It now delivers too. Well, sort of.
Whenever I told people that I was reviewing Macellaio RC, an Italian steakhouse, the ensuing response was always the same: ‘what’s an Italian steakhouse?!’ The answer, of course, is a restaurant that serves steak cut from Italian cows – specifically Fassona beef from Pidemontese cattle.
It’s a revealing response – pasta, pizza and pesto cast such a shadow over the perception of Italian food in our collective imagination, that anything else is literally inconceivable. If goldfish really do have a memory of just three seconds, then our gestalt intelligence is seemingly limited to just three things per subject.
It’s almost as if the restauranteurs behind Macellaio RC’s branch on Southwark’s Union Street are aware of this. While the focus is unquestionably on the steak, the menu also finds room for pasta, burrata and even pizza – or pissa as they insist on calling it.
To be fair, their inclusion isn’t just pandering to the garlic bread and stuffed crust crowd. Macellaio RC’s schtick is that each of its half-a-dozen branches has a different culinary speciality alongside the steaks. One has offal, while another has tuna. It’s a relatively neat trick that helps keep this mini-chain from feeling repetitive.
The result is a spread with a unique feel that’s not really like any other steakhouse – or Italian restaurant for that matter – that I’ve been to in the UK.
Starters at Macellaio RC Southwark
Although the Southwark branch of Macellaio RC is ostensibly all about pissas and steak, the starters at almost all the branches are dominated by steak tartare and offal.
Beef tongue was so tender and richly gelatinous, it was almost like fat or connective tissue. A tingly sauce, possibly based on parsley, helped cut through the richness. It was much the same on a subsequent visit, but with a touch more sinewy chew and a lightly crispy crust. This second version was in danger of being over-seasoned, with the heavy dusting of salt only just pulling back.
Beef heart was almost as tender and smooth, but all this was harder to appreciate as the organ had been shredded before serving. The kitchen is clearly capable of improvement and refinement though. A subsequent helping, while still shredded, had a thicker consistency. This helped its dense firmness, as well its beefy tang, shine all the better.
Bone marrow and steak tartare are two of the world’s greatest joys available to carnivores, so it only makes sense to combine the two. The textural contrast between the the chewy tenderness of the raw beef and the gelatinous, almost liquid bone marrow was wondrous. I almost wish it had gone on forever.
The moreishness and tanginess of beef tartare was complimented surprisingly well by the pep and light astringency of gorgonzola.
Pasta and cheese at Macellaio RC Union Street
A plate of tagliatelle was a poor advocate for Macellaio’s pasta presence. The thick, medium-width tagliatelle wasn’t as firm as I would’ve preferred, while the ragu – even when laced with parmesan – was a surprisingly timid affair.
The ravioli was far better, the reasonably firm pasta envelopes stuffed with nibblets of dense beef and drenched in a lightly umami tomato sauce.
Macellaio RC has a somewhat irritating habit of serving food on slates and chopping boards, rather than plates. Nowhere is this more irksome than with the burrata, given the tendency of its liquid interior to run and spill everywhere. Although the exterior wasn’t quite as creamy and delicately chewy as I was expecting, the milkiness of its cool liquid filling was spot-on. Imperfect yet pleasurable, just like life itself.
Bakery at Macellaio RC Southwark
The pissas here really aren’t like the thin Neapolitan-style pizzas most of us are familiar with. These Ligurian-style creations are more like focaccia – thick and crisp, then fluffy and airy. This eminently enjoyable mouthfeel was let down by the toppings though. The daubing of tomato sauce, anchovies, onions and olives wasn’t great enough in number to leave much of an impression.
Curiously, a focaccia advertised as such was a thinner, floppier affair. While its mouthfeel wasn’t anywhere as pleasing as the pissa’s, it did come topped and stuffed with melted stracchino cheese. Its exceedingly milky, moreish and gently sweet charms more than made up for the floppy carbs.
Steak at Macellaio RC Union Street
While sirloin and t-bone are closely related cuts of steak, the experience of eating them at Macellaio RC can – unsurprisingly – be quite different.
While the sirloin cooked medium rare was undeniably tender, it was otherwise unremarkable with a disappointing level of browning on its crust.
The t-bone, punted on the menu under the fiorentina name, was also an uneven affair. While also cooked medium rare, some bits towards the edge were tougher and more well done than segments closer to the bone. These glossy purple-hued reams were sweeter and more tender, especially when sat next to strips of quiveringly rich fat. The seasoning of salt and sweet olive oil had been sensibly applied – not too much, not too little – so as to emphasise the sweet moreishness purple bits of this steak, rather than overwhelm them.
