Abu Dhabi's new branch of The Meat Co is still working out the wrinkles.
The Meat Co: steak down
Ladies and gentlemen, in association with The Meat Co Abu Dhabi, we proudly present our main event of the evening - a three-course contest in the heavyweight division. In the red corner, grain fed for 160 days, weighing in at 300g and costing Dh240, from the United States of America, the Black Angus fillet steak. And in the blue corner, the challenger, at 400g and Dh190, all the way from South Africa, the A-Grade fillet steak. Let's get ready to ruuuuumble!
The excitement mounted as we took our main courses at this new branch of the trusted steakhouse chain. Tonight, we were here not only to judge the restaurant, but also to pit two prime cuts of rare beef against one another to decide whether it's really worth paying that little bit extra for a top-quality slab of steak. Since The Meat Co hails from South Africa, we had high hopes for their slightly cheaper home-grown offering. But as good as the A-Grade steak was, pound for pound it couldn't quite match the Black Angus. The American cut was marginally more tender and juicy, richer in flavour and texture, deeper in crimson colour, and a shade more intense in flavour. At the final bell, we had to concede that it was worth the extra Dh50 for this champion of steaks.
While the two beefy hunks slugged it out, we compared the side orders. My chips were sterling yet unspectacular, and the accompanying onion rings were a scrappy street fighter's brawl of oil and batter. My dining partner faced a more cultured opponent in the shape of a perfectly baked jacket potato, which was backed up by a bowl of meaty sautéed mushrooms that packed a well-seasoned punch of smoky flavour. The sauces of green peppercorns and garlic cream were pleasantly tasty and far from overpowering, yet they had both begun to skin over by the time they'd been delivered to the table. And as if to add insult to injury, our waiter's mobile phone went off as he explained the food, and he shuffled away apologetically to take the call.
Still, the steaks were a vast improvement on my boerewors starter. The traditional South African dish was well proportioned and packed with herby hints, yet the meat was too dry. It was served with several irregular mounds of polenta, which was supposed to resemble the Bantu staple known as "pap". It may have been slathered in sweet and spicy chakalaka sauce, but the polenta was stodgy, lumpy, lukewarm in places and cold in others - a below-the-belt blow if ever there was one. After two rounds of heavy food, we felt like we'd gone the distance with a particularly enthusiastic Mike Tyson but got suckered into dessert nonetheless. My friend's chocolate fondant was admirably crumbly and gorgeously gooey inside, but since it was served in a small ramekin, we were unable to watch the chocolate ooze out onto the plate and merge with the soft scoop of vanilla ice cream. I was walloped into submission by a hefty portion of South African malva pudding, a rich, steamed edifice of sponge cake doused in thick caramel sauce and apricot coulis, and drizzled with light creme anglaise. It was a real knockout.
In the absence of any smelling salts, we recovered in the cool breeze that wafted across The Meat Co's charming waterside terrace, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque shimmering quietly in the distance. Inside, the dining area appeared to be unfinished, with the odd wire poking out here and there and a mysteriously darkened corner where a workman sat directing people to the bathrooms (the ladies and gents signs had yet to be attached). At this stage, the inconsistencies of service and food suggest that there's still plenty of training to be done.
It's too early to tell whether The Meat Co can mix it with the big boys of the UAE steak scene. Right now it's a little too hit-and-miss to be considered a contender.
Souq Qaryat, Shangri-La Resort, Abu Dhabi, 050 317 9430.