Martin Williams, founder of M Restaurant and owner of Gaucho, invites former England rugby player Simon Shaw for lunch at his newly refurbished Gaucho City, where they talk about quality meat, sports injuries and class.
MARTIN WILLIAMS: Thanks for joining me, Simon. I’m looking forward to that prime rib platter we’ve ordered with four cuts of beef…
SIMON SHAW: I’ve always loved meat! But I’ve become a fish convert since I moved to France. I’m sure this will offend the French population but I’ve been sorely disappointed with French meat compared to what I’ve eaten in the UK. I just don’t enjoy it. When I’m in France I predominantly eat fish which means I’m absolutely crying out for meat when I come to the UK.
I’ve become a fish convert since I moved to France. I’m sure this will offend the French population but I’ve been sorely disappointed with French meat
MW: Like everyone I’m eating less meat, but eating better. We calculate the carbon footprint of our meat at Gaucho and M to offset it through reforestation projects in the Amazon. All of our beef at Gaucho is carbon neutral. The meat we serve is regeneratively farmed, animal welfare is phenomenal and you can taste the difference. I would never buy meat in a supermarket, I would only eat it in a restaurant. I do end up eating steak three or four times a week but it tends to be smaller portions and higher quality.
SS: Any tips for where to buy the best meat?
MW: I go to Moen’s on Wandsworth Common, one of the best butchers in London. I don’t really buy steak, I buy things like short rib and pork and lamb shoulder. I’ve got a Green Egg at home so I love cooking in that.
SS: I’m incredibly fortunate that my wife is slightly obsessive about her cooking. She became increasingly so during Covid, always experimenting and exploring new cuisines. Every evening we had a three-course gourmet meal of whatever we chose. She’ll ask us to pick a country, style, cuisine and she goes away and makes the most incredible meals. It’s lots of different dishes from Mexico, India or Thailand.
MW: That sounds like a dream. How do you manage to stay fit?
SS: As you know Martin, I don’t really do any fitness anymore but during my career my issues with weight were a challenge I had to overcome. I had a tendency to gorge myself. If you weren’t here I’d happily finish the rest of this off. When you’re playing you can’t afford to be under or overweight. I had to understand my own body. It’s now become second nature. If I eat copious amounts one day I back off for a couple of days.
MW: Because of the amount of food tastings and entertaining I have to do I have a personal trainer twice a week and I also love cycling and running. I exercise four times a week, which keeps me at an acceptable weight.
SS: It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to post pictures of yourself half naked sweating over a bike, Martin…
MW: Ha, no! But I’m sure my audience wants to see that! How was the World Cup?
SS: Exciting at times, painful at other times.
MW: We were pretty close this year…
SS: You could argue that England could have won the World Cup if that one point had gone either way, having been absolutely nowhere at the start of the tournament. It was frustrating but ultimately a pretty good showing.
MW: Do you think South Africa winning was a positive thing for the game?
They won in a fashion that didn’t entertain or necessarily inspire new generations. It hardly got you out of your seat thinking, ‘This is a sport I want to follow!’ They didn’t score a try, instead they kicked penalties.
SS: Not necessarily. They won in a fashion that didn’t entertain or necessarily inspire new generations. It hardly got you out of your seat thinking, ‘This is a sport I want to follow!’ They didn’t score a try, instead they kicked penalties. That suggests you don’t need to have the skill sets to win by scoring amazing tries. It’s the same with England – they got so far by playing the percentages. That’s not a great spectacle.
MW: You helped get new guidelines in place in April this year to help research and ultimately prohibit head injuries in sport. Did you see any improvement at the World Cup?
SW: I’m a president of a campaign charity called Love of the Game. Our aim is to understand concussion so we can better identify and ultimately treat it so it doesn’t become the major talking point in sport and doesn’t deter people from playing. A major problem for me from this World Cup was you’ve almost got this brushing under the carpet of what’s happening on the pitch. After an injury the decision is made about whether the player comes back on or not, not whether they’ve got concussion, which is so ridiculous because the whole conversation started around preventable concussion and treatment.
MW: At the moment it’s more about the punishment and not about helping the victim.
SS: Yeah. It was a bit shambolic if I’m honest. Massively inconsistent. There are technologies that can quickly assess your cognitive function post concussion. They weren’t used, there are therapies out there, technological therapies that were available to all. There were three teams of doctors when it should have been made available to all teams at all stadiums regardless.
They’re proven technologies, not in the trial phase. We were instrumental in bringing all the experts in concussion together: neuroscientists, neurosurgeons. They’d never spoken before – they were all working in silos and we got them to convene regularly. Unfortunately it’s a fairly slow-moving machine. And the slow progress is up at the top. It’s about the elite making the changes so the rest of us can benefit and enjoy sport.
MW: Have you managed to get away on holiday anywhere before Christmas?
SS: I’ve got a family of six so I’m conscious that whatever we do it inevitably comes to a hefty amount, so I’m always penny pinching. At the same time you want them to have a fabulous experience. With the kids, finding things that are free means it’s a throwback to what I experienced growing up. Buckets and spades, whatever it is. I think they need to be grounded in that respect rather than me throwing money at every situation.
MW: But you’re part of the elite, Simon! I come from a working class background in the north east of England where everyone watches football. You’re an over-privileged public school boy who has lived his life with royalty!In fairness I throw money at holidays. My wife and I both love food and wine so we tend to go to places where we can enjoy great food, great vineyards, great hotels. We just relax a lot – lie by the pool reading. Anything to prepare ourselves for the onslaught of Christmas!