Story of a Plate: Beef Cheeks at The Local Grill

Credit: Steve Maresch

On the menu: Beef cheeks – ragù served on mashed potato*

*As last year’s winner, The Local Grill recently hosted the awards ceremony for the 2017 Steakhunter Championships (which saw Cape Town restaurant Rare Grill take the honours for both overall winner and Newcomer of the Year.) On that occasion we enjoyed a special version of their beef cheeks dish, not as currently described on the menu, but with the extra touches that owner Steve Maresch lets us in on below.

Both the starter, and the story that you told about it, were excellent at the awards ceremony. How did it come about?

Steve: We’ve been operating The Local Grill since 2002, and the whole idea of nose-to-tail – which in the restaurant world really translates into a no-waste philosophy – has always been very important to us. But back in the early days, suppliers found it difficult deliver cuts like beef cheeks, since it was more economically viable for them to sell the whole cow’s head. When we eventually found smaller suppliers who were able to source cheeks for us, we started experimenting with just putting them in the pressure cooker with a bit of star anise, and eventually some vine-ripened baby tomatoes, and just letting those ingredients speak for themselves.

We originally served them on mashed potatoes, but then started thinking about how we could make this into a more refined dish, and our thyme-scented polenta (cooled on a tray, and then cut into strips and deep-fried) seemed like an excellent choice. So it’s really been a dish many years, rather than a few hours, in the making.

We haven’t tried deep-frying polenta (yet!), but pan-frying is also a great way to get polenta to crisp up, right? 

Steve: Actually, for the home cook, a skillet with really hot olive oil is fantastic for that crispy exterior, but for the volumes we deal with in a restaurant, the deep-frying method really works well.

So we put four of those crispy strips on a plate – which someone noted was like a hashtag – and some of the fantastic beef cheek ragù on top, and then we have these awesome cumin-polenta scented onion rings, which we thought would be a great as a final touch. So we’ve got polenta on the top and bottom, and then the beef cheeks in-between. For something which used to be regarded as offal, it’s an amazing transformation into a Rolls Royce of a plate!

Where to get it: The Local Grill, 40 7th Ave., Corner 7th and 3rd Ave., Parktown North, Johannesburg. 011 880 1946

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