By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
Having grown up in the 1990s, steak house restaurants are something that I’ve grown to constantly associate with the part of London that surrounds Leicester Square and The Strand. Harking back to early memories of eating overpriced, overcooked and underwhelming cuts at one of the many ‘Aberdeen Angus Steakhouses’ that the area has to offer – reeling in tourists with their neon red signage and a promise of offering the very best steak that London has to offer: a promise that anybody having eaten there will know to be completely fictitious. So with the opening of STK (that stands for steak, to anybody born before 2003) within the luxurious ME Hotel, expectations for the ONE Group’s attempt to create a chic, modern take on the classic steak house we’re less than extraordinary, considering the local competition.
“STK London is not your daddy’s steakhouse. Don’t expect to find antiques on the walls or a stuffy atmosphere,” the restaurant website suggests. Instead there’s more of a club atmosphere with it’s live DJ, lack of natural light and onslaught of customers that look as though they’ve been plucked from the cast of The Only Way Is Essex. There’s certainly no shortage of young men – though older than myself – that are yet to learn the very basics of human civilisation, although their well-tailored business attire would suggest that they’re part of the young elite. Chaps that are clearly visiting as they’ve heard news of the female friendly steakhouse and wish to pose with large cuts of cattle and expensive whiskey – although the male: female ratio is drastically in favour of the former.
The food – for the most part – is good, although it soon becomes clear that almost everything at STK is quite expensive, especially the drinks, plus the 15% surcharge constantly reminds us of the restaurant’s American foundations. A loaf of brioche brought to each table to graze upon is fine, yet the adventurous topping of blue cheese oil is very peculiar – especially given the fact that the accompanying chive oil for dipping is far better. The two combined alas, do not deliver the most tantalising combination. A huge board presenting with a bone canoe filled with fatty, decadent marrow is tasty, if not a little over-seasoned, while the tuna tartare features a heavy-handed dousing of soy sauce but is parsimonious with the wasabi, which is a shame. Plus at least one element of crunch to accompany the mound of raw fish would have been welcome. Nevertheless, the clean taste of the tuna with a little acidic note of lime is amply pleasing.
There are no prizes for guessing the main focus of the mains at STK – specialising in prime USDA approved cuts, grilled to order. Everything is also measured in grams juxtaposed the oz. measurements that we’re more familiar with when measuring steak on this side of the Atlantic. Ranging from a 150g (about 5oz.) feather blade steak right the way through to a considerably bigger “cowboy steak” that weighs in at an impressive 750g (around 26oz.). There’s also plenty in between with an assortment of gratuitously expensive Wagyu, and some daily changing British cuts. On the evening of our recent trip, the British special is a Hereford sirloin, a little larger than the not-too-dissimilar New York strip that’s also on the menu. Fortunately, the steak is cooked wonderfully – there’s bark-like caramelisation on the outside while the inside is reassuringly pink. The strip of fat that clings to the side is also rendered properly during the cooking process to provide an enjoyable slab of steak. A shot glass-sized ramekin of wild garlic butter to accompany for £3, however, is outrageous. It’s also noted that the steaks come alone, therefore several sides to share between two are recommended. Deep fried stuffing balls made with pork and beef are dry and taste like a small Scotch egg without the best part, and Mac and Cheese features pasta that’s ever-so-slightly overcooked and slimy, though the potent cheese topping is conversely comforting. Parmesan and truffle fries, meanwhile, are unnecessarily pretentious, especially given that the taste of Parmesan is all but lost, while the truffle is very subtle. That, however, is not necessarily a bad thing, being that they’re the only form of chip on the menu.
It’s clear that STK won’t be to everybody’s taste. In fact, the clubby atmosphere does lend the restaurant an ambience that seems tailored towards trendy young people in search of a Kardashian lifestyle. Although it has to be said: the restaurant does deliver on its promise of good steak after all.
STK can be found at the ME London Hotel, 336-337 The Strand, London, WC2R 1HA.