The Flat Iron made its way onto my list of “places to eat” easily. The restaurant was recommended to me by my Dad – who over the course of his brief stay now knows better places to eat in London than me – via a Chinese website promoting the best value London eats, and in reviews closer to home it ranks among the top places to eat for steak-lovers in London. A fine reputation among both local and foreign diners was all it took, plus a special occasion to justify yet another dining-out night.
The restaurant is a pop-up gone permanent, so successful that it takes no reservations and has no multi-page website, relying on word-of-mouth, reviews, and social media traffic to reach new customers.
Given the Flat Iron’s confidence, my only worry when I went to its Covent Garden branch was that it would be so popular that there would be no tables free. But 6pm on a Sunday was early enough and my friend Charles and I – whom I have to thank for providing the “special occasion” – were shown to a table below ground. I normally balk at basement dining, but on this occasion the ambiance suited the diner theme: the warm yellow lights emanating from glowing filaments added coziness to the room and aged the wooden tables and boards which the steaks are presented on. Potted plants placed around the room and mirrors on the walls provided fresh air and a sense of space.
Apart from the pepper mill that had run out of peppercorns, everything was faultless:
- The simple menu reassures steak-lovers of the justice done to the meat. Specials include different eating styles (burger), different breeds (wagyu), and different cuts (rib-eye). For the pricier steaks they won’t even risk ruining the cut for you – the only level they are prepared to cook those to is medium rare.
- The menu and ordering system was explained to us clearly, and the flat iron steaks (house speciality, £10 each, shoulder cuts) were thickly cut, optimally cooked to medium rare standard, and slathered the wooden boards with juices.
- The complimentary green salads, which came in mini pots and contained what I thought was lamb’s lettuce, were indeed green, crisp and unwilted.
- For sides we ordered Sophie’s Salad (blue cheese, candied pecans, lemon dressing, £3.50) and dripping cooked chips (£2.50), and for drinks a coke (£3.30) and a Strawberry and Basil House Fizz (£2.35). The flavour in each was intense and well-balanced, and although we could have ordered a sauce to go with our steaks (£1 each, with a range to choose from including the chef’s special, Fred’s Sauce, a spicy tomato sauce), it was not needed.
- The attention to detail extended to the themed toilets, aforementioned pepper mills, and cutlery which is so unique that extra care is taken to prevent diners from stealing it.
To top off our delicious meal, there were two sweeteners to our bill: a mug of salted popcorn that welcomed us in and the cones of free salt caramel ice cream with Mast Brother’s Dominican Republic chocolate shavings that we were gifted with on our way out, in commemoration of Monsieur Carlo Gatti, who first introduced the penny lick (the precursor to commercial ice cream) to Covent Garden in 1850. The chocolate was freshly shaved at the ice cream counter from big bars, and the ice cream just rolled across the fragrant pile. The cone was a sheet of crisp thick pastry, not the ordinary wafer. For this perk alone, I would highly recommend the Covent Garden branch.
I’ve also dined at the Soho Beak St. branch with my Dad. That branch is smaller and stuffier, has a higher tendency to sell out of menu items, and does not offer the complimentary ice cream palate-cleanser. That said, the service and food at both are consistent, and it was at the Soho branch that I used their waiting system: the waiter notes your name and mobile no. and texts you when your table is ready, giving you the freedom to explore the area within 10 minutes’ walk away. Pleasingly efficient.
“One of my favourite restaurants”, according to my friend the steak-lover. My Dad, a voracious meat-eater who is not used to eating beef so rare, also approved. He also dislikes strawberry drinks which he finds too sweet and is wary of strange European herbs, yet still loved the Strawberry and Basil fizz. So I’d say dine here if you want your expectations exceeded. I think it is the ‘best in class’ in the UK for food and service.
Update since publication (2017): On another visit to the Covent Garden branch in December with Charles, I was offered and took advantage of a fillet steak at £13 rather than £24 because the £12 LMC on the specials board that I had ordered turned out to have been sold out. LMC stands for Leg Of Mutton, and I think the waitress told me that it stood for Lower Muscle Cut. The mistake did not at all dent the customer service which I was more than happy with. I was in the half-hour long queue to get a table this time, and wandered around Covent Garden waiting for the text.
Find the Flat Iron nearest to you in London, at:
17 Beak St, Soho, W1F 9RW
9 Denmark St, Soho, WC2H 8LS
17/18 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 8QH
77 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, EC2A 3BS