Imagine taking a pot of Bovril, emptying it out into a bowl, mixing with a potful of boiling water, until you have a thick, intense gravy that is pure meatiness. Now tear tiny strips of tough bread (maybe one of those crusty, airy French loaves which are mostly bubbles with thin membranes of wheat making up their substance). Soak these small chunks into the gravy, until you have a texture that requires no biting, but has identifiable ‘bits’ in a slick of beef juice. Dollop on herby mash, and what do you have? Does it sound at all appetising? And yet, and yet…
“Pleasurable? Yes, definitely. As if you’ve concentrated a whole cow into the space of a large bowl”
I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten something quite so intensely meaty as Dean Street Townhouse’s Mince and Potatoes. This is less a story of the mince itself than the sauce, which is weirdly more unswervingly animal than the protein morsels within it. The flavour doesn’t just punch you, it grabs you by the neck and doesn’t let you go. Pleasurable? Yes, definitely. As if you’ve concentrated a whole cow into the space of a large bowl.
But there are issues (which seem mainly our issues rather than anyone or anything else’s).
Firstly, while we did each have a small starter, both Rachael and I felt pretty much completely full within about two seconds of consuming a forkful of this dish. And, whilst I’m happy to admit neither of us will ever win an eating competition, I’m genuinely amazed that anyone could get through a whole plateful of this. As a ‘total flavour concept’ you could imagine (and enjoy) a spoonful of this in a deconstructed meat stew, or even in a tapas-sized portion to eat with flatbreads. You’d get the effect, and probably all the pleasure, just from that much.
Secondly, the potatoes. Delicious. Delectable. Rich, and creamy. Wait – hold up a minute – did I just say that? Yes, sure I did. Whether by treating with cream or butter or olive oil (I suspect the first two) the clever chefs had managed to achieve some of the most voluptuous mash I’ve eaten.
But that’s exactly the problem: matched with super-rich mince, I’d have liked mash that cuts through it. I get that citrus-mash wouldn’t exactly deliver the nostalgic flavours to which this old-time dish is clearly alluding, but, then, I’m sure you wouldn’t be chowing down on such a refined version of the plate anyway. This is about as far from the cheap-cut-makes-cheap-meal starting point of mince as you can get (though maybe some DST visitors genuinely think they’re slumming it without rib steak).
I’d have preferred some boiled potatoes (it’s a rare moment I say that), or a simple plain mash. I could always stir in a slick of beef fat from below if I found it too boring.
It was a lucky escape that we were told, on arrival, that there was only a single plate of mince and potatoes left, which we promptly broke our rules and ordered. If I went back, I’d want to share this dish with three others, so I got a bit of variety and got to sample the many other treats on the menu. I suspect, though, that chucking a few plates into the centre of the table and picking at each would be frowned upon in this slightly formal (dare I say ‘stuffy’?) restaurant which is less deconstructed and more unreconstructed.