There are several ways to measure restaurants, but there’s one quality I’m thinking about with Macellaio RC. It’s something like boldness – it’s the guts and gusto to unambiguously holler what you are about, from the moment a prospective diner so much as walks past your shop front. It’s a fine balance between looking anaemic and uncommitted, and becoming merely gimmicky.
Whatever we call it – boldness, chutzpah, candidness – it is clear that Macellaio scores 11/10 in this quality. Their shopfront is nothing short of spectacular – there’s a bright red sofa (real leather, I’m guessing) outside, and inside there is a whole curtain of meat – bone-in hulks, aged and carmine, hanging from hooks and piled one against the other. It’s a very clear message, in case you didn’t know that ‘macellaio’ means butcher in Italian. It says that if you don’t eat beef, you should turn around and walk away.
But if you do walk in, the interior of Macellaio RC – the initials are for Roberto Costa, the proprietor – is a bit more artful and refined, though the reminders are always there – a chalkboard diagram of a cow and its primal cuts, the cleaver design burned into the wooden tables. And in the menu, printed like a newsletter, there is the same monomaniacal focus on beef. There is a snout-to-tail vibe, in the wide selection of cuts and offal, and plenty of raw stuff too; but it is not something modern. Rather it recalls the old traditions of wasting nothing that the animal has to offer.
And it is ultimately the animals that are at the core of this restaurant. They serve Fassone beef, a breed from Piedmont with a genetic mutation that leads to ‘double muscling’, producing large, tender, ruby-coloured muscles. This isn’t anything like wagyu; there’s hardly any marbling, just the red gleam of the meat itself. But it is better, far better, than any wagyu I have tasted.
We first try it raw – carpaccio with slivers of sharply funky Parmesan – and it is a revelation, the beef sliced so thin it seems ready to break into wisps with a hard tug. It does not dissolve in the mouth in a puddle of marbling fat. It does better than that – it holds up, slightly chewy, rationing out its meaty, clean-tasting juices. It matches the bitter twang and crunch of the rocket leaves perfectly, before making a smooth exit.
Before our tagliate (ribeye) steak is served, the very attractive waitress appears with our steak knives – then plunges them into the wooden table, leaving them quivering. The steaks arrive with less fanfare, at least until we dig in. I read that the meat is aged for 50 days here, and it shows – supple and chewy, it slips and bounces between the teeth. Such a steak needs almost nothing, so they don’t mess around – just salt flakes and grassy olive oil to show up the smoky char and sheer meatiness.
The accompaniments we have are all right – a perfectly adequate walnut salad, and caponata, a Sicilian cooked salad seasoned with sweet vinegar. The vegetables – aubergines, celery and carrots among others – have soaked up the sauce, though it seemed a little on the sweet side. Might have been the tastebuds still reeling from the intensity of the meat, though.
If I had another stomach I would be stuffing it with yet more steak, but we end up ordering desserts. Tiramisu is good, with a suitably strong kick of coffee under a fluffy mascarpone pillow.
But it’s the latte dolce fritto, a Ligurian specialty, that catches us both – fried doughnuts in two shapes, the crust ready to flake and split. The round ones literally hold ‘sweet milk’ – a pale, gooey custard that flops out on biting and fills the mouth with the scent of lemons. Less subtle are the long ones, which hold Nutella – and you’ll never catch me disparaging a dessert that holds Nutella on this blog.
Throughout the experience in a rather loud restaurant, there are more moments of drama, which come close to the line. If you order one of their larger steaks meant for sharing, which start from 400g, the meat is hacked up front and then brought to you for inspection and a brief introduction before cooking. And after preparation, it is brought in with a cloche for a theatrical unveiling.
Is it gimmicky? Eh, maybe. The friends to whom I describe these things snort and say it is. But having actually had the beef, blending the resilience of less-marbled meat with the succulence of pampered Japanese beasts, I happen to think it’s justified pride. When you have product this good – sourced directly from Costa’s native Liguria, no less – can we blame you for flaunting it? So I just tell my friends they don’t know anything man, they weren’t there. And there’s only one way to rectify that.
84 Old Brompton Road
London SW7 3LQ
Mon – Fri: noon – 3pm, 6pm – 11pm
Sat – Sun: noon – 11pm