Beast is next to Debenhams on Oxford Street and it is not conventionally beast-like; rather it is monetised and bespoke beastliness, which is not really beastliness at all. It is something worse.
The outside is Dead Animal Inc: glassy, corporate, bland. The reception has a 10ft bronze bear covered with swirls which look like paisley or some photogenic skin disease. A woman presses the button inside the lift for you, should you be too stupid or lazy to do it yourself. And downstairs, as the lift opens and you peer into the dark, you see a fridge full of hanging beef with labels flickering in a cold synthetic wind. They are next to tanks of king crabs and lobsters clambering on each other. It is the most chilling lift scene I have witnessed since Michael Caine slashed a woman’s throat in a lift in Dressed To Kill while playing a transsexual psychiatrist in huge spectacles. I press my hand to the glass of the tank because that is the movie cliché; the nearest crab, who is roughly 3ft wide, a livid red, and from Norway, waves a body part at me in a friendly manner. A king in a cage waiting for annihilation? Is this a metaphor for the customer?
The lobsters have more room than the crabs, even though they are cheaper (£50 per kilo) than the crabs (£75 per kilo). So here is an inverse class system for arthropods on death row in a restaurant that invites you to speculate on your philosophical attitude to killing a living creature before you collude in doing so. It is, in this sense, exactly like a Texan abortion clinic. The 16 remaining abortion clinics in Texas would steal Beast’s schtick, if only they knew about it.
Here then is the dining room; three enormous trestle tables and six benches, each seating 20, with candles suspended on shelves above. It is almost empty at lunchtime; I spot two groups of men in suits growling about money, and a gaggle of yummy mummies who are obviously here by mistake. They flick their hair with anxiety, due, I suspect, to the sizes of the portions and their remoteness from Notting Hill, which is their tank. A waiter decants a crab from the water, and carries it past its buyer. He shakes its claw.
Apart from the wine list, which has bottles for £3,100 and £5,990, there are no menus; the fare is scratched on a blackboard on the wall. Fillet: £15 per 100 grams. Bone-in ribeye and bone-in sirloin: £10 per 100 grams. The cheapest steak is £57.50 for a 350g fillet; the cheapest lobster is £100; the cheapest crab is £277.50. And, should the marketing tic and talking point of great expense be beyond you, meaning that you do not want to spend £90 per steak, you will take the set menu, which is £75 per person for a steak, a random crab leg, ‘sides’ and a pudding. An oddity emerges when I ask about the ‘sides’ — carrots, a green salad, cabbage and bacon. Beast does not serve chips or bread, because, the waitress tells me, the owner, who is blooming in my mind as something beastly, fears we will overeat. So the owner is a control freak. I think I knew that when I saw the tanks.
Here is the steak — sliced up, rich, and lovely with its bone; perhaps the owner is correct about the chips, because I approach something like a state of ecstasy as I suck the fat. It is a marvellous steak. Beast would not work if the food didn’t; this is true of all restaurants but particularly so here, where you eat with death explicitly. You must forget the tank and acknowledge your greed. Beast is essentially an agonising psychological experiment masquerading as a themed restaurant and, in its spirit, I both loved and hated it.
Beast, 3 Chapel Place, London W1G 0BG, tel: 020 7495 1816.