What’s dinner at Rowleys like? Imagine sitting in the elaborate drawing room of your old headmaster while performing a play set during the British Empire, all the while eating a steak so eye-poppingly good that you understandably ask yourself whether you’re dreaming (although the inexplicable presence of your old headmaster probably contributed).
Rowleys ‘does’ being a restaurant in the way that Captain Flashman ‘does’ being a soldier: deliberately antiquated, charmingly out-of-date, a favourite of grizzled ex-public school old-timers who talk about the war as if it was last night’s FA Cup match.
Rowleys restaurant is so old-school, they think ‘dirty food’ is the kind of thing you’d hide from the health inspector. But Rowleys also do a stonking steak. My entrecote was a smooth as cashmere. Seared with a tan-coloured tinge on the outside, tender and yielding within, it’s the kind of steak that justifies meat-eating. It’s reassuring to know that Rowleys Restaurant is here serving top-quality steak cooked to perfection, while the rest of London bounds off into a post-ironic future. Should I ever come into a cushy sinecure, this is where my insincere new friends and I will be found celebrating, competing to snatch my good fortune over the rib-eye.
The dining room alone nearly steals the show. It exudes old boys’ club; all it’s missing is a big wooden board listing the names of each years’ Head Boy in gold leaf. Tiled like the grandest bathroom of a particularly opulent Ottoman pasha, with an ornate coffered ceiling and the kind of enormous, foreboding clock which might come to life as a charmingly mannered French duke in a Disney fairytale, you could eat beans on toast in here and still feel like a shipping-tycoon-turned-spice-merchant. There’s an air of authenticity about the place which is hard to come by.
Steak is the main act, but the rest of the ensemble is likeable enough. There are admirably crumbly fishcakes, served with a buttery parsley sauce. There’s an unapologetically meaty terrine. There’s a fine creme brulee, its quality discernible despite the obviously burnt crust.
It’s all very enjoyable, except the supposedly-famous roquefort butter served with the steak, which jumped all over the entrecote trying to get my attention with its blinding savouriness until I politely asked it to leave. In the end my partner dipped her chips into it absently – not a bad end, all things considered.
Amongst all this finery, the chips are reminiscent of the kind of french fries found in a freezer bag, arriving on hotplates and periodically topped up free of charge by the waiting staff. Generous move, Rowleys, but if people are paying £30 a steak they’re probably not in need of limitless fries. Still, I’m sure it’s a charming throwback to the good ol’ days, an in-joke for the veterans, like posh Uncle Tarquin donning his nephew’s baseball cap on Easter Sunday as a hilarious joke. Nonetheless I ate all of my fries and was silently grateful for the refill.
Aside from a cruel house wine, we’re pleased with our meal. Seated in an enclave adjacent to the window with a view of Regent Street, my partner and I speculate at how sophisticated and well-off we must appear to passers-by. I happen to drop a chip lathered in the Roquefort-butter sauce all over my new chinos, which I’d literally just bought from Zara on Oxford St earlier that day. At the time of writing, there is still an aqueous stain on the thigh. Thankfully it’s not the only thing I’ll remember Rowleys for.
words Chris Zacharia