It was a mixture of laziness, desperation and a perverse masochism that led me to the Paddington branch of the Aberdeen Angus Steak House recently. I had 90 minutes until my train. It was Friday night and I was hungry and wanted to splurge some cash for some good food. I didn’t know the area so I attempted to crowdsource some suggestions via my Twitterand Facebook pages. “Don’t leave the station; stay near the bright lights” was the best response I got; Time Out’s guides in WHSmiths offered little and a walk in the area offered less.
So knowing I wanted to start a blog exploring the best culinary options London has to offer, I thought I’d subject myself to the absolute worst. One of those shining beacons of mediocrity that sit across from tube stations and pull in gormless tourists like a moth to a furnace. An omnipresent palace of cheap seats, cheaper food and the cheapest art, where unsuspecting travellers are rinsed for all they’re worth. Aberdeen Angus Steak Houses aren’t necessarily the worst restaurants in London (there’s enough caffs in New Cross to shoot that argument right down for starters), but when you take the price they charge and multiply it by the number of victims they mug, they’ve probably got the most criminally disproportionate quality / profit ratio in town.
So I crossed the threshold and got to the back of the queue (yes, people were queuing for this), dumped my luggage by the front window as requested (no room by my table) and settled down ready to rip into the whole experience. But…something was nagging. The staff were friendly. There were free bread rolls. The people around me seemed happy, snapping their prawn cocktails with glee. Who was I to judge them and their evening?
Thankfully, it wasn’t long before every clueless visitor’s favourite meat emporium equipped me with enough ammo to take them down. The bread rolls had been foisted on me and cost cash. The friendly waitress was the good cop to the shift manager’s bad. And opening the menu opened up a whole new can of worms. Steaks began at twenty quid, already the expensive end of the market for a slab of meat with the consistency of PVC, and that was before you added “sides” like the usually part-of-the deal “french fries”. I don’t know whose sofa they shredded to coat in deep fat and sell for about 40p per chip, but it tasted like a Liverpudlian swinger’s.
Most people ordered their sides late, having realised they weren’t part of the astronomical deal, and in fact the poor elderly Chinese guy next to me bought half the menu at the insistence of the führer d’. (”What about desserts? What, you don’t like sweets?!” I heard him barking at the timid loner before purposely zoning out). Tourists don’t stand a chance under the wheels of this relentless money machine; it’s a tightly-run pocket drainer that makes Simon Cowell look merciful.
The nadir of the experience came somewhere between No Doubt and Eric Clapton’s ‘Cocaine’ on the restaurant’s Random Shit The Manager’s Heard In Westfield playlist. Or was it when the couple next to me clocked in a full half hour without talking to each other? Or when my chirpy drone brought my 14th napkin of the meal and I caught a glimpse of the owner gleefully counting his till receipts? Hard to say; it was a meal of troughs and troughs – in a red banquette-padded trough to end them all.
The meal came to £31.75 for two beers, two small rolls, a steak, tomato and chips and the most meagre tip I could get away with. Follow this blog to find out where and when and how you can make that thirty one seventy five (or less) per head a LOT better spent.