Saturday, October 08, 2005

Good ol’ steak - A & V Lazar Charcoal Grill

The story begins with an accusation that I am on the way to becoming a vegetarian. So I like my vegetables, but no offence to those amongst us who have decided not to kill and ingest animal matter, but to me, the two must coexist. Hence I was led to begin a quest for the greatest vego-unfriendly place, and where better to begin than from steakhouses, where flesh and blood reign, and hopefully where a good glass of red wouldn't be far off.

I'd been past Lazar on the way to Brunswick Street plenty of times, though its drabby, graffiti-attacked red brick exterior never much inspired me to find out what was inside. Honestly, it wasn't until The Good Food Guide crowned it the Best Steakhouse for 2005 that I noticed its prominence in our dining landscape. Their price range looked substantially better than what would've been my first choice, Charcoal Grill on the Hill in Kew, and their BYO policy with no corkage was a huge incentive - it would guarantee us a good drop of red and keep our wallets safe from harm. (Charcoal Grill, on the other hand, is known to have a veritable tome of a wine list, with prices to match.)

The chance came to try it out when we were to celebrate a birthday amongst some meat-loving friends. Hardly costing any more than the TGI Friday suggestion, I practically leaped at the opportunity to book a table at Lazar, and a spot on leap it was.

The menu consists of not much more than (surprise, surprise!) beef. Mains are definitely the highlight here, so feel free to lay low on the entrees, though there’s a rich beef broth, beef cevapcici, as well as fiery pork sausages for those in need of a little departure from the red stuff. Then, to the lead acts: choose from rump, scotch fillet, porterhouse (sirloin), and eye fillet, all aged on the bone in a cool room on this very premises and chargrilled to your liking. The result is steak that is fibrous yet tender, and so juicy that you’d think they'd injected liquid into it. As I was chewing through the wonderfully crisp and flavoursome charred exterior, the rich juices filled my mouth like no steak had ever before. It was impossible to imagine that each small morsel could contain so many juices, especially after such intense grilling that lends the outside to become almost blackened.

The steak is cooked to perfection with almost scientific accuracy. A medium, for example, remains red inside, but juices no longer flow out of it. This is also helped by the resting of the meat, letting the fibres to relax after cooking, hence allowing maximal fluid retention.

The observant among us may realise that the places are not set with steak knives, and neither will they bring you any, not because they’re mean, but because you simply won’t need one. Their steaks almost magically divide into bitesized portions upon application of minimal effort with your ever so average looking knife. Note to competing steakhouses: buy high-quality grass-fed beef, age your steaks well, and you’ll save on buying expensive steak knives.

Unlike beef such as wagyu that relies on heavy marbling of fat for its suppleness, the tenderness of the steaks at Lazar is from the ageing and the sheer superiority of the produce. Using good ol’ Australian beef means that we are assured of the bold flavours and aromas of this delightful meat.

For the uncompromising vegetarian in me, I was relieved to find that all steaks are served with a simple and agreeable potato, lettuce and tomato salad.

The wine list has a reasonable range and labels, but we were slightly worried by the fact that no vintages are mentioned. While this is probably an indication that the same vintages are always offered, we weren’t too bothered as we’d brought along our own. However if you’re bringing an extra special bottle, the miniature stemware may disappoint.

Desserts were never meant to be a steakhouse’s forte, and Lazar doesn’t stray from the mainstream in this respect. Apart from scoops of ice cream, there are crepes with huge strawberries, ice cream and cream that can easily be shared between two, as well as simple lemon and sugar ones. Not quite as 'orgasmic' as suggested by the witty and conversational waiter, but nonetheless homely and satisfying in its predictability.

Nothing ever changes at Lazar – the bricks, the wooden panels and mirrors, the bow-tied waiters, the menu – it can hardly be called an ‘it’ place. But if it ain’t broke (and oh no, it ain’t!), why fix it?

A&V Lazar Charcoal Grill [edit: now sadly closed]
87 Johnston Street
Fitzroy 3065
Tel: 9419 2073
Open: Mon-Fri noon-3pm, Mon-Sat 6-10pm