No thrill at ‘grill to chill’

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On December 16 1989 a violent revolution was brewing in Timisoara that culminated, dramatically, in over a thousand deaths, the execution of Romanian Dictator Ceaușescu and the end of communism in Romania. 28 years later to the day I indulged in the offerings of a market economy and in a steakhouse aptly named “grill to chill”.

Strolling around the Christmas markets in Timisoara I observed a heavy focus on meat especially pork. Like much of central and eastern Europe the default meat of choice is pork with cows being used primarily for dairy rather than beef. This means that steakhouses are rare in this part of the world and yours truly had little choice in the selection of steakhouse.

An image of the orthodox church in Timisoara
Evening in Timisoara

Grill to chill has a rather enviable status in Timisoara. It lays claims to being both the only steakhouse in Timisoara as well the best restaurant overall (according to TripAdvisor). The price point was aimed at an international audience. In a country where beer costs a £1 per pint, a medium-sized steak was going for £40. The menu contained beef from New Zealand, Australia, Uruguay, United States and Japan. There was no steak from Romania, let alone the many excellent beef producing countries in the European Union (including Germany, France, Spain and the UK). The closest steak had grown up in the far east, about 5000 miles away from where it would ultimately meet its final purpose. 

The Wagyu steak was going for a whopping £30 per 100gm (in Romania the average income is £17 per day).It wasn’t clear what made the Wagyu steak so expensive as it was not Kobe beef.  The New Zealand steak was going at around £8 per 100gm. This was odd, New Zealand (which happens to be my motherland) is known for its dairy and lamb, not its beef. Australia has greater claim to beef, but I hadn’t come to the edges of the European Union to eat beef I’d eaten my whole life (although I imagine steak from New Zealand and Australia has an exotic appeal in Romania). That eliminated the very pricey Antipodean beef. The Uruguayan steak held no appeal as I had been disappointed previously. That left just the USDA steak.

I have mixed feelings about USDA steak. On the one hand USDA steak, like the McDonalds cheeseburger, produces a consistent experience no matter where you are when you experience it but, on the other hand, tender but tasteless steak has quite limited appeal to me. This consistent experience is due to the factory farming production method in the US (where cows spend their lives in feedlots, fattened on corn by-products until they are 12-13 months old, when they are slaughtered).  And so, with my eyes fully open to the consequences, I dived into a 1kg Tomahawk USDA cheeseburger steak.

An image of tomahawk steak at grill to chill
Tomahawk steak at grill to chill

The steak was presented with bone and sliced evenly across its width. The steak was cooked unevenly. The thickest pieces of steak were between medium and medium rare with almost all the other pieces being medium-well to well done. Grill to chill use a Josper oven, which is best described as a combination of an oven and grill or an indoor barbecue. The Josper oven gave the steak a very promising and delicious taste. However the rest of the steak was exactly as expected: tender but little taste to speak of. This doesn’t mean the steak was terrible, it was still edible – just not very memorable.

In a sense it’s disappointing, but not surprising, that Timisoara, and the rest of Romania have not embraced beef steak.  Steak should be delicious, but when it is sourced and priced only for its perceived exoticism and then averagely cooked, change seems somewhat distant. But there’s always hope, like with the heroes of 1989, that there will be a steak revolution and Romanians will have their steak and enjoy it too.