Review: Macellaio, Southwark

6 mins read

Before I begin, I should point out that I ate at Macellaio’s new Southwark branch (it has two already – one in Clerkenwell and one in South Kensington) during its ‘soft launch’ period, during which food was 50% off and some of the kinks are still being ironed out. I’m a little uncomfortable giving a bad review to anywhere during a soft launch, because I feel like part of the deal is to put up with the problems in exchange for a cheap meal.

At the centre of the dining room were two long benches with a space in the middle for staff to walk up and down to serve diners, inexplicably raised up on a platform so high that they had to stoop down to put the plates down or hear what we were saying. I didn’t manage to take an illicit photo of one of the staff up there without it feeling invasive, so you’ll have to take my word for it. At the top of the room was a butchery station where a man wearing a trilby hat chopped steaks off one of the beef ribcages that hung beside him.

The (very large) wine list was, to me at least, unhelpfully expensive. I settled on the cheapest thing I could find, which was a £23 carafe of chianti and tasted fine, but I noticed that most of my fellow soft launch frugalists were on beer (£4.50/bottle).

Our first starter was a battuta (£5.50 before the discount), an Italian steak tartare without the strong accompaniments that steak tartare usually has like pickles and Worcestershire sauce. It was a real treat – the beef was fresh and tender and well-dressed with a good olive oil, making for a more subtle flavouring than steak tartare usually gives.

Our other two starters were more disappointing. Beef tongue (usually £5) was strong and shot through with a rich vein of fat, but the splodges of salsa verde it came with were utterly flavourless. Anchovies with butter and bread (£6) were nice enough, but literally just that – half a dozen little anchovies with a knob of creamy butter and two thin slices of bread (that tasted a little stale). I enjoyed eating a very buttery piece of bread with anchovies on top, but I don’t need to go to Macellaio and spend £6 for that privilege.

Bread, anchovies and butter served on a rock

There is only one meat option at Macellaio – the six-week aged beef ribs hanging in a fridge at the top of the dining room (£5.40/100g). They show you your cut after it’s been butchered so I presume it’s good quality meat, and certainly it looked red and healthy to me. After it’s been cooked it’s brought to your table (well, bench) with a bit too much fanfare as the waiters do a countdown and unveil the beef from under its serving platter lid.

Unfortunately the steak was not seared enough on the outside, presumably because the grill was not hot enough, and so was mostly grey and the fat not crispy enough. It was still a tender and pleasingly light-tasting bit of meat, and did have some crispy outside bits that were very enjoyable, but it felt like a bit of a waste. Unfortunately the chips that came with it were very bad, greasy with oil and again not cooked hot enough to be crunchy on the outside.

Having said that, the beef was surprisingly inexpensive in relative terms – Hawksmoor’s prime rib is £8.25/100g and compared to that (admittedly better-cooked) this did feel like it could be a decent deal. But if you’re serving a big piece of beef, and making it the centrepiece of your restaurant, you should get it right.

According to Ben the pissas – apparently the way Ligurians spell pizza – were better; crispily soaked in olive oil at the bottom, light and fluffy at the top, and topped with soft little lumps of tangy, yoghurty stracchino cheese (not mozzarella). They were also cheap at £6 each.

One other thing really annoyed me that I feel I should mention. Quite a few times the staff put their hands on my shoulder (eg when I was ordering), including at one point when the manager and I had had a misunderstanding about when we’d be sitting that I think he took a little personally. Maybe that’s fun in Italy, but it’s not fun for me.

Self-consciously upmarket, Macellaio felt a little bit like a Strada or ASK for people on City salaries. And it’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself or any of the food, or that with some improvement it could be quite a lot better. But at £71 for two under the discount, which would have been closer to £100 without, I just can’t really understand why, at those prices, I would want to go back.

Rating: No medals.

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