As far as the evolution of things culinary go, steak and chips will outlive caviar, deconstructed Beef Wellington and hand-dived scallops cooked sous vide. The combination of char-grilled bloody beef and golden-crisp, perfectly fried slivers of hand-cut potato appeals to a basic need for happy sustenance, one unmatched by other food offerings.
The need for a good steak sneaks up on one like a former lover with closure issues. Once attached to your being, it has you edgily seeking the nearest place to satisfy this visceral pang, a combination of hunger and a headily nervous need for fulfilled satisfaction. Like a National Sea Rescue volunteer, the call of the steak sees you stop and drop everything you are doing, leaving these now-senseless tasks in mid-flow to hunt down an eatery with the potential of sating your animal appetite.
In Stellenbosch, the Fat Butcher is willing to accommodate such a spontaneous meat yearning. Set in a charming old building in Plein Street, opposite Decameron – the famous Italian eatery that also serves as Stellenbosch Mafia HQ – Fat Butcher is nirvana for a steak seeker. The cosy comfort of the interior, complemented by quaintly creaking old wooden floors, exudes a busy, yet welcoming, atmosphere. Upon entering you are met, usually, by a charming Stellenbosch student moonlighting as front-of-house, walls of wine and piles of meat. What is there not to like?
Obviously, the menu is meat, meat and more meat, including interesting bits, such as lamb-tails. Oxtail, too, and lamb chops ready to hit the grill. Calamari and steak tartare and fish, if you want, plus generous piles of salad. But for a true carnivore, the menu does not need looking at.
Before asking about the day’s steak recommendations, myself and the guest order starters to prepare the stomach for that beefy onslaught. She has a beef cheek drifting lazily in an aromatic, savoury broth. Always the one for kitsch and timeless steakhouse classics, I opt for the snails.
The escargots are presented removed from the shells and drenched with a creamy wine sauce with the desired amount of garlic, the steam of which rises and latches itself onto your contact lenses and painting your vision the tricolores of the French flag. But, oh, they are delicious morsels, firm to the bite yet creepily sensual in the firmed gooey-ness. Bread is dunked in the tasty sauce and a Damascene Sémillon, drier than a joke at a wedding between two fertiliser-salespeople, is sipped.
I procure a piece of the guest’s beef-cheek which has a lucid, herbaceous flavour in the clean streaks of facial flesh.
Fat Butcher offers a diverse selection of steaks. Wishing to know more, I make an interested-sounding enquiry to the charming lady serving us. The offering includes tomahawk, trendily showy with that formidable XXX-rated bone sticking sideways, as well as rib-eye, T-bone, picanha and sirloin still fondly attached to bone.
The guest and I opt for the latter, believing that a hot bone adds to the flavour of the meat. French fries. And béarnaise sauce, seeing as I have dined at the Fat Butcher before and know the béarnaise is prepared in-house and with the skill and respect this necessity deserves.
We opt to stick with drinking the Sémillon, its complexity not needing any conforming to convention by having red wine with the meat.
My steak is medium-rare, accurately grilled to this level. The char is deep and welcoming, and as the knife breaks the slight surface crust and slices downwards, one is met with the sight of meat dancing effortlessly between shades of deep pink and a red, bloody purpleness. As per habit, I carve the steak from the bone, scrapping those delectable crusty bits of burnt fat onto the slivers of meat.
Doused with béarnaise, the meat is eaten with gusto and relish. And it hits the spot. That irony-savoury meatiness is lifted to lofty heights by the sauce’s bright, palate-alerting combination of tarragon, vinegar, egg and butter, this dreamily creamy concoction adding further to the comfort the meat is providing.
After every second bite of meat, I pause, put down knife and fork, and grab one of the golden chips from the nest assembled in a miniature metal bucket. The chips offer a harmonious eat, crisp surfaces giving way to wholesome white potatoey pleasure. Now and again, a chip is dragged through some béarnaise to brighten the earthy neutrality of a good potato.
All good things come to an end, and before you can say “vegan”, 600 grams of live-giving, vital and nutritious grilled cow has entered your inner sanctum, the sanctum for now happy and satisfied and fulfilled. Until next time, which after a meal like this, cannot come soon enough. A desire that will outlive humankind itself.
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