Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie once said: “All vowels are fascist, man, everyone knows that”. It’s a sentiment that obviously chimed with the owners of US steakhouse chain STK, which has just arrived at the ME London hotel.
This isn’t just any old steakhouse, though. Oh no, this is a “female friendly” steakhouse. Female friendly. Women rejoice: at last, somewhere you can eat that doesn’t despise you. No doubt this will have you weeping with joy into your apron (don’t forget to reapply your make-up before your husband gets home!).
To illustrate how female friendly it is, the website features a photograph of a red stiletto stomping on a raw piece of steak. It looks like an advert for the kind of low-rate S&M club you might find in a phone-box.
The restaurant’s design is the height of sophistication, if you happen to be a footballer from the 1980s. It is all chrome and beige leather and chandeliers and little oriental-style trees, and everything is suffused with purple lighting. It is half restaurant, half nightclub, and it has the volume to match. It has a DJ, who progressed from R&B to electro as the night went on, looking increasingly despondent, head bopping like a nodding dog, wishing he were playing to a basement in Hoxton instead of a restaurant in Aldwych.
Most evenings, I’m informed, the clientele like to kick off their shoes (presumably stilettos) and dance on the seats. The only people I saw dancing were a group of drunk Irishmen who had the general air of purposeful violence suggestive of a stag do.
The volume of the music means conversation is out of the question, which I guess could be a plus point if you’re on a date: you’ll have to be within snogging distance just to ask someone to pass the salt.
Our waitress was a force of nature, presumably hired for being the only person loud enough to cut through the music when reading out the specials. She was the kind of waitress I would usually move not only tables but cities to avoid. In the context of STK, though, she was perfect. Just as I excused myself to go to the bathroom she arrived at the table. “Where are you going?” she demanded. “Order your drinks first.” She didn’t seem like the kind of person who takes no for an answer.
To start I went for prawn Rice Krispies, mostly because I didn’t believe it would involve breakfast cereal. I was wrong: it consisted of king prawns on a bed of rice puffs and topped with a shellfish bisque. Unfortunately, the volume of the music meant that to hear the snap, crackle and pop I would actually have had to dip my ear in it. The other problem is that soggy Rice Krispies aren’t very nice – you end up with a kind of mushy soup that smells far better than it tastes. The foie gras French toast was better although the portion was more fine dining than all-American steakhouse.
The starters, though, are just the warm-up act. Anywhere that dares to call itself STK – vowels or no vowels – better do a bloody good slice of cow. The rib eye was excellent – a tender tract of meat the size of Greenland, cooked properly rare and marbled with fat that melted in the mouth. I had it with the STK sauce, which turned out to be a rather unexciting barbecue dip. My guest went for the fillet steak, which, despite being from the “small” section of the menu, was as thick as a fist. It wasn’t bad but it was a little on the dry side and a touch over-done, lacking that deep, smoky flavour of a great American fillet steak.
I shudder to think of the sheer quantity of meat that must be involved in the “large” section of the menu, which culminates with the 750g “cowboy steak” for £55.
For dessert, on the insistence of the waitress, I went for “a taste of the fairground”, which is served on a miniature Ferris wheel. It consists of a selection of fairground-themed snacks including popcorn, candyfloss and toffee apples. They might have been nice but we were far too full to eat a ferris wheel’s worth of sugar.
With most of the steaks starting at the £30-mark, it’s not cheap, but neither is it wildly unreasonable. It certainly didn’t seem to be putting many people off – it was jam-packed when I was there. God knows why. Maybe I just didn’t get it. Maybe I’m too old, with my cravings for antiquated concepts like conversation and lighting that isn’t purple.
As we left, the DJ was playing Daft Punk. If STK were a nightclub, this would have been the track that brought everyone to the dance-floor. But it’s not, it’s a restaurant and there was just a solitary Irishman dancing on a chair. Is this what we’ve come to?
First published in City A.M.