I love beef. I love burgers (not sure if you would have noticed that, I keep it quite low key on my Instagram…). So, when an email landed in my inbox inviting me to an evening of beef with Marks and Spencer, I was all over it. Cue the little piggy arriving for an evening of scoffing her bovine counterpart.
I arrived at L’Atelier des Chefs on Wigmore Street to be greeted with a glass of chilled Marks and Spencer rosé champagne and some platters of bresaola and beef jerky that were strangely untouched. ‘What’s the deal with the food? Why is no one touching it?’ I asked, my greedy beady eyes fixated on the food at hand, yet somewhat perplexed since I was one of the last through the doors. ‘I’m not really sure, I think it’s just that whole politeness thing of not wanting to be the first to tuck in’ responded one of my fellow food bloggers. Of course I then immediately marched over to the table where I commenced my feast and inhaled a whole plate in approximately four minutes flat. I mean, they brought us here to eat, right? I take my job seriously, and so eat is what I shall do.
Next up, we were fortunate enough to hear from both the M&S team, as well as one of their beef suppliers Kettyle, about the ways in which M&S beef ends up being the deliciousness we have all come to know and love. You’ve heard of dry aging beef, right? Well, what about salt aging? It was something I’d heard little about before that evening, but essentially, it’s leaving the beef to dry in rooms that are made entirely of salt – in Kettyle’s case it’s Extra Virgin Irish Oriel Sea Salt, Irish Sea Moss and… well, the rest is for them to know and for us to never find out. Salt aging beef takes the flavour that extra bit further than dry aging does, given that the salt absorbs 5-10% of the moisture from the meat – leaving a more intense, concentrated flavour. To demonstrate how the length of aging affects the flavour of the meat, we were lucky enough to try a whole load of samples ranging from a 14-day aged tomahawk, right up to a 300-day aged sirloin. 300 DAYS. You could clearly tell the flavours were getting more intense but holy cow (see what I did there, eh eh) the 300-day aged was INSANE. It was such a mature, concentrated flavour it almost tasted like blue cheese, which I freakin’ loved, given that I’m such a fan of intense flavours. All I could think of was how you get such amazing, rich jamón in Spain, but it was like you transferred that flavour into a steak texture. People are going wild for this stuff over in the USA at the moment, but I’m not sure the everyday M&S shopper is quite ready for it, hence their beef only reaching the stages of 28-50-day aged goodness. To get your hands on the heavy-duty stuff, you’re looking at a heavy-duty sized bill to match at a Michelin starred restaurant – even then you’ll only get a small slice because the flavour is too strong to consume much more. Unless you’re me, who somehow wanted to continue.
Finally, it was time for us to get cooking ourselves – something I rarely have time to do these days and so subsequently am pretty crap at. We pan-fried a piece of sirloin before popping it on a bed of salad made up from a variety of the small pots available at M&S – super simple, super speedy, but super satisfying.
I’m sure you’ve seen the ads and heard people talking about the brand spanking new M&S ‘Best Ever Burger’, and this was what I was most curious to try. I never buy pre-made patties from a supermarket. I think they’re bland and boring, so I was just sat there thinking ‘best ever burger’… yeah sure, blah blah marketing ploy BLAH. However, my ears soon pricked up once I was being told what goes into making this burger, and I had to swallow my words (along with what’s legitimately the best ever supermarket burger I’ve eaten in my entire life). Chuck steak (good for mincing) is combined with beef brisket (for texture), short rib (for flavour) and bone marrow (do I even need to explain why this is a GLORIOUS idea?!) and goes through 13 mills before adding a dash of salt and breadcrumbs, resulting in what has been a year in the making, and is the first product M&S have ever been bold enough to brand the ‘best ever’. Ballsy. Totally fair though because these patties are on POINT!
M&S are of the school of thought that the best beef needs to go in, in order to get the best burger out. It’s a running theme across the board, given that the same quality of beef that lines their steak shelves, is used in any and all of their pre-made products containing beef. If that’s not impressive enough for you, how about learning that M&S can not only trace every piece of beef back to the British farm it came from, but can also proudly say that they are the only national retailer who knows precisely which animal it came from too. It’s all down to DNA traceability and is what makes M&S such a trusted source for buying your beef – they trace it so that we can trust it. Anyway, I loved the patty so much I went for a double patty party shoved inside a sesame crusted bun, then got very carried away forgetting about my diet and threw in a rather healthy dose of stout-glazed salt beef and barbecue beef brisket (is there really such a thing as too much beef?), cheese, mayo and that beaut smoked house ketchup. No carbs before Marbs doesn’t seem to be running as smoothly as I had anticipated…
To polish it all off, we were presented with what seemed like a very beautiful yet normal dessert. That is, until we were informed that the cookie staring at me was made with aged beef fat instead of butter. Worked a total dream with the caramelised miso ganache and salted chocolate tahini mousse sitting alongside that tart raspberry sorbet.
All in all, an amazing evening not only due to the food I munched, but also due to how much I was able to learn, and of course due to being able to try that 300-day aged beef that I otherwise would have had to fork out a load for – result.