The medium rare costata, which is just another name for rib-eye as far as I can tell, was broadly similar but arguably more tender. While just as subtly sweet as the t-bone, it also had more of a beefy tang as well as more addictively succulent seams of fat and connective tissue. Macellaio’s costata was better executed than both its fiorentina and sirloin.
My favourite of Macellaio’s steaks wasn’t any of those though. Neither was it the disappointingly dull rump which leaned heavily on the salt and olive oil for character. It was the humble hanger steak which was not only tender, but packed an addictive sweet nuttiness that made it far more beguiling than its more expensive stablemates.
Side dishes at Macellaio RC Southwark
Smooth mashed potato pepped up with bold dashes of nutmeg was simple yet satisfying. The presence of nutmeg reminded me of rice pudding, which is a highly pleasing association as I adore rice pudding – more than I like most members of my own family, to be honest.
The bittersweet tang of red cabbage contrasted neatly with the musky sweet juice of blood oranges.
The addictive moreishness of white beans was helped along by their soft sticky mouthfeel.
Desserts at Macellaio RC Union Street
If you only order one dessert at Macellaio, make sure it isn’t the tiramisu. My helping consisted mostly of sweetened cream and not much else.
Macellaio’s gelati need more care and attention. The gelato alla crema was a bit too watery, as if it had been left on the pass for a bit too long. While it retained some of it dense and creamy mouthfeel along with a modest vanilla flavour, it was clearly a runner-up prize compared to some of the very best gelato available in London. Chocolate gelato was even more sloppily oozy and half-melted, with only a modest bittersweet dark chocolate flavour to make up for it.
A plate of bite-sized doughnuts consisted of two varieties, not just one. Soft spongy fingers had a Nutella-ish filling to them. That nutty filling ultimately made the fingers preferable to the fluffier suppli-esque spheres which had a drab cream filling which vaguely tasted of vanilla.
The best of Macellaio’s desserts at Union Street was, by far, the bianco al basilico. Effectively a milky, wispy panna cotta but with hints of basil and candied fruit that effectively helped set this dessert above many of its peers.
Under normal circumstances, I’d wrap up this review by summarising the surprisingly variable nature of Macellaio’s cooking at its Southwark branch. I’d also note the teeth-gnashingly slow and inefficient service, which improved only fitfully and intermittently over the course of my many meals there.
These are not, of course, normal times. Macellaio RC has responded to the coronavirus lockdown by turning to deliveries, but only from its South Kensington and Exmouth Market branches – not Union Street/Southwark. The truncated menu available for delivery is, for the most part, a steak-free selection which is hardly surprising – steak is not a dish well-suited for surviving delivery in a prime, edible form. Macellaio’s delivery selection does include some everyday groceries though, in a knowing nod to the pasta-less supermarket shelves we’re now all familiar with.
While Macellaio’s entrepreneurial spirit is commendable, their straightjacketed delivery menu shows the limits of such patchwork plaster fixes for the existential economic collapse facing London’s restaurants.
That doesn’t mean deliveries, collections etc don’t have any worth, but their limitations mean they’re just short-term patches. Plus, they give a taste of how impoverished London’s dining culture would be with fewer sit-in restaurants and more delivered take-out meals.
As incredibly imperfect as the experience at Macellaio RC Union Street was, I’d trade a dozen takeaway meals for the chance to sit a their odd centre table for a supper of beef tongues, hearts and hanger steak. I genuinely hope Macellaio survives our collective Stygian confinement, if only because it’ll be one of many restaurants I’ll be feasting at as soon as the lockdown allows. Hoping for better times, like a good steak itself, might seem like an unaffordable luxury. But its nourishing sustenance keeps me going and I refuse to give it up.
What to order: Hanger steak; costata; mashed potato with nutmeg; offal-based starters; beans
What to skip: Fiorentina; rump
Name: Macellaio RC
Branch tried: Arch 24, 229 Union Street, Southwark, London SE1 OLR
Phone: 020 3848 0529
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday noon-15.00 and 18.00-23.00; Saturday noon-23.00 and Sunday noon-22.00.
Reservations: probably a good idea on and around weekends
Average cost for one person including soft drinks: £40 – £70 approx. (highly dependent on which cut of steak you order and how much)