Photo: Eddie Jim
RESTAURANT fashion has all but abandoned the steakhouse. It's a sad state of affairs for the spiritual home of the business lunch and more than a little unfair when steak continues to ballast every middling bistro menu. But that's the unrelenting swing of popularity for you, given an extra push by the new environmental orthodoxy about global warming, the bovine-methane nexus and the evils of feedlots.
All factors worth considering, certainly. But I'm with Michael Pollan on this one. To paraphrase the American seer of modern food ethics, if you're going to eat steak, make sure it's the good stuff.
Ultimately it comes down to trust. Trust that the beast was treated well while alive and will be treated well once it reaches the kitchen.
You can't reinvent the steakhouse but Steer is doing its best to modernise it. The menu is the Rosetta Stone of beef. The fine print - provenance, marbling, flavour intensity, ageing and diet - helps interpret 35-odd bedazzling choices.
Alternatively, just close your eyes and stab a finger. You can be sure head chef Shaun Nielsen and his kitchen brigade will do justice to some impeccable produce.
It will also circumvent the arduous process of ordering. What should be one of the highlights is let down by a system struggling to cope. A dozen cuts of meat are presented to diners on a wooden board hoisted, strongman-style, over a waiter's shoulder. It's a carnival of flesh, shorthand for ''trust us - we know meat''. But one board and plenty of hungry tables waiting for their introductions is a recipe for frustration. Understandable, but …
Waiters aren't doing their bit to soften the experience. It's hard to get a drink. A guy who seems to be in charge says it will be about 20 minutes to see the board. We suggest ordering a few entrees while waiting for our time in the meat sun; he waffles on about why it's in our best interests to wait. His interests, maybe. It leaves the impression of a hotel restaurant with aspirations it can't quite live up to.
Steer hasn't changed much physically since the Olsen Hotel's flagship diner misguidedly launched as a modern Brazilian restaurant.
It's a little lobby-like, with guests traipsing upstairs where a mezzanine wraps around. It's decked out pleasantly enough, although tables are so close-set it's easy to join in conversation with your neighbours.
The mother ship Fairfax will be pleased I didn't go for the Blackmore wagyu rib eye. At $169 for 900 grams, it's the most expensive thing on the list. A humble little piece of hanger steak looks out of place among all of the lavish marbling on display but the GFC's upside was letting us in on the secret of these more ornery cuts. Cooked textbook rare, it's assertively beefy with a good crust that packs in the flavour. Like all the steak here, it comes with a parsley and radish salad and a sawn-off section of fried bone marrow. No fuss. Just excellent cooking, diligent resting and simple presentation.
The Gippsland scotch eye is also great, with nice rivulets of fat running through it. If ''buttery'' is the kind of adjective you like to apply to steak, this is your baby: softer, milder, fattier and sweeter.
You'll need sides. The world's crunchiest onion rings, stacked like deck quoits on a cruise chip, are impossible to resist. A generous pile of asparagus sprinkled with black olive ''crumbs'' would be better if the orange segments were left raw instead of cooked.
Steer is impressively on-message about the commitment to quality produce but there's the occasional outbreak of sabotage. For example, when the menu boasts of ''wild'' pine and field mushrooms, they arrive minus any of the former.
The menu takes on more of a local sensibility with the support players. A dozen-odd starters, keenly priced at $14, include scallops (three, although Steer touts itself as a sharing kind of place) that arrive on the shell napped by a miso-flavoured ochre sauce, crumbs of pork crackling and black sesame and a translucent hat of shaved daikon.
The tataki of Sher wagyu tenderloin is splendid - just-seared, thin slices that rip like tissue paper. There's real wasabi to add to the ponzu soy.
Pickled wagyu tongue schnitzel (although I challenge you to pick wagyu tongue from non-wagyu tongue) is a soft, little, fried croquette, plus a lighter, sweeter oxtail one, with slaw and artichoke gribiche heavily flavoured with gherkin. And matzo balls, of all things, with a heady, salty pheasant consomme and chopped liver, just in case you needed a reminder that we're south of the river.
Desserts stick to the New York steakhouse template. A mango bombe Alaska is flamed theatrically at the table but the soft meringue has a creeping acridity. Better is the peanut butter cup - thick, gooey chocolate walls holding an illicit tide of peanuts, salt and sugar.
It's difficult to change a restaurant's course midstream but Steer's reinvention has found an audience. It's busy, which ironically enough is their biggest challenge. Get that right and the world will be its oyster blade.
Food Modern steakhouse
Where Olsen Hotel, 637 Chapel Street, South Yarra
Phone 9040 1188
Cost Steaks $35-$169; typical entree $14, main $34, dessert $12
Licensed and BYO Monday night only (corkage $13.50 a bottle)
Wine list An impressively broad global collection
Vegetarian One entree, one main
Dietary Plenty of GF
Parking Street or paid
Cards AE MC V eftpos
Hours Daily, 6-10pm; Fri, noon-3pm
- 03 9040 1188
- Cuisine - American (US)
- Prices - Steaks $35-$169; typical entree $14, main $34, dessert $12
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Daily, 6-10pm; Fri, noon-3pm
- Author - Larissa Dubecki