux.
CHÂTEAU DE PANIGON 2012 (13%), £12.99, Waitrose. Rich and aged to perfection, this is sumptuous and suitably savoury to sip with your favourite cheese. Comté, anyone?
CHÂTEAU BARREYRES HAUT-MÉDOC 2018 (13%), £13, Sainsbury’s. Real-deal depth: expect a svelte red laden with excellent umami character. Impressive high-street quality.