Penda is old enough to remember when the height of dining sophistication was to go to an Angus Steakhouse.
They may have gone on to have a reputation for serving shoe-leather steak to tourists in London, and were unluckily affected by the BSE scare in the late ‘80s, but the steakhouses were started by an apprentice butcher with a passion for a good cut of beef.
And so the trend for a decent steak meal has returned, with stripped down meat menus popping up alongside their newly-proud vegan, vegetarian and shabbily-upcycled-teashop cousins.
At Miller and Carter, on the site of the former Toby Carvery on Talavera Way, at the northern gateway to Northampton, you’ll find a menu that has 13 steaks to choose from, as well as burgers, salads, pasta and fish. It still has a pub feel but the dining areas are a little more upmarket gastro than high-street boozer.
Our visit on a Wednesday evening was busier than expected. A rowdy group in the bar were made noisier by some weird building acoustics, and we sought a back bar table to wait for a far too-long-half-hour for restaurant seats. The woman on the door had clearly forgotten us.
But eventually we were seated and our waiter Josh was apologetic and attentive. I chose an 8oz bistro cut rump, while my Penda-friend went for a grain-fed rib-eye. We’d ordered olives to stave off the hunger but needn’t have – the food arrived quickly and there was loads of it. You choose a steak and it comes with a sauce (choice of British beef dripping sauce, Porcini mushroom and black garlic, blue cheese and truffle oil, béarnaise or peppercorn.) Then you choose another sauce for the bizarre chunk of lettuce ‘wedge’ that is essentially half an iceberg in a bowl with dressing and stuff on top: this time bacon and honey mustard, stilton and blue cheese, garlic mayonnaise and Parmesan or cocktail with croutons.
Steaks also come with a big bowl of fries (and extra quid for sweet potato), a balsamic soaked tomato, more salad leaves and a lump of ‘onion bread’. My first reaction was to poke it, this oily fried lump of charred yellow. But it was seriously delicious, and almost worth the half-hour wait in the bar.
The steaks were good too, albeit a little lukewarm. Food needs to be fast off the pass when there’s rare steak on order otherwise that refrigerated parsley butter will stay solid and cool the meat. Better still, don’t refrigerate butter that’s about to go on a steak.
We were suitably stuffed by our mains and skipped puddings for coffee. The steaks were between £17-20, and, considering what you got, were worth it. The whole meal for two, with a gin and tonic (costing six quid!) and a white wine spritzer, came in at £54.75. Miller and Carter do deals too, like a ‘date night’ three-course meal on Thursdays for just shy of £25 a head. Booking is advised.
Overall, not West End prices, but more expensive than the Sunday carvery of old – a posher pub that doesn’t want you to know it’s a pub, but still does good grub.