"Just a Beaujolais sir, but a good bottler..." The Servant (1963)
One of my earliest restaurant memories is being taken by my grandfather to The London Steak House, somewhere near the old Roman Wall in the City of London. We were the only customers in an empty restaurant. I remember a few things. The head waiter falling over backwards to fawn over my grandfather (he looked distinguished- my grandfather, not the head waiter- not unlike David Niven with flamboyant Harvie & Hudson shirts, an Errol Flynn moustache and well-cut suits with narrow Edwardian cuffs and drainpipe trouser bottoms).
The London Steak House, I seem to remember, was a (relatively upmarket?) chain- but to an eight or nine year old's way of thinking, achieved sophisticated heights. Here a waiter would advance, and in a hushed tone ask if Sir would prefer "English, French or German Mustard?" All Colman's of course. I seem to remember thick (burgundy?) carpets, padded banquette seating and linen tablecloths. The claret was served in a ducky wicker cradle. My grandfather kept them waiting for about a minute while he swirled the wine around his glass and sniffed. It was a terrific performance. I was terribly impressed.
The London Steak House, Old Brompton Road (1966)
"The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there". Back then (this was the early 1970's), people aspired to middle-aged sophistication, to becoming a grown up. Recently I've had fun flipping through old House & Gardens from the 1960's and 70's. Full of advertisements for cognac, expensive cigarettes, fine liqueurs and Martini. Libraries with chocolate lacquered walls, Chinese ancestor portraits and bookshelves lined with fine leather bindings seemed de rigeur. A place to relax at night with a balloon glass of armagnac, admire your collection of Marquis de Sade firsts and listen to the Bach 48 on the Bang & Olufsen.
Middle-aged aspiration, the true spirit of the 1970's, Dormeuil (1979)
I don't know why when somebody mentions the 1970's everyone starts thinking of Mr Travolta, white suits, hairy chests matted with sun oil, 100% polyester flares and Night on Disco Mountain. I remain unashamedly fond of Disco, for in truth, Studio 54 was a deadly sophisticated affair, a sybaritic rendezvous where Truman Capote, the Jacquelines Onassis and Bisset could intermingle with the likes of Andy Warhol, Disco Sally and the urbane haute monde. And for every tenth thousand turmeric-sprayed Austin Allegro (with square steering wheel and brown deckchair striped seats in static inducing draylon) there was one hand-made Rolls Royce Camargue, coachwork courtesy of Pininfarina, a car in which Lady Penelope herself might have cut a dash.
I found very little about The London Steak House on the net, apart from a stylish matchbook on Ebay, with black salt and pepper pot graphics set against a brown ground and the photograph shown above. Note the half-decent abstracts on the wall, and the serving trolley (Flambéed Steak au Poivre and Crêpes Suzettes?).
Retro diners are currently toute la rage in Old London Town at the moment (Soho is full of 'em), which is fine- good even; but wouldn't it be refreshing if some brave entrepreneur decided to look up for once, rather than down, ditched the 50's Americana Shack Look and aimed at something, well, just a little bit more sophisticated? These days everybody aspires to be a dungaree-wearing, Pepsi drinking, bearded 17 year old hick from the Deep South rather than a Bentley driving clubable chairman with an interest in rare books, antique furniture and Dry Martini cocktails.
So in memory of The London Steak House (long may it Rest In Peace), here's my recipe for a simple cognac infused Green Peppercorn Sauce. You have it with steak. The green peppercorns come in little jars full of brine.
The Greasy Spoon's Green Peppercorn Sauce
2 tablespoons peppercorns
Knob of unsalted butter
1 chopped shallot
Dash of Cognac
1 teaspoon of Flour
100ml Beef Stock
60ml Double Cream
Heat a small to medium sized saucepan and add the butter. Fry the chopped shallot and the green peppercorns very briefly.
Add the dash of cognac, and stir. Add a teaspoon of flour and stir, making sure it cooks properly.
Now add the beef stock and bring the sauce to the boil. Turn down the heat and let it bubble away gently. After a few minutes, add the cream and let the sauce reduce gently.
Season to taste, and serve with steak.
You may need to play around with the quantities of flour, stock and cream. The sauce needs to be just right. Not too thick (and floury) and not too thin (watery). I've found chef Michel Richard's similar recipe from The Washington Post which looks great. He adds a tablespoon of Soy Sauce, which, I think will help to bring out the beefy, meaty, umami flavours.