Jane Stern: Dere Street Steak represents a new British revolution

I am probably one of the few people who adore British food.

This is a cuisine that people make fun of. They sing about the awfulness of mushy peas, HP sauce-covered meats, gruel and porridge-like stomach fillers, along with canned baked beans and icky pink undercooked bacon for breakfast. Least I forget the sheer horror of the UK’s ubiquitous flabby mayonnaise “shrimp cocktails” with shrimp the size of sea monkeys.

I have been lucky that my travels in the British Isles have taken me through Cumbria and Northumberland and have shown me just how good this food can be. To me, English food is fresh Dover Sole, Sticky Toffee pudding, garden fresh vegetables, wonderful Shepherd’s Pie, milk that tastes like heavy cream, and great wheels of Stilton and sherry for a post-prandial pick-me-up.

There are precious few British restaurants in Connecticut (unlike the 85 trillion Northern Italian spots). Dere Street Steak is best of the lot.

Dere Street Steak

33 Main St., Newtown

Chef Iain Sampson is the culinary force behind this restaurant. A native of Kent, England, he has the credentials to be at the helm of a revolution in British food. Chef Sampson began his cooking career at the Ritz Hotel in London. He was named Best Chef in Wales at the Welsh International Culinary Championship in 2010.

Having kept an eye on Dere Street’s growth stages, I have seen the menu shift from mainly British dishes, to that of a high-end steakhouse that still has many English classics on the menu. When I say “high-end steakhouse,” I mean expensive. The steaks are supplied by the legendary prime beef supplier Pat Lafrieda. They have been wet-aged for at least 28 days and deliver the pow of top-quality meat with every bite.

Yes, of course I wanted a steak ASAP, but I also wanted to sample some of the dishes of this chef’s heritage. For an appetizer I ordered a Scotch Egg, a dish I have not seen on this side of the pond. It is a simple concept, a hard-cooked egg dredged in seasoned breadcrumbs, fried and served with a Celeriac Remoulade. It was fine, the trouble being that a hard cooked egg is a hard cooked egg no matter what you do with it. I also ordered a plate of “Devils on Horseback,” a twist on the vintage cocktail appetizer Angels on Horseback. This dish is large medjool dates stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped in bacon, and topped with a reduced red-wine syrup. I do not see why any of these ingredients are especially “devilish” but they are so rich, fatty, and sweet that you might have to sell your soul to eat more than two.

Bolognese Stuffed Yorkshire Pudding is an appetizer that melds British Cuisine to Connecticut’s endless Italian food mania. This is a large airy eggy popover, filled with beef- and pork-based bolognese sauce. I find it sort of an odd but daring marriage but honestly I would prefer the popover plain. I much preferred the Crab and Smoked Salmon Parcel, a lovely dish with a tomato and avocado salsa. I also recommend the Pan Seared Scallops, a very British mix of peas, heavy cream and smoked bacon on wilted lettuce.

So let’s get to the stars of the show: The steaks. The littlest one is $40 for a twenty five day aged filet mignon. I ordered the little guy. It was great, the power of prime beef is not to be overlooked. On the other side of the financial spectrum is a hand rubbed Delmonico for $96.00. This big guy is 32 oz. There are also New York strips, flat iron steaks and rib eyes . Every one is worth the money. It is almost impossible to explain Prime beef versus Choice beef except to say that Prime is what you dream of a steak tasting like.

With any of the steaks you get a choice of “side” and a choice of sauce. Here I was a bit disappointed because although the sides are wonderful:mashed potatoes, English chips, grilled asparagus with lemon and there are 5 sauces ranging from classic Bernaise to Horseradish the portions were quite small. The sauce came in a tiny cup, and while delicious it was not enough to slather all over the steak. The mashed potatoes were also stingy.

Let me leave the steaks for a moment and mention some other exceptional entrees. I loved the English Chicken Pie, a melange of chicken and leeks, parsnips and buttered carrots under a puff pastry dome. The London Fish and Chips is also a well-honed classic, beer-battered haddock with crushed peas and what we in America call French Fries.

One last thing: leave room for dessert because they are all great. I am swooning over the “Eton Mess,” which comes in an outsized Mason jar and is indeed a “mess” of strawberry ice cream, Chantilly cream and meringue. Dig your spoon in right down to the bottom of the glass and pull up a dessert that I would easily award an A-plus to.

This is why I love British cuisine. It is simple yet delicious; it all depends on ingredients being first rate. I plan on more visits to Dere Street Steak. I have yet to try the Sticky Toffee Pudding, and that will not do!

Jane Stern is co-author of the “Roadfood” series of books.