Meat and Wine Company, Westfield Shopping Centre. Tel: 020 8749 5914 www.themeatandwineco.com
TYPICAL high street chains dominate Westfield, but if you look close enough you can find some rare jewels in the shopping centre's crown.
One of those is the Meat and Wine Company, a small South African chain which has its only UK restaurant in the Southern Terrace of the Shepherd's Bush mall.
So when a family birthday reared its head, eight of us headed down to the flagship restaurant to see if it could live up to its reputation.
Set over two-storeys, it is a modern, lively venue with a circular bar keeping visitors refreshed while they wait for their table. It was a Saturday night and packed, but a wealth of staff made sure no-one was left unattended for long.
We were seated on a long table – I prefer rounded tables for a large group – and handed a bulky wine and food menu.
The restaurant's name and the wall decorations of empty wine bottles gave a clear hint at what drink, so we ordered a bottle of white, red and rose.
Starters included bruschetta (£7), grilled Halloumi cheese served with Mediterranean vegetables (£9.50), Boerwors African sausage with chakalaka sauce on a bed of polenta (£8.50) and African vol-au-vent (£7).
All were very different but all very enjoyable. The Boerwors sausage didn't really live up to its billing, with the sauce less spicy than promised but the vol-au-vent was perfectly cooked with its pastry not too overbearing for an appetiser.
We were slightly surprised when our waiter arrived to take our main course order as we were halfway through eating our starters. After sending him away once he returned moments later and seemed in a rush to get the order to the kitchen.
The restaurant have three booking slots for evening meals – on the weekend anyway – which are 5pm, 7pm and 9pm. Having booked the 7pm slot, maybe we were enjoying a slow meal pace and needed to be hurried along before the next party arrived. Nevertheless, it was a tad frustrating.
The main courses, as you would expect, are dominated by steak and other meat dishes, all promised as quality cuts. For the prices they charge you would hope so.
Our choices included half a rack of pork ribs (£17), a 300g English rump steak, 'grass-fed and wet-aged for 35 days' (£22.50), the catch of the day, seabass (£18), kangaroo (£24) with potato gratin and red current jus, and springbok (£26.50) with herb crushed potatoes.
In fairness, the food was delicious.
The ribs had plenty of meat on the bone and the rump steak, ordered rare, came expertly cooked with its tender texture and perfect peppercorn sauce.
Always one to try new things, I leaned over and nabbed a bit of springbok from one of my fellow diners to sample the South African delicacy. Coated in a rich gravy, it was like a slightly-chewy piece of beef but had an interesting after-taste that I actually quite enjoyed.
Full of meat and wine, dessert time arrived and some of the more light-weight diners chose to snub the best part of any meal and wash down their dinner with a coffee. But a few survivors went for the crème brulee (£6.50) and hot chocolate fondant (£7.50) served with pistachio ice cream, and we were not disappointed.
The crème brulee was exquisite with a light texture, complemented by a small portion of raspberry ice cream but it was the pistachio ice cream with the fondant that stole the show.
I can safely say it was the best ice cream I have tasted in a long time, with small shavings of the nut inside adding to the rich flavour.
Bloated bellies but emptied wallets we were left satisfied by our trip to the Meat and Wine Company.
It is far from cheap and possibly overpriced, but the food and service is top notch and, for any meat-lover, well worth a visit.