The Great Johannesburg Steak-Out: The Grillhouse Versus The Butcher Shop & Grill
I may not be the most carnivorous person in the world; but I enjoy a great steak — specifically, a filet mignon — and although I have had beef from different restaurants in Argentina and Uruguay which were fantastic, I have heard that South Africa holds its own when it comes to beef.
All right — I decided to put that claim to the test and steal some thunder from Jason Kessler of Fly&Dine — even though I am not a food expert with a refined palette — and although I detest dining alone at a restaurant, I went ahead and did it anyway.
The things that I do and the sacrifices which I endure for you.
Now that you have had your laugh and pitied me testing some of the best meat in South Africa — and possibly the world — let The Great Johannesburg Steak-Out begin, pitting The Grillhouse versus The Butcher Shop & Grill.
Knowing that this is a popular restaurant, I decided to show up at the original Rosebank location without a reservation at 6:30 in the evening. After waiting several minutes due to the couple in front of me not having their reservation in order, the hostess asked if I would not mind a table outside of the restaurant in the terrace area inside the mall. I had no problem with that and was seated immediately.
A waiter came over and introduced himself with a thick South African accent.
“What was your name again?” I asked.
“Brian. B-R-I-A-N,” he replied.
“That is my name as well!”
Excited about that, he called me by my first name for the remainder of my experience. I suppose that at that point, there was no chance that either of us would forget each other’s name.
He tried suggesting a filet on the bone — yes, I do realize that beef is more flavorful when it is on the bone and has a good marbling of fat — but I am the same guy who orders a pastrami sandwich extra lean in delicatessens in New York; and I decided to go for their biggest filet: 500 grams, or approximately 18 ounces before cooking, ordered medium well. The cost was 269 South African rand; or approximately $22.85. Try getting a filet mignon that size at a top steakhouse in the United States for that price. I am liking this already.
He also tried to give me the options of flavors — such as cooked with peppercorns, for example — but a great piece of meat needs no assistance from a sauce, condiment or other flavoring; and if it did; it should only be slight so that the true flavor of the meat is not obscured in any way.
Despite that, I just had to order a side of monkey gland sauce. No, no, no — it is not made from the glands of monkeys — but rather from fruit and spices, of which I detected plum. In fact, no monkeys were hurt or abused in the creation of the sauce, whose tangy, sweet and slightly sour taste reminded me of duck sauce, which is not made from ducks.
A large bottle of water was in order to cleanse my unrefined palette. I ordered no side dish.
Shortly after placing my order, Brian arrives with a bread resembling a small challah. “It is homemade and baked with wheat from South Africa,” he said proudly. “You will not find this bread anywhere else outside of South Africa.”
The bread was freshly out of the oven, nice and warm and soft. Unlike a challah, the crust did not have much of an egg finish on it. It somewhat resembled the flavor of a challah; but it had a slightly sweet note to the flavor — very tasty, just the same. I expected to be charged for the bread, which came with butter; but it was included in the price of the meal.
Brian ensured that everything was all right throughout the meal; and he had a good sense of humor. He always smiled. When he cleared the board on which the bread once sat before it met its demise with me, he brought me a steak knife with the logo of The Grillhouse on it. “This is your weapon,” he advised.
“I will make sure I protect myself from that filet,” I assured him.
It was not all that long until the filet was brought out. I looked at it, expecting one of those three-inch-thick monsters. I looked at the plate with a very brief feeling of disappointment, wondering if I had committed a mis-steak — especially as I typically do not like my steak butterflied; but its shape did not indicate that it was butterflied.
Weapon in hand, I stared stabbing the beast which covered the plate; but the knife cut through the meat like buttah, I tell you. I raised the first forkful to my mouth.
Nope. Not a mis-steak. Nowhere near it. This baby could put up its own at virtually any top steakhouse in the world. The rich, full beef flavor was excellent, if not just slightly short of it. The appearance and presentation of the meat fooled me, as it was cooked almost perfectly with an excellent flavor. There was not one bit of fat, bone, gristle, vein or any other impediment which could ruin the experience. The meat was lean and smooth all the way through, never losing its flavor or fine grain texture at any time…
…and yes, it also tasted great with the monkey gland sauce — although it did not need it. I ate it anyway.
Brian returned to find an empty plate on the table in front of me.
“I did not like it,” I said. “Send it back.”
After paying my bill, I asked to look around inside of the restaurant, as I had not been in it yet. There were real red brick walls and columns, with large murals of scenes from my hometown of New York from the olden days — and I informed the manager of that.
“You’re from New York?” he asked. “Let me ask you something that I have been debating: were there trolleys on the streets back then? Did they exist at that time?”
“Yes,” I replied. “In fact, there are still some streets in New York where some of those old streetcar tracks are exposed.”
The total bill — which included a large bottle of still water, bread, monkey gland sauce, the filet mignon, tax and tip: 369.85 rand, or $31.56. Add another 15 rand — or approximately $1.28, which sounds so much less expensive than 15 rand — to park for two hours. Total cost: $32.84.
The Butcher Shop & Grill
Instead of dinner, I decided to try The Butcher Shop & Grill for lunch — but be aware that the lunch options are no less expensive than the options at dinner. I was offered by the manager a choice of a seat out in the courtyard of Nelson Mandela Square — he warned me that it was hot outside; and it was, as well as humid — or a seat inside of the restaurant where it was cooler. I chose to sit inside; and I was seated immediately. The restaurant was not crowded — one of the reasons why I decided to patronize it during lunch time instead of at dinner.
The filet mignon offered on the menu was approximately half the size of the one I ate at The Grillhouse the night before; but you are encouraged to select your own cut of meat of any size you like — “up to a kilogram,” said the waiter.
