words Chris Zacharia
As you wait for a table, you can’t avoid it: a woman’s lower half, draped in a red cocktail dress, her stilettoed feet suggestively crossed. In one hand she clasps her handbag; in the other, a meat cleaver.
Welcome to STK, a steakhouse with sass.
This portrait, hanging above reception, tells you something about STK. This is a restaurant where people go to take selfies, where glitter is a condiment, where the term ‘nightlife destination’ is aspirational. But it also shows that STK has a sense of humour. This is a restaurant unafraid of being different.
A London Fashion Week collaboration with make-up brand Ciate, then, sort of makes sense. Until 28th September, diners will be treated to special Ciate cocktails and desserts, and a Ciate Glitter Flip lipstick.
Taking our seats in the white leather booth, we can’t help but feel that we’re about to dine in an actual nightclub: shuttered neon lighting frames the tables, a meandering bar dominates the floor and chart-toppers keep diners eating to the beat. Thankfully, the food is far better this suggests – and so are the drinks.
The Ciate cocktail, the Glitterini, arrives looking like it’s been enjoyed by Count Dracula. A crimson smear of glitter lines the coupe glass, a bloody threshold to the rosy liquid within. A mixture of grapefruit, blood orange, passionfruit and orange bitters and vodka, it’s dangerously delicious. Neither too sweet, nor overly sour, it’s a delicious appetiser.
Pretty soon it’s got competition. Divided into Starters, Salads and Raw, the first page of the menu is compelling. STK offer lots of the classic dishes that you’d expect from a top steakhouse, but they also offer some surprises.
Take the air-dried coffee beef. It’s the kind of experimental dish which intrigues you into trying it, and I’m glad we do. Mauve shavings of beef are mixed into a graceful salad of confit cherry tomatoes, broad beans and parmesan cream.
The beef itself is a wonder. Two rich flavours come together with surprising gentleness, the flavour of the beef smoothly gliding into an aftertaste of Arabica. Apparently, they infuse the coffee flavour by drying the beef in coffee beans. Good work.
If anything, the tuna tataki is even more subtle and tender. A row of tuna medallions, lined up like a row fallen dominoes, bring moments of exquisite pleasure. Each bite is so tender, so all-consuming,the surrounding world of tabletop, chatty diners and waiting staff suddenly seems far away. This is food to be eaten slowly. A side salad of avocado and dashi adds some oriental flair, with a mound of decent wasabi and sesame seeds to boot.
As the starters are carried away by Josef, our waiter (who is absolutely excellent throughout, the kind of bloke you wish were always at your side, popping up with helpful suggestions – it’s worth asking for him by name) we’re pleasantly surprised.
Of all the elite-tier steakhouses, STK comes off as being a bit brash, a bit American, a bit flashy. Tables of footballers’ wives in pink sequin dresses and a pumping soundtrack of Radio One favourites does little to dispel this notion, but the food is genuinely superb. Jumped-up nonsense for people who don’t know better, this is not.
No matter how good the starter or the glittery cocktail, it’s the steak which will ultimately define STK. Priced by the gram, carefully demarcated by cut and coherently explained by the staff, it’s clear that STK take their steak seriously. I order the ribeye (400g, which falls under the ‘medium’ size category), upon the menu encourages additions.
As well as a complementary sauce, you can top your steak with a range of additions, from garlic butter to smoke bacon and blue cheese. If you take your steak seriously, then chucking another meal on top of a fine cut would be like adding a lump of vanilla ice cream to a tumbler of single malt. Nonetheless I can’t resist adding lime and chili twin king prawns.
A large slab of well-marbled meat arrives, topped with two enormous king prawns. Immediately I grab the machete-esque steak knife and carefully prise off a thick chunk, glistening will rich fat. From the first bite you can tell it’s paradise on a fork: a swirling melody of rich, buttery flavours, the rivulets of fat trickling through the meat and invigorating it with lip-smacking, juicy flavour. Full marks, no complaints. It’s an excellent steak.
Unbelievably – and infuriatingly – my partner’s fillet steak is somehow even better. Cooked perfectly rare so that, when sliced, the centre glows a furious pink like a Hawaiian sunset, it’s a flawless example of the cut. Each bite, each glorious bite (and I only get two of them), is succulent, moist and impossibly rich, comparable to blue cheese in its depth of flavour.
The supporting cast does its job well. Creamed spinach retains a slight crunchiness, the fries are fine and a sweet potato mash with feta topping is at hand to provide some sweetness. Meanwhile, my king prawns – crunchy, subtle, delicious – would be the star of many other tables, but not one with this level of beef upon it.
By the time Josef brings us the dessert menus, we’re genuinely full. But obviously there’s room, of course there;s room. Opting for something ‘lighter’, we try the Ciate Glitter Cones: a trio of homemade rhubarb ice creams topped with white chocolate and crunchy, weirdly delicious caramel popcorn. After the potency of the steaks, the coolness of the rhubarb ice cream is refreshing.
But STK have a showstopper at hand: the ‘Junk Chalice’, which at £14 ranks at the very top end of the dessert spectrum. It arrives like the Holy Grail of puddings, an enormous goblet spewing candyfloss and overflowing with ice cream, brownies, caramel popcorn, boozy whipped cream and hot caramel sauce. As it arrives, about the size of a cricket bat, we draw glances from nearby tables.
It’s a monstrosity, and predictably it’s delicious. It’s a childish fantasy of accumulated treats, the ultimate in American culinary one-upmanship. Apart from the brownies, which aren’t as gooey as the menu promises, we finish the lot. And are slightly ashamed of ourselves.
The Junk Chalice is a fitting metaphor for STK itself: an indulgent treat, a blow-out, a place of pleasure. Of course there’s a collaboration with a make-up brand. Of course there’s a glittery cocktail and candyfloss for dessert. But the food is stonkingly good, the staff are impeccable and for all the bling the atmosphere is actually pumping – on the Monday night of our visit, the place is almost full.
Having tasted the steak, it’s not hard to see why.
For information on STK locations & STK menu prices go to STK – Ciate menu is available until 29th September