Dungannon man's fitting tribute to the King of Cool in London eaterie
Tyrone man Dezzi McCausland's restaurant in London's trendy Shoreditch celebrates one of Hollywood's greatest actors. Tom Kelly paid a visit
In the novel 'Moon over Soho' by Ben Aaronovitch, the author writes: "My Dad says that being a Londoner has nothing do to with where you are born. He says that there are people who get off a jumbo jet, at Heathrow, go through immigration waving any type of passport, hop on a tube and by the time the train has pulled into Piccadilly Circus they have become Londoners."
I feel like that. I have worked, lived, partied and slept there including on the street once outside Westminster. It's the only place outside of Ireland I feel really at home. It's a city that swallows up individuals whole but it never spits them out - they simply become Londoners.
But whether visitor or migrant there is never a bad time to go to London and if you have time to spare you may find that the place where the 'new' Irish are making the biggest impact isn't Kilburn anymore but Shoreditch. That's where the Belfast Keery twins opened their controversial Cereal Killer breakfast bar and where Newry man Brendan Murdock started his chain of fancy barbers - Murdock London. So, it's unsurprising that I found myself wandering Shoreditch in search for a place to eat that's also owned by another Northern Ireland ex-pat.
If you have ever been to the USA, you have probably encountered a Denny's restaurant famous for its Grand Slam American breakfasts. Denny's is an instantly recognisable brand for their stack them high and sell food fast approach. Bizarre that the King of Cool - none other than Steve McQueen - was reported as being a fan of comfort food.
So, there you have it, this icon of the silver screen was a dedicated follower of American kitsch, which is strange because the bar and restaurant that bears his name in Shoreditch is a world away from the ubiquitous Denny's. McQueen is located literally on the dividing line between trendy Shoreditch and up and coming Hackney.
The bar and nightclub bearing the legendary name of McQueen is liberally peppered with iconic images from his movies such as 'The Great Escape' 'Bullitt', 'The Thomas Crown Affair' and 'Tom Horn'. There are no stomach-churning images from Papillion, which is just as well as most people come to drink, dine or dance.
McQueen is a luxurious if even decadent venue with its deep sofas and its Swarovski chandeliers. McQueen is the brainchild of Northern Ireland born entrepreneur - Dezzi McCausland. Dungannon man McCausland went to London 20 years ago, and has earned his reputation for high-end venues in food and drink industry. He once owned the former Pinstripe Club - infamous for being at the centre of the 1960s Profumo scandal involving a prominent government minister and call girl Christine Keeler. Under McCausland's stewardship it was known as the Kingly Club and regularly hosted the royalty of stage, music and the fashion world.
McQueen is the third venture by McCausland and is at the heart of the nightlife of Shoreditch. Since opening in 2010, McQueen has won a succession of prestigious bar and venue awards.
Recently with the guidance of two former Hawksmoor chefs - Richard Sandiford who created a new menu and Richard James, the new head chef, McCausland rebranded his restaurant as 'The Grill at McQueen'.
To companion me for a meal at the Grill, I invited a member of the House of Lords, a man of impeccable taste, a memory for the Profumo affair, a fan of Steve McQueen and a lover of good wine and fine food - especially steak.
The noble Baron was slightly late for lunch as he took the wrong turn out of Old Street station. Arriving a bit flustered and thirsty he ordered a lager, which was promptly delivered, and after receiving some helpful advice on his Samsung phone settings from both the sous chef and restaurant PR - he finally looked at the menu.
To keep matters flowing and festive, I ordered a bottle of Shiraz Mourvedre 2014 from an appropriately named Journey's End Huntsman. The Leaping Lord approved of this robust South African.
Unsurprisingly, the Grill is what it says above the door. If you don't like meat this is the time to make your great escape. Thankfully my guest and I do.
We decided to forgo the offer of 'The Dusty Knuckle' sourdough bread - though it looked rather tasty. The noble lord opted for the classic steak tartar on sourdough toast. Watching his lordship devour his starter with no mercy, I genuinely believe he could eat an entire heifer raw. He declared it magnificent.
I was torn between the crispy lamb sweet breads with sauce gribiche or the ox cheek and kidney pithivier with celeriac and horse radish puree. With a little persuasion from the restaurant manager I opted for the latter. It was everything I expected and more - an offal pie dish worthy of a king both flavoursome and indulgently rich.
My dining partner with his predilection for meat with only the horns and hooves removed, had no problem choosing a main from the five steak options on the menu - a rare fillet steak from the Grill with no garnish or sauce - though the triple cooked chips proved too much a temptation to pass. I ordered from the four further choices on the menu that were not steak and opted rather unusually for a caramelised chicory and Roquefort gratin. Neither of us was disappointed and both dishes proved the better of us in terms of finishing.
The Roquefort did prove a little overpowering for me but it was nonetheless a delicious dish enjoyed by a diner who never chooses a vegetarian option. The Baron left very little.
The meal was finished off with an Americano for his Lordship and a compulsory Amaretto for myself. I could not fault the service at the Grill and the atmosphere and décor has the feel of an up-market Pall Mall gentlemen's club but without the formalities.
The place was busy and it was a Thursday, which is also burlesque night at McQueen. I was tempted to stay on - but my ennobled colleague remembered all too well the Profumo affair - so we both left.