That little disclaimer is a first for this blog. Last night I ate rather a lot of food and I didn't pay for any of it. Freebies are a contentious subject amongst bloggers. Some blog away with impunity, accepting anything offered to them and providing positive copy irrespective of quality, whereas at the opposite end of the scale others refuse point blank to countenance the idea, preferring not to risk compromising their independence.
I'm sure that most of us lie somewhere between those extremes. Personally I've never had any fundamental objections to accepting a free meal, but always thought I should set myself a few rules in the event that it ever happened. The rules are:
1) Be honest about it. I'll tell you if I didn't pay for it.
2) Don't give it marks out of ten. I usually rate meals out of ten, but a freebie isn't really a representative experience so I don't think it's fair to compare it directly with meals where I paid the bill.
3) Try to write a fair and balanced review. I try to do that anyway, and feel like I ought to try extra hard if I'm not paying.
4) Don't accept any old offer. The rule of thumb here is 'would I like to try the restaurant/product anyway, and would I be willing to part with my own cash to do so?'
Rules one and two speak for themselves. You'll have to read what follows and decide for yourself whether I've complied with rule three. As for number four, yes I'd have given Cattle Grid a try anyway, but on this occasion I had an ulterior motive. As it was a Blogger's event it was a great opportunity to finally meet some of the people I've been waffling at on Twitter in recent months.
Right, now that's out of the way, on to the review. After arrival, drinks, introductions and so forth we were seated and welcomed to the restaurant by Steve, one of the proprietors of Cattle Grid. Steve then proceeded to deliver a rather long and rambling, unexpectedly frank, seemingly drunken, very sweary, often funny and sometimes tedious speech about all things Cattle Grid. No stone was left unturned, from disparaging comments about other steakhouses (Hawksmoor, Goodman), to the restaurant businesses they would most like to emulate (Pizza Express, Nando's), to the provenance of their produce (mostly British beef, currently from Yorkshire, occasionally Uruguayan) and the difficulties of sourcing reliable, good value beef. By the end of it I was slightly drunk, very hungry and didn't quite know what to make of the place. Better to let the food do the talking.
Ribs to start were the highlight of the meal for me. They were large with plenty of tender meat and doused in sauces that weren't overly sweet. I particularly liked the piri piri variety which were nice and vinegary with a good chilli kick.
The steak was disappointing. I'd ordered the T-bone medium rare, exactly the same as Neil sitting next me, yet somehow they'd manage to cook mine considerably more. It was medium at best, but probably more medium-well. It was overseasoned too, the predominant flavour being salt. The chips were a bit limp and would have benefited from another minute or two in the fryer. The watercress was pointless but then it nearly always is (the proper fiery stuff being very hard to come by for some reason).
Of two sauces we tried the bearnaise was pleasant but the peppercorn was a bit dull (more salty than peppery). A side of onion strings would have made a great beer snack, being deep fried slices of onion, very slightly battered, with about a kilo of salt added. As it was they arrived after everything else was nearly finished (some sort of problem with the fryers) so were mostly left uneaten.
Of the other meals I saw or tried, Rachel's rib-eye was a miles better steak than mine (fair play to Steve, that was what he recommended). It was cooked as requested and had much more flavour. I didn't try Penny's chicken burger, but it was bloody enormous and seemed to contain one topping too many.
The ice-cream I had for pudding was decent quality stuff. Others declared the chocolate brownies to be lovely, the waffles to be boring, and creme brulee tasted nice but was a bit eggy.
All in all a very enjoyable evening, and it was lovely to meet everyone. Thanks to Emma from Culture Vultures for organising it. The food was a bit of a mixed bag though, and the main event, the steak wasn't really up to scratch. I probably wouldn't return to Cattle Grid, except maybe for a few of those ribs.
I haven't read anybody elses write-up of the evening yet, but will add links to them here when I've checked them out.
Edit: Here are some other reviews of the night:
Penny from Bronchia
Katie from Leeds Grub
Elly from The Magic Square Foundation