The friendly service from the sole waiter cannot be more starkly contrasted with the hard grey concrete interior with metallic lights suspended from the exposed ceiling. To top it up, a single column juts through the main sitting area, creating an awkward setting in this new burger and cocktail bar just off Marylebone High Street.
SLABS London at New Cavendish Street is packed with after work crowd when we were there as guests on a weekday evening. With disco music thumping in the background and loud chattering amongst fellow diners, you can be forgiven if you thought that the lights would be dimmer.
Perhaps that is why I thought there is something incongruous about SLABS. Or it is the menu. It took pains to highlight that all chicken dishes are halal. I'd assume that is rather unnecessary in a cocktail bar one way or another. Also, unless you actually take some time to read the short write up on the menu, you probably would have missed the fact that the burger patties on your table are freshly handmade everyday in the restaurant, and are from cows fed with organic grains and grass.
With just four starters (one of them is olives), it wasn't a massive choice. I went for the salt and pepper chilli squid (£7.50). If you have been following LondonChow, you would have noticed that I seldom let up on an offer of squid, and never when the salt and pepper is involved.
Evidently, salt and pepper played second fiddle to chilli in this case. The chopped chilli still stung even with its seeds removed. That was short-lived however; the succulent sweet sauce (the spring roll dip variety) masked that almost immediately. Crunchy lettuce, which was a palate cleanser, added a nice touch.
My dinner mate opted for tiger prawns (£9). They came nicely laid out on a, well, slab. She promptly laid one on my plate. "Well, you are the one who need to write about this," she added. I thought the prawn was a bit tough. It could have spent too long on the grill or worse, too long in the fridge. I suspect it was the latter. That said, the accompanying dip was interesting - a cross between creamy soup and prawn shelled broth. Very subtle.
I never thought that I would hear it but when I did, it sounded as cheesy as I thought it would be. "If I tell you, I would have to kill you" was the answer when I asked about the SLABS burger sauce. It turned out to be a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup. I might have detected traces of barbecue sauce. Maybe not. You' have to fork out £1.50 to find out for yourself.
That aside, the same waiter told a chap on the table next to us about SLABS' Wagyu burger. "You will never ever want another burger again" were his exact words. While I wouldn't go so far to say that, the Wagyu burger (£15) was something to reckon with. I would have thought that the marbled meat would have made a very fatty patty. Turned out that fats that is interspersed in the lean meat remained so when coarsely minced. What resulted was a very satisfying treat. Even when extremely pink, it didn't taste raw at all. The shiitake mushroom that lined the patty's bottom gave it the extra meatiness.
I still can't quite fathom why they call it the gourmet slider selection (£12). Comprising of three mini burgers Spanish (chorizo, manchego and thin slice of ham), Wagyu and lobster tail. Perhaps calling them mini burgers just wouldn't cut it - instead of using downsized burger bap, the three mini burgers were essentially thirds cut from a single full size burger. One promptly toppled over the moment they arrived at the table. All that said, my dinner mate quite like them. That was all that matters, I suppose.
"The expresso is really good," my dinner mate declared. That coming from an Italian, whose way of life literally mandates expressos being the only coffee to be consumed in the afternoons (and standing over counters), is hardly trivial. There was no hint of bitter aftertaste in the coffee. A quick check with the waiter reveals that the free trade South African coffee beans are grounded in the restaurant itself.
SLABS London's setting suits gatherings more than dates. It even offers free wifi if you are looking for somewhere to chill. Go for the Wagyu burger and perhaps the onion rings over the all too dense and chunky triple cooked chips. And oh, an expresso to round it off nicely.
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