The mys­tery diner heads to The Grill by HW for a taste of their Wagyu steaks

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Back in 2011, de­spite not be­ing farm­ers, hus­band and wife team Mohsin Al­ta­jir and Mar­tine Chap­man de­cided that what Scot­land really needed was for some­one to breed Ja­panese Wagyu beef cows here – and that this ‘some­one’ was them. But with a ton of hard work what started as a flight of fancy soon be­came a de­cent busi­ness. High­land Wagyu cross Wagyu bulls with a col­lec­tion of na­tive breeds, such as An­gus, High­land or shorthorn, to pro­duce a beefier wagyu to suit the Euro­pean pal­ette, a fact which has seen well-kent chefs such as Tom Kitchin, Al­bert Roux, Pierre Kauff­man and Fred Berk­miller cham­pi­oning their mar­vel­lously mar­bled beef.

From those acorns, Dun­blane-based High­land Wagyu grew into a busi­ness which is one of ru­ral Scot­land’s great suc­cess sto­ries. But not con­tent with breed­ing 2,000 head of the fa­mous Ja­panese cows to supply the na­tion’s chefs, Al­ta­jir and Chap­man then de­cided their next step would be to deal di­rectly with the pub­lic. In Au­gust 2016 they opened a shop in Bridge of Al­lan sell­ing their beef from be­tween £10 and £1,000 per kilo, and within nine months had sold their first tonne of beef.

Flushed with suc­cess, when The Old Bridge Inn near Bridge of Al­lan sta­tion was about to close, Al­ta­jir and Chap­man stepped in and opened up their own restau­rant, The Grill by HW, in March of this year. It was a sen­si­ble move in a pros­per­ous area where – not­with­stand­ing the pres­ence of the nearby Crom­lix and Kai­l­yard – there is a chronic short­age of de­cent lo­cal restau­rants.

From the out­side it is an un­pre­pos­sess­ing lit­tle build­ing, but in­side this tardis-like space has been given the full HW treat­ment. Con­tem­po­rary yet clas­sic, it man­ages to tread the fine line be­tween be­ing up­mar­ket yet re­laxed. And it even has an open kitchen so that if con­ver­sa­tion be­gins to lag you can sit back and watch the three chefs go about their busi­ness.

Once you’ve drunk in the sump­tu­ous sur­round­ings, the first thing that strikes you about The Grill at HW is its menu. Or, more pre­cisely, the prices on its menu. The place might look quite mod­est from the out­side, but if you’re wor­ried about mak­ing the rent each month, this is not the place for you. In fact, if the thought of spend­ing over £100 on a meal brings you out in hives, then you had bet­ter just walk on by be­cause for a small pro­vin­cial town – even one as well-heeled as Bridge of Al­lan – the prices were pretty eye-wa­ter­ing. Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to the spec­tac­u­lar wine list, where the cheap­est red

(which we chose) is a beau­ti­fully rich and cher­ried bot­tle of Zio Paolo, Nero d’Avola from Si­cily at £32, but the as­cent is pretty steep from there, cul­mi­nat­ing with an im­pe­rial of La Tache 1989 for £120,000 (the most ex­pen­sive bot­tle is a 1945 Chateau Mou­ton Roth­schild at £39,000).

We started with a very sat­is­fac­tory shell­fish bisque (£10) and an ex­cel­lent slab of twice-cooked rib cap (£12). For those un­fa­mil­iar with this cut, it comes from a part of the rib that has very lit­tle move­ment so is won­der­fully ten­der, and has a cu­ri­ous con­sis­tency some­where be­tween shin of beef and a pate.

Af­ter that, we moved onto the main course, in ev­ery sense. Steak is in the The Grill by HW’s name, its DNA, its very fi­bre, so we couldn’t look fur­ther than the se­lec­tion of Wagyu steaks on of­fer. Th­ese are ba­si­cally bro­ken down into four cat­e­gories (prime, rump, skirts, grass-fed) and come in ei­ther 200g or 300g por­tions, with prices rang­ing from £28 to £65. We de­cided to plump for a 200g Den­ver steak (£40) which comes un­der the head­ing of ‘rump’, and is ba­si­cally the most ten­der cut from the shoul­der. This turned out to be ex­actly the case: the steak was beau­ti­fully mar­bled, crim­son in­side and glo­ri­ously ten­der. Thumbs up on this one.

We also plumped for a dish off the spe­cials menu, the braised shin with mash (£24). This is one of my ab­so­lute favourites and I tend to choose it wher­ever I’m lucky enough to find it as one of the op­tions. This Wagyu ver­sion was mildly dis­ap­point­ing: in the very best ver­sions I’ve had the gravy has been richer and more stri­dent, while the meat has been more unc­tu­ous and even more ten­der. It’s not that it wasn’t good, just that I’ve had bet­ter.

The same could be said for both of the pud­dings we chose, al­though in my ex­pe­ri­ence that’s of­ten the case with steak restau­rants (al­though there are some no­table ex­cep­tions, such as the Cham­pany Inn near Lin­lith­gow). The nicely sharp-edged lemon tart (£8) was the pick of the pair, with the creme caramel (£8) a lit­tle on the bland side.

We rounded off with one of the restau­rant’s ‘Dif­fer­ence’ gourmet cof­fees. There are four of th­ese, which all come in at the un­holy price of £14, but I had to try the Wild Kopi Luwak be­cause it’s pretty rare to find cof­fee that in­cludes part-di­gested cof­fee cher­ries eaten and defe­cated by the Asian palm civet (a cross be­tween a cat and a mon­key) in which fer­men­ta­tion oc­curs as the cher­ries pass through the civet’s in­testines. It was in­ter­est­ing, but hon­estly, I can think of other ways of spend­ing £14.

By the time our meal fin­ished and the oblig­a­tory 10% ser­vice charge was added to our menu, the bill (in­clud­ing an £8 gin and tonic) came to £173.80. A re­minder that ex­cel­lence – as this un­doubt­edly was – rarely comes on the cheap.

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