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Osteria del Macellaio is the sixth outpost of the Macellaio RC brand, and while each claims to have a unique identity – in the same vein as other London names – that still means the restaurant is flirting around the edges of becoming a fully-fledged chain.
There are hints at this as you walk into the relaunched restaurant on Union Street in Southwark, London. There’s a sort of uniformity that you only get from larger brands, with signs and posters that could slot neatly into any restaurant environment. Nonetheless, there is character, with the rumblings of Thameslink trains going overhead, and a nightmarish, neon sacrificial altar at the back of the restaurant resembling something from a Francis Bacon painting.
Dining on a Wednesday evening, we were one of only two tables there, which in a restaurant of this size is a bit of a problem. There’s an upstairs area that’s completely deserted, and with its high ceilings, long tables and neon lights, this is definitely a space that’s designed to be full of conversations, clashing elbows and clinking glasses of wine.
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The “Mad Max”-esque alter on the back wall is presumably some sort of tribute to beef, which is what Macellaio is famous for. The other five of its outposts are fully-fledged steakhouses, complete with gigantic glass cabinets full of ageing meat and the same slightly offbeat interior design as the new location on Union Street.
The ‘nose-to-tail’ concept
The newest addition to the roster is a slightly different proposal, with plenty of modern-day considerations. Firstly, it’s attempting to be as sustainable as it’s possible for a steakhouse to be, which is admittedly not very sustainable. After all, eating beef is an emotionally fulfilling, but environmentally naughty habit.
However, Osteria del Macellaio is doing what it can, claiming to put often less-desired cuts of beef at its heart. It’s a noble mission, but I can’t help thinking that someone got cold feet on the way to executing it. One would imagine that they’re shifting more of the crowd-pleasing Irish tomahawks and Finnish T-bones than they are the tripe and tongue. As a general rule, if you let people choose between T-bone and tripe, they’ll opt for the T-bone.
The second difference between this outpost and the others in Macellaio’s inventory is the price. While the restaurants in Fitzrovia, Soho, South Kensington, Exmouth Market and Battersea are all reasonably-priced considering the type of restaurant they are, and the quality of the meat they serve, you’re unlikely to get too much change from £200 if you go as a pair and do it properly.
The Osteria, meanwhile, has a long list of £10 dishes, and you can choose any three for £29. It’s a straightforward way of pricing, if not a slightly curious one. The method means that a portion of lard on toast or arancini costs the same as a beef escalope or chicken Milanese. Nevertheless, it’s a charming way of eating, and you could quite easily feed two people with drinks for less than £50 a head.
If you do fancy splashing out, though, there are the aforementioned sharing steaks, which are still well priced for the portions you get. The 800g Irish tomahawk will set you back £70, while the Finnish T-Bone is £7 per 100g.
The dishes and drinks
The food, similarly to Macellaio’s other branches, is faultless. The arancini cacio e pepe, which could so easily be a dense chore of an appetiser (as arancini often is), is instead a moreish and surprisingly light bite. Beef tonnato, meanwhile, is a lovely entrance into the bovine part of the meal, with that weird-but-wonderful combination of beef and tuna sauce.
However, steak remains the main event, and Macellaio is well aware of this. They’re served theatrically and proudly, and rightly so. They’re as good as any steak I’ve had in recent memory, although a more salt-averse diner than me might find the one we had a touch too much.
There’s also a small selection of desserts. Predictably, we go for the tiramisu, as I wager 90% of customers do. I’d also wager that 100% don’t regret it – it’s as classically satisfying as everything else on the menu.
Drinks include a decent wine list, unsurprisingly full of steak-complimenting deep Italian reds, and there’s also a memorable dessert wine to round things off.
We strolled back to the station feeling satiated in a way that only Italian food seems able to. It’s true that Osteria del Macellaio probably isn’t breaking as much new ground as it claims to be. However, it’s also true that a restaurant like this, with its greatest hits menu of well-executed Italian classics, is never likely to disappoint.
Kieran Ahuja was a guest of Osteria del Macellaio. Arch 24, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR; macellaiorc.com
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