Maybe it's all the rugby, but I've been baying for blood lately and it's beginning to influence my dining choices. My recent visit to Jervois Steak House and Saloon would make it two steak houses in as many weeks - I can't seem to get enough red meat.
I met my two friends in the side bar - the saloon - where we enjoyed a glass of bubbles each before being escorted up the steep flight of stairs to our table.
Delicate chandeliers sparkle and provided a luscious relief from the fact that it seems as though every surface inside this old brick building has been slapped with a thick coat of black paint.
The menu reads well with just enough detail to excite the tastebuds. Simon Gault, joint owner of the Nourish Group of which JSH is a part, loves a gimmick and there were plenty throughout the evening, the majority succeeding in their mission to delight and surprise us.
My crayfish cocktail arrived in what looked like an overblown glass pipe and the fixings for the tuna taco took up a massive platter with the crispy shells stacked in a toaster rack and wasabi mayo in its own toothpaste-like tube. The scarlet shells of the red king crab were spectacular and held the promise of a generous feast of soft white meat within. But looks will only get you so far and we reserved our judgment until the tasting took place.
We weren't disappointed. All three starters stacked up. The crispy shallots contrasted with the softness of the crayfish cocktail and contributed a fabulous caramelised flavour; a trio of melted infused butters were a stunningly simple accompaniment for the crab; the tuna tacos, starting with barely seared tuna that dissolved in your mouth, well, they were just sensational.
Round one complete, now on to the meat fest.
The menu describes each cut by feed, breed and weight, some on the bone, others off and all available with various sauce combinations. They ride alone, these steaks, so side orders are a must. We all opted for beef (though there are main course options of lamb, seafood, chicken and vegetarian) so that we could compare cuts - it's a rare opportunity to do so.
Here were our conclusions: the pure grass-fed savannah angus eye fillet on the bone was the most tender of the three while the grain-fed black angus sirloin had that wonderful rich flavour that grain-fed takes on. Mine, the rump, was voted the favourite though - it was the tastiest of the cuts, having done all that hard work in the paddock, and yet tender at the hands of this chef.
We chose sauces of porcini jus, four peppercorn, spinach and gorgonzola and a Saporoso balsamic butter but, aside from the butter, I'm not sure I'd bother next time as they didn't pack much of a taste punch.
Our side dish of onion rings were perfectly golden and, magically, non-greasy. The roasted beetroot tossed with candied walnuts, goats' cheese and a hint of truffle was the sort of side dish I could have eaten all night and all on its own. The peanut slaw gets rave reports but to my mind it was flabby and boring, and the side special of roasted yams were overcooked.
Goodness knows how after all those grams of beef we found it in us to have dessert, but let's just say the digestive qualities of calvados helped.
With brulee being so commonplace, establishments of the standing of JSH need to ensure their versions are exemplary - and this one was not. The toffee top was merely lightly toasted, not bruleed, denying the eater both the essential flavour combination of burnt sugar and baked creme and that first satisfying thwack with the spoon that cracks the surface. My dessert of rum baba was not the light, yeasted cake, soaked in rum, that I was expecting either. Rather it was a too-large, tough, scone-like formation that required much more soaking than the theatrical, tableside baptism allowed for to render it soft.
Jervois Steak House and Saloon offers a slick performance and food that shouts, not whispers and, despite a few hiccups, I liked what it had to say. If you want steak, it doesn't get better than this.
From the menu: Crayfish cocktail $28.50, tuna taco $26, red king crab $27.50, eye fillet on the bone $42.50, black angus sirloin $38.50, angus rump $35.50, onion rings $7.50, peanut slaw $7.50, beetroot $10.50, yams $8.50, orange creme brulee $16.50, rum baba $16.50, handmade truffles $15
Drinks: Fully licensed. We enjoyed Daniel Le Brun $13/glass, Tatachilla Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 $74, calvados $12/glass