WHAT'S THE BEEF?
The mystery diner heads to The Grill by HW for a taste of their Wagyu steaks
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.