Brass & Knuckle
The stereotypical, rosy-faced, pinstripe-aproned butcher worth his salt is becoming an increasingly rare thing.
Naxxar is the land of butchers. Among the good, the bad and the outright ugly, Charles Butcher and Victory Butcher shine like beacons. They clearly illustrate that the proverbial good butcher is not quite an extinct breed as yet.
Another of Naxxar’s butcher shops is Brass and Knuckle. But it is more than that. This upmarket butcher shop, with its glossy, industrial loft look, combines a deli and restaurant within the same establishment.
The Brass and Knuckle website states that they are ‘butchers by origin’ with ‘five consecutive generations’ of actual butchers. It’s an alluring proposition. They should have profound knowledge of their meat.
An enormous display counter snakes along the full length of the place. It’s making all the right moves, making all the right sounds. The deli greets you first; crammed with olives, pates, foie gras, chutneys, mustards, gorgeous continental cheeses and Italian cold cuts; leading on to the meat section with enormous slabs of Wagyu beef, Scottish lamb, Charolais and Aberdeen Angus; all butchered to order according to your desired cut, grade and age.
I feel lightheaded. It’s a giddying array of creamy striations of marbling, thick outer layers of fat and abundant blooms of moist redness.
In a furious rush, the ordering system is explained to us by the engaging waiting staff.
We’re informed that we can eat anything and everything in sight, selecting from the meat and deli counters and allowing the Brass and Knuckle kitchen to work its, ahem, magic. Additionally, there’s also a menu and it’s not a narrow one.
We are drawn to the massive side of fine-looking Angus cowboy rib; deep red and fabulously marbled; and the veal with its creamy rosiness. For everything else we order off the menu.
We open with the Butcher’s Platter of homemade pork sausages and chicken wings. There’s a generously seasoned Hungarian sausage of medium heat glowing a paprika pink, and a nicely seasoned Sicilian one flavoured with fennel seed.
The spiced chicken wings have been slathered in a punchy barbecue sauce of great intensity and are quite lovely; thickly lacquered with this glaze of acid sweetness, meat falling off the bone.
They may be purveyors of fine meats but there’s a lot lacking in the kitchen
There is a runny, coarsely blitzed chipotle dipping sauce accompanying the platter but it goes virtually untouched. There’s not much need for it and, either way, we don’t care much for it.
It’s a tasty starter. We are far less taken with everything else we try.
Rugged and robust comes the Angus cowboy rib of grass-fed beef, rib bones still attached, in all its glorious largesse. Grass-fed beef is in a league of its own.
And this superior specimen should have been riotous with wonderful ripeness, with the deep richness of field and earth. But it isn’t. This steak cut hasn’t been seasoned in the slightest.
And, although it’s been cooked to order with a good sear and a nicely browned crust, it isn’t somehow as delectable, as incredibly flavourful, as irresistibly tender as you’d expect it to be.
The kitchen has somehow managed to reduce it to nothing more than an underwhelming mass of protein. We dangle forkfuls of meat in an insipid mushroom and tarragon sauce chasseur. There’s nothing right about it. It’s not a rich, luxurious brown sauce that has been reduced to dizzying depths of flavour. It is a muddy puddle, murky as ditch water, with muddied flavours.
The frenched chop of milk-fed veal fails to melt into savoury, mild-flavoured loveliness. It isn’t all soft succulence and meatiness, which is a damn shame. Not a glimmer of seasoning has smacked the sides of this chop. Sadder still is the painful truth that the meat is overdone. There is none of the characteristic tender texture of veal about it.
Equally tough on the teeth is the Brass and Knuckle burger. It’s a 200g patty of prime Angus beef, though you’d never guess it. It has been tortuously cooked to death.
The texture of the meat is unpleasantly leathery and the entire burger is dry as a bone. Burger fillings of dill pickles, tomatoes, melted comte cheese and onion crisps (that go wholly unnoticed) do very little towards saving the burger.
The roast onion bun is neither of the first two words and falls apart in your hands. There is absolutely no burger bliss to be found here. We turn instead to the seasoned fries that are actually rather good.
Ordered off the menu, the pork cheeks have taken an eight-hour smoking and are served in a soupy stew of root vegetables; boldly enriched with cider and spicy with Moutarde de Pommery.
Cooked to a heavenly degree of tenderness, the nuggets of lean pig cheek, while rich and yielding to the fork, fail to exude smoky flavour. The stew as a whole lacks texture and lurches into the overly-mushy.
I hate to revel in the negative but this was hardly great. Nothing had titillated us and we hadn’t been allowed to slip into a deliciously languorous meat stupor.
We give desserts a chance and they are surprisingly nice. A bubbling, bulging apple and rhubarb crumble is all crunch on the outside; the buttery crumble melting into syrupy, caramelised gooiness and sticky sweetness; all topped with a big splodge of fast melting vanilla ice cream.
There’s a vanilla crème brûlée that is definitely satisfactory, although served slightly too chilled for my liking. A beautifully brittle, torched crust coating shatters to reveal the nicely thickened cream within, and there’s the added bonus of a lovely pistachio biscotto that’s served alongside it.
The poorly executed meat dishes coupled with sluggish service had made for a dining experience that proved teeth-grindingly boring and not a little dull.
At Brass and Knuckle they may be purveyors of fine meats but there’s a lot lacking in the kitchen. Good meat costs money but the pricey bill leaves an unsavoury flavour in our mouths.
We depart, hoping to rapidly vanish all memory of the meal.
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