To be honest, it would be best to just ignore London’s new Nusr-Et Steakhouse. With giant tomahawk steaks at £630 and £100 burgers wrapped in gold foil, it is simply not something that 99% of the population need to give much thought. And yet, like Liberace’s Vegas residency, there is a gaudy attraction to Chef Nusret Gökçe’s Knightsbridge glitter trap that keeps demanding attention.
Every time we resolve to pretend it does not exist, we are drawn back in by tales of garish excess. Redefining gauche, The Sun reports that two young entrepreneurs – teeth-whitening moguls as it, perhaps inevitably, turns out – were so impressed by their £2000 bill that they tipped the restaurant with a £2000 box of cigars. Reality TV star Gemma Collins was said to have enjoyed her tomahawk steak wrapped in 24 carat gold leaf but felt a bit sick when she thought about the £1450 price tag. According to The Independent, a guilt-wracked Collins confessed her bovine misdemeanour to her mother who drily commented, ‘The poor cow; don’t do that again’.
If all this has passed you by then a little background may be helpful. Mr Gökçe is a chef whose theatrical seasoning technique and penchant for baring his chest have earned him the soubriquet Salt Bae. His flamboyant salt-sprinkling technique and his admittedly nimble knife skills have built a restaurant empire that stretches from his native Turkey to New York, Miami, Beverly Hills and several locations in the United Arab Emirates. Moscow, Vegas and Hong Kong can’t be far off.
As well as Mr Gökçe’s salt game, it is the prices he charges which are drawing a lot of headlines. There are no prices on the restaurant chain’s website but a diner at the London branch recently posted a bill on Twitter and the sums involved are hair-raising. As well as the giant tomahawk steak at £630, it lists Cokes at £9 a pop, sweet corn at £12 and something called an onion flower for £18. We are guessing that an onion flower is an onion which has been twiddled with. One report mentions cappuccinos at £50. The cost of having your steak or burger wrapped in gold leaf is not disclosed. A discretionary charge of 15% is added to all bills.
In general with food, the more it costs the better the quality. Ideally, with beef, the extra cost pays for better animal husbandry and, hopefully, happy cattle. In a perfect world, this translates into better meat. Or at least it does up to a point. Salt Bae’s £630 steak doesn’t so much miss the point as scream past it in a gold-plated Lamborghini while Lil Wayne’s Money On My Mind blares through a crack in the tinted windows.
Gordon Ramsay has just opened The River Restaurant, his second concession in The Savoy. While little in that sentence is even on speaking terms with the phrase ‘cheap night out’, Chef Ramsay’s sirloin steak is listed at £45. Which seems like a Lidl-sized bargain compared with the menu at Nusr-Et Steakhouse.
Of course, grousing about the exorbitant bills at Chef Gökçe’s joint is futile because the high prices are the point for its customers. By definition, ostentatious consumption ain’t cheap. The more over the top the display, the greater the feeling of smug exclusivity.
A few years back, this scribbler bumped into a wine writer who had just done a tutored tasting at the launch of a very limited and expensive vintage Champagne. According to my wine critic acquaintance, it was very good Champagne. It was a shame, he mused, that so few people would get to taste it. Because it will be so expensive, I asked naively. Partly, he explained, ‘but mainly because most of it will be sprayed over prostitutes by playboys splashing the cash in private beach clubs on the Cote D’Azur’. Wrapping a steak with gold leaf almost seems suave by comparison. Almost.
Those restaurant critics which can get pre-emptive sign-off on Nusr-Et-sized expenses will be lining up to shoot it down. Other chefs have not been slow to put the boot in. Daniel Clifford, holder of two Michelin stars, is reported as saying that there was a big difference between paying to eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant where fifteen chefs have painstakingly prepared your meal and eating a steak cooked by Mickey Mouse. Which, admittedly, would be an interesting brand extension from Disney.
As long as customers are prepared to surrender their credit cards, Nusret Gökçe will be impervious to any such criticism. And no-one is forcing anyone to eat there.
Still, at least one other chef seems happy at all the attention which Salt Bae is drawing. Tom Kerridge has recently attracted flak for serving an £87 steak and chips at his Hand and Flower pub. Strange as it is to write this but the Nusr-Et Steakhouse makes £87 for steak and chips seem quaint. Kerridge is understandably thankful for this and recently tweeted, ‘Salt Bae steak: £630. Some peace and quiet: priceless.’
By Jonathan Trew
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