I almost took him up on that. I could eat that with no problem…
…but then I eyed the ostrich on the menu. South African ostrich. I wanted to try that; but I also wanted to compare the beef to The Grillhouse.
There was only one thing I could do, which was the honorable thing:
I ordered both the filet mignon and the ostrich; as well as a small bottle of still water.
Yes — I went the extra mile and ordered two meals. It was the least I could do for you to give you this report. I know, I know — you can thank me later.
The waiter returned with a board on which sat three slices of bread; a dish of butter; and contained in a small bowl sitting in a type of gravy were several pieces of what looked like a sausage cut up.
All right — despite the fact that I typically dislike sausage, I figured there it was in front of me. I may as well try it.
It was absolutely the best sausage I ever had. It was a farm-style sausage of moist yet perfectly seasoned lean beef with a soft casing whose flavor hinted a cross between the homemade meatball fricassee my paternal grandmother — may she rest in peace — used to prepare from scratch for me when I was growing up in Brooklyn; and a slight smoke reminiscent of the aforementioned pastrami which one would find in a delicatessen in New York worth its kishkas.
I ate it all. I even used some of the bread to sop up the rest of the gravy. It was that good…
…and although the bread was very good, yes, with a nice flavor — soft on the inside with a hard crust on the outside; and the top of the crust was encrusted with coarse salt — the bread served at The Grillhouse was definitely better. It was not as fresh or as warm; and it was not outstanding or unique in any way.
It was not long before the waiter brought both of my meals. Extra points go to The Butcher Shop & Grill, which includes your choice of starch with each meal: of the mashed potatoes, baked potato, rice or chips, the waiter recommended the chips.
The ostrich was accompanied by a creamy sweet pepper sauce. I was unsure about how to describe the flavor; but for some reason it hinted to me a similarity to a peanut sauce one might find accompanying a traditional Indian dinner — so I was not thrilled with it. Perhaps I should have given it more of a chance, I suppose, as it really did not taste bad. I wonder if I should have ordered the cranberry sauce instead.
Unsure of what were the tangy long purplish-red strips which accompanied the ostrich, I ate them with it anyway. The ostrich was good and lean; but it was somewhat tougher than I prefer. The flavor was not as full as what would typically be found in beef…
…ah, yes — the beef. In my opinion, the beef looked better in its presentation than it did at The Grillhouse; but it was slightly underdone for my taste. Not a problem — I ate it anyway — and although it was very good with not one bit of fat, bone, gristle, vein or any other impediment which could ruin the experience, the flavor was just short of that of the filet mignon served to me at The Grillhouse…
…but I tried both the hot mustard and the dijon mustard with the filet mignon. The hot mustard really brought out the flavor of the beef and elevated the experience to a new level; while the dijon mustard did not pair as well with the flavor of the beef. Mustard is my favorite condiment.
The outsides of the chips were crisp with a nice consistent fried potato flavor. They would have gone well with ketchup — I rarely ever use ketchup — but I chose instead to use the drippings from the meat to further flavor them instead, wondering if I would have been better off ordering the mashed potatoes, which would have been more ideal for this purpose.
While the waiter was not as gregarious as Brian from The Grillhouse, he still did an excellent job — and I enjoyed both of my meals.
Unlike at The Grillhouse — where the inside of the restaurant was too dark for photographs — I was able to take photographs of the inside of The Butcher Shop & Grill from where I sat to eat.
The total bill — which included a small bottle of still water, bread, the sausage pieces, the filet mignon with chips, the ostrich with chips, tax and tip: 411.00 rand, or $35.05. Add another 12 rand — or approximately $1.02, which sounds so much less expensive than 12 rand — to park for two hours. Total cost: $36.07.
…So Who Wins The Great Johannesburg Steak-Out?
Both restaurants are located in upscale malls only a few kilometers up the street from each other. Both offer fine dining where you can dress casually. Both offer excellent service. Both offer value for the money when compared to steakhouses in the United States, where beef prices have increased significantly. Both offer very good to excellent meat. Both restaurants will keep a discerning carnivore very happy. Both accept credit cards for payment.
If The Grillhouse offered as much food for the money as The Butcher Shop & Grill, it would win. The filet mignon was definitely superior — although not by a significant amount. However, I liked that a side dish was included with the meat offerings at The Butcher Shop & Grill — which is rare for a steakhouse to do that. The Butcher Shop & Grill also encourages you to custom select the cut of meat you want from their butchery and delicatessen on premises, where you can purchase meats for your own consumption at home.
For those reasons, I would have to call this one a draw — or maybe I need to go back to both of them and try them again…
…and perhaps my memory may be playing tricks on me; but I would have to say that even though South African beef is definitely excellent, it seemed that my steakhouse experiences in Argentina and Uruguay had a slight edge in terms of the quality of beef for less cost.
Still, you will not be disappointed at either restaurant; and you cannot go wrong. Even vegetarians will find choices at The Butcher Shop & Grill. I highly recommend both restaurants.
Click on the name of the restaurant to access its official Internet web site and menu.
Shop 70, The Firs / Hyatt Shopping Centre, C/O Oxford Road & Bierman Avenue
Telephone 011 880 3945
Open Monday to Friday: 12:00 to 15:00 and 18:30 to late
Open Saturday: 18:30 to late
Open Sunday: 12:00 to 15:00 and 18:30 to 21:30
The Butcher Shop & Grill – Johannesburg
Shop 30 Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton
Telephone +2711 784 8676
Fax +2711 784 8677
The trading hours are not found on the official Internet web site; but it is open from 12:00 noon through the evening.
All photographs ©2015 by Brian Cohen.