This smells off.

It must have been hard for Donald Russell at school. All that Maths and English and Science and stinky Geography. After all, such academic pursuits would have been almost irrelevant given what wee Donald was day dreaming about as he most likely stared out across the playground to the rain lashed heather and thistles beyond. And what exactly was that dream? Why, nothing short of climbing the meaty ladder to become Scotland’s Finest Butcher. At least in his opinion.

It’s what it says on the flyer you see. Donald Russell. Scotland’s Finest Butcher. Fact. In fact it doesn’t say fact because it probably isn’t a fact, there would be no way to satisfactorily measure it anyway and there seems to be no actual endorsement by anyone with any credibility to back it up. Donald Russell thinks he’s Scotland’s Finest Butcher so we’ll just have to take his word for it.

I was given a glimpse into the fabulous world of DR/SFB last weekend at our friends in the north, we’ll call them Lorraine and Pascale to preserve their privacy. Someone, it may have been ‘the wife’, had opened a magazine and out flopped two identical adverts for DR/SFB’s ‘Traditional Steak Selection’, in case one isn’t enough to convince you that it just isn’t worth it. You’ve seen this kind of rubbish before, it’s the kind that slides offensively out of every single magazine produced and the offers are usually aimed at the thick and the retired.

Here are the give away signs so you never fall foul of advertising treachery again.

  1. It has The Queen’s seal of approval. I realise that some people think this is a good thing for a product to have but just bear in mind that the Royal Family has pretty appalling taste in almost every respect. They have chosen, of all the dog breeds available, the corgi. They think it’s fine to have a gold carriage for transport. They live in Buckingham Palace, a shrine to bad taste on even the best of days. Not convinced? I challenge you to find a Duchy Original food product that tastes of something other than nothing.
  2. It also has the vague approval of Nigella Lawson – “Fabulous meat and extraordinary good value”. This is a bad thing since Nigella would probably endorse dog meat for a cheque fat enough. It is also worrying because when you think about it it is a rare thing indeed to be both fabulous and extraordinarily good value. But then I suppose we are talking about meat from Scotland’s Finest Butcher.
  3. The selection is odd. 2 Ribeyes? Check. 2 Sirloins, hand cut for you (and no-one else)? Check. 4 hand trimmed Pave Rump Medallions, total 230g (do you realise just how little meat that is?)? Check. And then, as an afterthought or an insult they chuck in a solitary Pave Rump, albeit ‘expertly prepared’. Who the hell is that for? The prisoner in the dungeon? The dog? Ed Gein? Or perhaps that’s the one you eat the day after your partner has died.
  4. Delivery is free!*. Any startled part of an offer accompanied by a * is always to be regarded with the upmost suspicion. In this case it only refers to standard delivery. Lets hope your’e not having a meat crisis and need it in a hurry.
  5. FREE book (worth £8). I suppose it does offer the chance to “discover Donald Russell’s secret to cooking the perfect steak” but one might then question whether DR really is the only person on the planet to hold such an ancient secret. In fairness the student who flips the steaks at our nearest Miller and Carter is usually pretty good.
  6. More startling offers! Next up DR/SFB hands over to his Head Butcher: “Our Head Butcher Mark insists we include these for you to try – at no extra cost!“. Insists! Mark INSISTS!! He doesn’t recommend or give the option or even a few minutes to mull it over. He’s got the cleaver. He’s wearing the apron covered in blood. If he insists then you should consider yourself well and truly insisted. Incidentally the ‘freebies’ are 6 mini steak burgers suitable for someone with anorexia and 4 ‘hand made’ sausages; presumably forged using the bits of meat they couldn’t get the pigs to polish off.
  7. The Head Butcher. Mark Farquhar (I never knew real people had that surname) is very likely a lovely man and must be a very competent butcher if he has risen to be Head Butcher of the self declared finest butcher’s in Scotland. He is generous with his offers and insistent in his nature but it wouldn’t have hurt to get a better picture of him, since he is the only face on either side of the advert. Here Mark Farquhar looks like he’s posing for his custody photo and someone has just dropped a white hat on his head. He looks intense. Almost wild-eyed. He looks like the photographer has just interrupted a special moment. He looks like the kind of guy who insists. He is Mark Farquhar.
  8. Quality Guaranteed. Well of course it is. Blimey, if you’re not satisfied or “if you’ve ever tasted better” you can get a refund. As long as you contact our Head Butcher personally, that is. And how on earth would you possibly be able to prove it anyway.
  9. The claims. Meat chosen by “the best UK restaurants” and yet DR/SFB neglects to mention a single one. Nigella isn’t a restaurant; she just has a sense of limp, pouting innuendo the size of one. Crafted by hand. In reality the meat was crafted by now dead cows and has just been hacked into smaller bits by butchers. Give the cow some credit. “Aged up to 35 days” which as we all know could mean any number of days below 35, including 0 days. Delivery date options because the meat “arrives frozen to capture peak performance”. Hold on a minute, you kept that quiet. What if I don’t have a freezer (I know that’s unlikely but bear with me)? What if I wanted my steaks perfectly fresh, just like Jeffrey Dahmer? What if I knew that freezing peas is fine but freezing meat takes something away from it that you never get back – contracting out all the natural succulence and yummy tenderness? What if DR/SFT is trying to be a sneaky little bugger? It’s all in the small print, people.
  10. The deal. Steak should be a treat, a whim, not something you order in bulk. You should get to a point on a good day and just decide you want steak and then since you’re treating yourself go and find an actual butcher (ie – not one that operates from a deep freeze unit on an Aberdeenshire industrial estate) or a restaurant you trust and knock yourself out. What you should never do is overly pre-plan eating what is, in good hands, one of the best meals you’re ever likely to get (if you’re a carnivore). So, thanks for the offer Donald Russell (if you exist) and Mark Farquhar and not to mention managing director Tazio Gagliardi but until I get dementia and forget what’s in my freezer anyway I think I’ll use a little more discretion when choosing my steak. Besides with your offer price (£29.90, so £30 then) it almost looks like you’re giving it away to lure in gullible, weak minded customers and secure future orders. Just like a heroin dealer would do. And they know all about that in Scotland too.

G B Hewitt. 29.08.2018

PS – it also has a ‘serving suggestion’ photo, one of the least imaginative efforts I’ve ever come across. Frankly if you need a hint of how to serve steak then I imagine you’d probably struggle to cobble together a bowl of Coco Pops.

PPS – Thanks to L&P&L&N for your collective greatness!

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