Friday, May 1, 2009

Bekers Charcoal Grill

In "Eat the Rich", PJ O'Rourke provides one of the few explanations of Ricardo's Law of Comparative Advantage that doesn't involve matrices. "You ... and society as a whole ... will profit more if you each do what you do best." And that's what Bekers is about: a restaurant doing what it does best and nothing else. No lengthy menus, just a clear and single-minded focus on one thing, and that focus is on mixing heat with meat. Not just any heat or meat, mind you: serious heat and serious meat.

I've seen Bekers from the tram often enough. It's anachronistic architecture and dark, rough brick arches stand out on High Street as a Life on Mars-style throwback to the 1970's, or at least to my memories of the late 70's. Its looks don't over-promise and what you see is what you get.

Inside it's pine tables with white paper with a Valhalla-esque beer hall ceiling. Lots of space around the tables and by 8.00pm the 40-50 odd seats all had bums in them. A table next to us looked like the quiet beginnings of a long bucks night, but otherwise it was a fair reflection of Northcote; all ages, the occasional Bettie Page haircut and just getting on with eating. We were there with the Urbane Parents, who joined us partly to celebrate A's birthday but also to bask in the glory of the meat.

At the back of the room there is the grill and the meat-space: Meat Ground Zero. A Dexter-sized chopping block and a real charcoal grill - the only one I've seen on High Street not to have a rotisserie for either greek lamb or barbeque chicken. (Don't worry, we'll get to the meat-based Greek restaurants soon enough.)

Like the enormous steak knives, the menu is short and to the point. Meat, meat and more glorious meat: aged meat; red meat, marbled meat. Good meat, great meat, best meat.

In fact, the meat is marvelous, and words aren't enough to convey the glory of the meat.

F walked up to the counter at Meat Ground Zero and watched mon host cut slabs of marbled beef from an even larger slab.

So rather than me prattle on, have a look at this. Enjoy. Pour yourself a glass of wine.

I started with the Chevapchichi (seen raw above), which are even harder to pronounce than spell. Small, skinless and very coarse, the texture was beautiful and they had the faint, charcoal bitterness that you only get from serious heat. We all chose steak, surprisingly enough. Rib eye was the most popular choice, because nothing says "steak" quite like a thick chunk of meat with a club of bone running down one side.

And lo, it was wonderful. Cooked perfectly, tender enough to eat with a butter knife and with the seared taste that confirms that "fire + meat = yes please".

F chose to have her rib-eye rare (as opposed to everyone else's medium rare), and yes, it was a sight to cheer the heart and warm the blood.

Also tabled were a basic, iceburg lettuce green salad and a vinaigrette potato salad that came out of a fridge it probably shouldn't have been in. In any event, nothing here competes with the meat, and that's exactly how it should be.

Years ago I worked at the Southern Cross Hotel in Exhibition Street in the Grill Room. For six months I worked a split shift over about 12 hours, and ate almost nothing during my five day working week but blue (to rare) beef. The grill chef, who was on proud display in a booth in the red velveted-restaurant, would cook it perfectly for me and in return I would make sure he got an illicit gin and tonic. (In a bit of small-world coincidence, his daughter was the office manager at the Philosophy Department where I had just finished my BA.) The hotel was demolished a year or so after I left to make way for the building where, more than a decade later, I now work.

The lesson from that time is that it takes a lot of beef before I get sick of beef. I did, towards the end of that six months, but I got over it pretty quickly.

We didn't stay for dessert. The dessert menu was concise (few desserts being meat based) and the smallest of the progeny was becoming rambunctious. We stayed long enough for F to be immortalized in the Bekers Hall of Fame For Women Managing to Eat a Whole Rib Eye.

So, the verdict? Well, there are no surprises here. What you see is what you get, and you get it done very well. Meat, glorious meat, cooked beautifully. Aged beef that tastes like Platonic meat; gently tender with the tang of intense, radiant heat. You won't be going for the vegetarian option (I think that's a glass of red) and you won't be expecting to choose from a large range of neo-bistro-eastern fusion options served with a drizzle of truffle oil and sashimi gooseberries.

This is food that makes you feel like Dennis Lillee should be sitting at the next table, sifting the froth off a can of beer with his mustache. This is AC/DC food; loud, simple and to the point. And as Ackadacka stared down punk and survived doing much as they always have, Bekers has ignored foodie fashion and stuck to what it does best. It's a wonderful time machine to a very Australian 1970's, and like Sam Tyler, I'd choose to go back. I loved it.

1 comment:

  1. Possibly dumb question - any idea if it was grass-fed or grain-fed beef?