‘This is not an exit’. American Psycho begins and ends with blood red lettering. The business card for STK London could double for the front cover; blood red stilettos, a meat cleaver (knives are a bit sissy round this way) and a beef fore rib swinging from a hook. A re-imagined Sweeney Todd for the vajazzled generation. I blame Sharon Stone for starting it all with that ice pick in Basic Instinct.
‘Not your Daddy’s Steakhouse’ is how they’re positioning themselves, this the language designed to hook the crowd in. Lady steaks. I am a ‘laydee’ you know? It’s a laydees steak for the laydee appetite, in a laydee environment: whatever that is. Dainty. Dinky. Slinky. Sparkly. The way the laydees like them. Now pass them a Cosmopolitan please barman, this is what the Sex and the City girls drink. Apparently. I’m not a laydee. Can I come in?
A steak restaurant reconstructed to appeal to the female diner, stripped bare of any macho posturing and swaggering lager breath braggadocio, a testosterone transplant, removing all that blokey guff that accompanies fat bellied bankers chowing on steak while slapping the server’s arse, and later sucking on a Cohiba with a slug of cognac: this could be an admirable manifesto, right? The talons of ridicule were bared early on by an incredulous Twitter mob, the video on their site derided as a party political STK broadcast that viewed like an S&M porn flick without the money shot.
The One Group have brought their concept to London within the ME by Melia hotel, after five openings in the USA taking in New York, LA, Miami, Las Vegas and Atlanta, and now throw their ‘fascinator’ into the ring amongst the white heat of new London steak restaurants; MASH, Flat Iron, Hawksmoor Air Street…steak ennui may soon follow.
The interior lays its brash cards out from the kick off. It’s TOWIE and it’s Made In Chelsea, it’s Jordan and it’s Posh Spice: an attempt at ‘classy’ gone awry. Creamy white leather banquettes scuff up easily and are unforgiving, displaying the grime, a brave choice in a venue where red wine will be splashed about. ‘I’m Every Woman’ is playing in the background on a first visit and my dining companion must be really chuffed that I’ve noted her gender and invited her here. Proper chuffed at the purple stripped lighting wrapped around the room. It all feels a little Miami Vice.
What’s on the cocktail menu? ‘Not your Daddy’s Manhattan’ of course. Duh. Laurent-Perrier Champagne by the glass is enthusiastically priced at £16, default Moët a more friendly £9.
Opening the wine list I’m gleefully expecting a car crash list of yawn worthy proportions. The first page falling open on USA shuts me right up, a cute collection of Californian whites; Schug, Flowers, Ferrari-Carano, Kistler. Reds offer the real deal too with Sean Thackrey, Joseph Phelps, Ridge and friends. Better than expected and worth exploring.
There are some raw bar items on the menu in this self avowed “female friendly” restaurant, some oysters, sashimi, and crab salad for the disciplined, steaks listed as Small, Medium or Large, so you can easily judge quantity if your size 8 is under threat.
LIL’ BRGS (£10.50 for 3) - These Wagyu sliders trample over the treasured memory of my first ever Wagyu ‘slider’, years ago in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Kitchen from chef Charlie Palmer. Cutesy enough in size for the laydees (of course) but the meat is underseasoned and cooked through to one shade of grey. One of the burgers has a silly over sized slice of tomato bigger than both bun and patty. The affectation of jettisoning vowels in BRGS is a lamentable virulent virus in recent London openings, and we’ve already made most of the jokes when chatting about DSTRKT. Dropping vowels is cool, yeah?
LOBSTER MAC ‘N’ CHEESE (£11) - Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese. Great idea, and ‘on trend’ too. Until on questioning we’re told it has no lobster, and contains only lobster ‘jus’. We plough on and order anyway. No discernible lobster flavour, wholly underseasoned beneath a boring one note cheese crust, and other than looking vaguely pinkish within, doesn’t merit an extra £6. A sham of a dish.
FEATHERBLADE STEAK (£16.50) – The cheapest steak in the ‘small’ category on the menu. A puck of USDA corn-fed cooked perfectly to medium-rare with a rosy rare core. Decent enough and not disastrous if you’re trying to get outta here without hitting over £30 for your steak, like cheapskate me. Corn fed USDA always underwhelms me, but British meat is on the ‘Market Price’ menu and I’m too scared to ask. MP usually means ‘Mental Price’.
PRAWN RICE KRISPIES (£9.50) - Three shelled tiger prawns arrive sitting on a bed of what looks like breakfast cereal Lucky Charms, multi-coloured puffs of rice cracker. ‘Oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ is provided by a hot shellfish bisque poured on top that creates the snap and crackle, and a little bit of ‘pop’. It’s fun and ridiculous at the same time and I’m told it’s one of their ‘signatures’. A decent bisque carries a vague kick of simmered prawn shells but needs a grind of salt. It’s a novelty dish. An accessory. Tailor made for the girls?
PARMESAN TRUFFLE CHIPS (£4.50) - Jenga Chips. Whoop. We’re partying like it’s 1999 again with fat chips constructed into a little tower. Pretty good but not quite crisped up enough for total joy, a little wooly within. Someone has forgotten to bother with seasoning. There’s a honk of white truffle oil in there to keep Victoria Beckham happy. It’s posh, ain’t it?
The after work crowd are lapping it up on a second visit, and with the DJ spinning tunes in the corner the place is 2/3 full of….blokes. Men all over the shop, more tables of suited male work colleagues than tables of women, with raised voices saying things like “look, what I’m saying is” and “please hear me out” with chests puffed out. Drinking magnums of red. Where are the stilettos? The tunes roll out, the volume rises, and we start to enjoy the surreal retro tip, veering from ‘Town Called Malice’ and ‘London Calling’ to Prince’s ’1999′ (those Jenga chips) and Lionel Ritchie’s ‘All Night Long’. We’re in Las Vegas holiday mode. ‘Bambaleyo’ is a step too far, but no matter – the crowd are loving it. It’s now a nightclub.
STK comes out snapping and snarling with the branding and chat, all shrieking crimson reds and sexual innuendo, but is closer in style to Faces nightclub in Essex. Lots of white going on there too. The imagery and marketing spiel doesn’t quite sit with the experience. It would be more fun if it did, hurtling over the top and out the other side until irony and tongue in cheek kicks in. But no, it’s not that. It’s all a little tame. As a concept they may well have nailed it: as hotel restaurants go, this is already a whole lot more fun than most of them and has a clear demographic they’re reeling in – just don’t expect the food to be the star turn. There’s a lot more going on in London that is better, cheaper and served with more élan than you’ll find here.
Drag that stiletto across my back. Bite me baby, bite me. Stiletto steaks come to town? Not a stiletto in sight.
‘Man Eater’ (Hall & Oates, 1982) kicks in as we walk out. Woah, here she comes? She’ll chew you up. This is not a STK restaurant.
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