It’s a brave man who opens a restaurant in the Square Mile. The normal laws of gastronomic physics don’t apply here. The food scene moves slowly, governed by ritual, force of habit and sheer bloody-mindedness. The trends and fads of Shoreditch and Mayfair – “We only sell sparrow meat!” – don’t fly. Careful alchemy is required to get it right. Meat is intrinsic.
Martin Williams is the latest to try, opening M after a decade at Argentinian steakhouse Gaucho. Now, I should get the confessions out of the way: I know Martin from his Gaucho days, and he’s a good sort. He’s a former thesp who once played a transvestite prostitute in late-90s ITV drama The Vice. Not a lot of people know that. I’ve liked him ever since I told him waiters should be forced to take ballet lessons and he confided he actually tried something similar at Gaucho, conjuring lovely images of pirouetting steaks.
M (yes, it stands for Martin) is in the building that was briefly occupied by La Bourse, an upmarket bistro that only lasted six months; plenty of time to build a reputation for abysmal front of house service. By all accounts the staff would have struggled to muster an Irish jig, let alone a tour en l’air.
Martin’s vision is certainly ballsy: M is a veritable food and drink emporium, housing two restaurants – M-Grill and M-Raw – a bar, reception space and secret “den” with a PlayStation and table fußball. It has an air of machismo wish fulfilment. Steaks hang proudly in giant meat-lockers. High-tech wine vending machines allow you to sample expensive vintages. Vivid Miles Aldridge prints of po-faced models adorn the walls. The building materials of choice are marble, metal and leather, in various hues of grey and brown.
I met Martin for lunch at M-Grill, and I expected few surprises: steak on steak on steak, a menu designed for men who want to eat meat and talk business. But it’s not like that at all – it’s considered, adventurous, even a little fiddly (no doubt the work of head chef Jarad McCarroll, who joined from Chiltern Firehouse). The cured trout with apple and ginger (£8.50) was rather beautiful, with curls of crisped skin and dainty puddles of roe. The steak tartare (£11) was chunky and robust. Translucent cured langoustine (£9.50) looked like the cross-section of a jellyfish, light and delicate but overpowered by grapefruit and cucumber. Crocodile fillet (£17) was as uninspiring as crocodile fillet tends to be, despite efforts to jazz it up with pear and bone marrow (I suspect it’s only on the menu to satisfy the concept that the wines and starters should come from the six regions that produce M’s steak: Australia, Japan, Argentina, USA, France and South Africa).
We shared a steak, which is just as well, as it was a £120 Blackmore wagyu sirloin (200g, wet aged, coal cooked), the second most expensive thing on the menu after the 150g Kobe fillet (£150). And I tell you what, the Kobe would have to work hard to justify the extra £30, given how good the wagyu is. It was probably the most perfect slab of meat I’ve ever encountered; smoky, buttery, tender as a chicken breast.
Steak this good shouldn’t be sullied by dessert. It should be savoured until permanently burned onto your gustatory cortex, where it can be used as a high water-mark for steaks to come. M achieves a rare trick: it satisfies your primal carnivorous urges while serving food that’s complex and intelligent. And the waiting staff? They glide like ballerinas.
First published in City A.M.