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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Steak 'n' Chicks Tuesday #1

Some weeks ago, my mate Alex decided, since we all have such frantic social agendas (being the sophisticated girls-about-town that we are), that we should make a monthly commitment to catch up for a pub meal. Enthusiastically received, the idea came to fruition, and hence I'm pleased to present the inaugural Steak 'N' Chicks Tuesday Review.

2nd May 2006 - The Grand National, Underwood Street, Paddington

The Place
The Grand National is what I've decided will now be known as a BNP - a Bloody Nice Pub. While it bears some obvious scars of the Great Late Nineties Pub Renovation Cancer Epidemic, it still maintains vestiges of a traditional pub feel. Its main room is dominated by the bar and a massive blackboard menu, whilst around the corner is a bit of a niche and a separate back room, the latter bearing the only clanging disappointment in the decor - a lurid mural that Salvador Dali might have painted if he'd just come from the supermarket. There is a separate Proper Restaurant, which won't get any further mention here - cloth napkins just isn't what Steak 'n' Chicks Tuesday is about.
Despite the presence in the Grand of three big screens - appropriately only one showing sport, and the other two stuck on the Fashion Channel - the pub maintains a cosy feel, mostly due to quaint touches like a homely shaded lamp emanating its soft glow atop the ciggy machine.
When we arrived and left, about 3 hours apart, there were tables and seats available, but at several points in between it was standing room only - not bad for a Tuesday night.

The People
Despite early enthusiasm, the inaugural Steak 'N' Chicks Tuesday was only a modest affair - Alex, Fi, Anna, Jen and me - just enough to fill a table and enable everyone to take part in the same conversation at once. Good bunch of chicks, really.
Staff in The Grand were refreshingly average-looking - good for clientele self-esteem, not so good for a good old-fashioned perv - and mostly female. Service was absolutely top-notch.
Clientele was extremely mixed early in the night, with lots of older locals getting in a feed before the younger hordes arrived. The crowd seemed overwhelmingly local, possibly due to the small size of the pub and the tucked-away-in-a-narrow-corner location. Alex bumped into 'thingy' from MTV (sees him everywhere, name escapes her), and Fi was relieved when a guy, who looked exactly like her ex-boyfriend, wasn't. A touch of eye-candy here and there, although (happily) of the quietly confident and relaxed sort. Marginally more blokes than chicks, but in nothing near wet-t-shirt competition proportions.

The Food
The Grand National is like a place to get food with beer attached. Its focus seems to be primarily on its gastronomic offerings, with really, really, satisfying results. The menu was long and full of opportunities to grunt appreciatively, with a couple of steak options followed by pasta, risotto, warm salads, pizzette, fish and chips, schnitzel and the like. Anna and Fi had a warm salad with dribblingly tender slices of lamb topped with a subtle yoghurty dressing, which was the perfect size and extremely fresh and tasty. Alex had a New York steak with salad and peppercorn sauce, and was thankful she didn't have the chips that would normally go with it. Massive pieces of steak actually cooked as requested (which is rare, in both senses of the word), and a fantastic sauce. Easily the meal voted Most Likely To Have Some Left Over, due to its gigantic size. I had seafood paella with chorizo, which made up for not-quite-enough-chorizo with buttery chunks of fish right through, and five mussels perched on top. It's rare to find pub risotto-esque dishes that aren't a salty, stodgy clump, so I was more than satisfied. Jen, having just come from a gruelling, 'I nearly vomited' training session, just sampled enthusiastically from our plates. Meals in general seemed to be the perfect size, especially for the girth-conscious, although an hour after we'd finished we were gazing lasciviously at our neighbours' two plates full of T-Bone steak and chorizo and herb pizzetta.

The Summarising Bit
Excellent. The second Steak 'N' Chicks Tuesday will have to try hard to top this one in food quality and venue coolness. We were left with warm fuzzy glows and comfortably full stomachs.

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