So, ever wonder what this whole “matured meat” thing was about and ever thought it was just another way of those damned hipsters to just upscale a bloody simple piece of meat? Well, the hipster part you got right, but we’d bet you a bottle of good red wine from the Dão that even blindfolded you will taste the difference between a normal steak and a matured one. Especially if you try the beef at Martinez by Lx, taking some drawbacks into account.
First of all, let’s get the basics right. No matter what, beef needs to be “hung” for at least 21 days, otherwise you’ll end up with an extremely bloody, tough cut of meat that can only be described as the equivalent of dog food. Don’t let anyone fool you that hanging meat for 21 days can already be sold (and charged) as matured meat. It is a folly and people who do that, either know nothing of butchery or are trying to rip people off, and most likely, it will be a combination of the two. That said, what is this whole maturing thing about then? Well, maturing beef might be coming back into fashion now, but the Irish have been doing it for a long time, leading to the expression that “if the beef doesn’t have a beard, it’s not ready yet”. Gross as that sounds, they’ve got a point.
The flavors, the texture and juiciness will all be marvelously affected by maturing your meat for say, a week longer than the average hanging time of 21 days. You’ll start to get nutty, sweet, sometimes dark chocolatey, funky kind of notes in the flavor simply because the fat (which is where all the meaty, umami flavors are concentrated) will start to trickle down into the meat, what you would call the “marbling”, the white veins of fat running through the meat. Simply put, the more marbling a cut of meat has, the more likely it is that it has an awesome flavor. That way, the meat will slowly start to marinate from the inside, in its own fat, and the blood that normally comes out of a regular, unmatured steak, will have all but disappeared.
It’s a bit similar to the process of making ham and some matured steaks even have flavors that match the nutty, sweetness of a mind-blowing Iberico ham, just in steak form. All you need to do (well, technically, the butcher or a person who is qualified to do it), is just to let it hang longer, under the right temperature, so that bacteria can develop. Eventual mold will be cut off from the outside parts of the meat and then the meat is cut up into steaks, et voilá, another hipster rage is born.
If you want to dig your steak knife into a piece of meat like this, you definitely can do worse than trying the beef at Martinez by LX Grill in Lisbon, near Areeiro, which originally started (and still exists) as a takeaway place in Campolide. The owners have painstakingly chosen a specific breed of cattle from Spain, carefully grown in a process which you can label as “free range” and “grass-fed” and is matured for around 30 to 40 days and delivered by the same producer to ensure consistency.
If that sounds great, well, the meat surely lives up to the expectation, especially for around 20€ per person for the beef itself. We had a generous slab of entrecôte (the “Chuleton”) and the steak tasted as meaty and umami as you could possibly want, like a deep, dark red wine it was pungent and flavor-wise quite enduring, long after you had swallowed the piece. It has some of the slight nutty hum and smell of blue cheese like roquefort but without the piquant-sour interplay whereas the texture was just melt in your mouth soft. The same also goes for the mini burgers of matured meat (which really were just two burger patties on a plate): intense in flavor, and even though we love the tapas approach this place has (there’s lots of good looking tapas on the menu that we haven’t tried yet), a bit too simple for its own good.
That said, the simplicity of the wonderful Iberico ham we had that was served on a piece of bread with some intense goat cheese on top was, if not particularly original, delicious thanks to the brilliant qualities of the basic ingredients and the tender, delicate slivers of Iberico ham on that piece of bread. Simple, but it woos the palette. The Spanish influence here comes from one of the owners who is half Spanish, and Spain does understand how to keep food simple, but in this case, due to the fattiness of the meat, the burgers lacked a counterpoint that could have taken the meat and the flavor to another, more challenging level.
The same, sadly, also goes for the steak, which surely is a cut of beef that encompasses all understanding in itself, but also deserves equally memorable accompaniments. In our case, the accompaniments were just olive oil fried potato chips and a typical Portuguese salad consisting of lettuce, tomato and onion with olive oil and vinegar. These are traditional Portuguese accompaniments as most of you will know, but they did so little to really keep the meat flavors interesting or to make the fat of the meat not as cloy or heavy. Yes, we know, it’s hypocritical to complain about fatty matured meat (that is after all the very point of the whole shebang) and is the equivalent of complaining about pillows that are “too soft” or aguardente “too alcoholic”.
Bear with us. Essentially the problem was that neither the accompaniments nor the rather light and casual red house wine could deal with the fat that permeated the meat, or in chef’s terms, just didn’t cut through it enough to keep the meat (and meal) interesting. This resulted in a rather heavy meal where the fattiness of the meat clung to the palette much longer than you would expect it to do and longer than what was pleasant. What they might have used instead? Maybe some pickles, some grilled peppers dressed in vinegar and olive oil, a simple tomato salsa with some chilli, something that was more rebellious and unhinged to take on the knock-out punches that the meat delivered in all of its matured seriousness.
The result then turned out to be a thwarted experience. Meaning: in a way “Martinez” does get our approval for keeping it so simple which reveals a good understanding of their wonderful main ingredient of which they’re rightfully very proud, the beef. There is a point to be made to leave things well enough alone, surely, but sometimes, less needs to be a bit more. Intelligent food pairing, especially for a restaurant that understands its beef so well, with original side accompaniments that can handle the strong meat, would be absolutely advisable.
The atmosphere of the restaurant – it’s basically a nicely decorated basement with the obligatory tv-screen – doesn’t also make it the coziest of places. The owners and servers were friendly and they obviously cared about what they were doing. The cheesecake that topped off the meal was also pleasant, but felt rather meek after that steak. So in other words, once you accept the limits and boundaries of “Martinez by LX Grill”, this restaurant has something to offer, but whereas before it prided itself in being the first matured beef restaurant in Lisbon, now other restaurants have popped up that offer matured beef too and it’s only the question whether they won’t be outsmarted by their hipper counterparts. If they don’t step up the game, there’s a chance that they might, which would be a shame because the meat is something seriously special here indeed. (Nout Van Den Neste)