S is for Steak. And Suicide. (In that order.)

It’s January, so, because I live in London, almost every other tube journey I take will be hindered by a Person Under A Train. Perhaps I’ve heard too many drivers’ deadpan announcements, but I have no sympathy for those who’ve jumped, only self-pity as I and thousands of others shuffle-queue and elbow our way home in their selfish wake.

I just don’t understand it: who, instead of just sticking their head in the oven in the comfort of their own home, would go out of their way to make everyone else’s January more depressing than it already is? Here we are: it’s grey and damp, not a bank holiday in sight, pay day’s a mirage, and we’re feeling twice the people we were before Christmas, battling into skinny jeans every morning only to inch home cursing our migraine-inducing waistbands – and the idiot who decided to meet his maker with an audience.

Perhaps those who recently lost the will to carry on had all visited one of the clutch of Aberdeen Angus Steakhouses that, inexplicably, still litter the capital’s streets almost 50 years on. Like poisonous mushrooms, these tenacious curiosities are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I ate at one this time last year, despite every fibre of my being screaming at me to go directly to jail without passing go. It is, and will always, remain lodged in my consciousness as the very worst meal of my life. To be honest, the only reason I didn’t join the suicide statistics straight after the experience was because I couldn’t face the prospect of my much-fetishised Last Meal being a criminally-priced cow’s valve camouflaged with a thin veneer of grey meat, frazzled onion rings that got too up close and personal with a vat of rancid oil and potato skins covered in what appeared to be the fruits of a vigorous and productive annual oven-cleaning session. Would that I could turn back the clock and reconsider that particular decision.

Certainly, time rolls back as soon as you enter one of these places. Décor-wise, I doubt they were ever in fashion, channelling as they do Count Dracula’s de-railed dining car (well, the wheels certainly came off a while back). There’s more studded red velvet than you can shake a stake at, and countless mock-sepia photos of trams rattling along the highways and by-ways of Whereverville, all mounted on blood-red paranoia-inducing flock wallpaper. The booths and tables are crammed so close to each other that you can see the lines of regret etching themselves on the other customers’ faces as they eat. None of the diners here are smiling. When I slide onto the bench of my booth I realise part of the reason why – it’s as comfortable as a church pew, and as roomy as a dwarf’s coffin.

The glass-fronted dining room does nothing to assuage the claustrophobia of my booth – instead I realise with horror that everyone can see me in here. When the waiter finally proffers me a wipe-clean (though, ironically, grubby) menu, I hide my flushed face and almost weep with relief. When I read the menu, however, the tears come.

Before ordering, we spend five fraught minutes hissing at each other.

‘We can just get up and leave… I will if you will…’

‘Seriously guys, I really want to leave. My boss might see me in here.’

‘We’re never going to see these people again. And there’s a McDonalds round the corner that’s looking pretty tasty from where we’re sitting.’

‘If we’re going to do it, it’s now or never.’

Why we stayed, I’ll never know. Why eating here is even still an option in the 21st century is beyond me. How is this business surviving the recession? It’s certainly not the food that’s the draw. And it’s not the price – meals here aren’t cheap, or even on nodding terms with the concept of value for money. In fact, paying the bill feels uncannily like grudgingly donating the best part of 100 quid to a down-and-out who you suspect will invest it nefariously (or intravenously).

So are Angus Steakhouses trading on kitsch? Do they feature in some sort of ironic tourist guide – so bad they’re good? Have they, after half a century without a makeover, gained an iconic status, like tawdry telephone boxes? Are they being mistaken for a spin-off of the London Dungeons? Steady your step on the threadbare carpets! Steel your nerves for cat-and-mouse fun as you try to attract the waiter’s interest! Hear the fights in the kitchen! Touch the tables and take the stench of vinegar home with you!

That day, we left the restaurant two hours after we’d entered it, having been sullenly served only one course. Afterwards, we wandered around the city without direction for some time, trying to come to terms with our actions, to piece together the time warp of the experience and draw some wisdom from the wreckage of our dignity. It was a drizzly January day, a bad taste lingered in our mouths and we were, at that moment, unaware that it would give us indigestion for the rest of the weekend. It was tempting to just end it all after that train-wreck of a meal. 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One response to “S is for Steak. And Suicide. (In that order.)

  1. So it WAS you that I saw in that Angus Snakepit, I mean Steak House that dark, evil night…!

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