STK is a steakhouse at the bottom of the ME Hotel on the Aldwych. (This is a real name for a real hotel. The cult of individualism has finally reached its apogee in the hotel sense, and, if you are curious, it looks like a piece of St Tropez that fell off and hit the Embankment.) The restaurant itself looks like a love ball, or a stupid person’s idea of what is sexy, or Hugh Hefner’s personal imago. It is dark and made of MDF in varying degrees of glisten and smear; if STK were a movie it would be Showgirls, in which the protagonist writhes like a dolphin in a swimming pool, chlorine tumbling off her breasts, because that is sexy if you are stupid, or a chlorine–philiac. (They must be out there.)
There are white leather booths and bead curtains and huge orchids and whisky bottles and everything is either purple or cream or black, like a freshly hewn bruise; in the Las Vegas branch they apparently have diamond cutlery. The promotional material is a photograph of a woman’s arse. The arse is carrying a meat cleaver and a piece of cow and it is wearing scarlet. (Can a restaurant be actively misogynist? Yes it can!) The tagline is the explicitly incestuous ‘Not Your Daddy’s Steakhouse’. No indeed. It is far worse than that.
I am a coward and shy, so I book to dine on Bank Holiday Monday, when most of the slags and wankers will be somewhere else, Homebase probably. In the week they seethe and plot here, and play with each other’s thongs, and cry tears made of wallpaper, but not today. There is only one group of ten — a 40th birthday, I am sure — and a couple, who look like they make love on a treadmill and lick each other’s muscle tone between shouting about who has the nicest hair.
All this would be fine if the food was OK. I enjoyed a fry-up at the Leaky Cauldron in Harry Potter World at Universal Studios, Florida, so I do not mind a themed restaurant, even if the theme is vaginoplasty and sexual violence. But at STK even the menu makes me retch; it should really serve £5 notes covered in Hellmann’s mayonnaise and blood. Some men will not let food be food, just as they will not let women be women. So, as I read the menu, I learn exactly what men who encourage their girlfriends to have vaginoplasty want to do to food in their wildest porn dreams. Mashed potato must be drowned — drowned — in gravy. Chips — chips — are choked under something called ‘parmesan truffle’.
Even the bread is weird, like Victoria Beckham is weird; it is, in fact, to bread what Victoria Beckham is to woman. It is a kind of self-hating lump, shaped like a medieval crown, and it is served with a poisonous pond of basil oil, which only needs a tiny dead body to make it a murder scene. It is horrible. And there was nothing wrong with the bread before! It didn’t need plastic surgery! It was fine, it just needed the patriarchy to let it be the bread it was supposed — oh, sorry. Wrong article. Wrong food group. So this is not OK. I know it’s not OK, the architectural historian — ‘ugliest restaurant I have ever seen’ — knows it is not OK, and so does the waiter, who comes over possibly eight times to ask if we are OK, because he knows we are not, and neither is he. This restaurant is Hades on paracetamol, and Essex does that better.
The historian has prawn cocktail and lobster. I have burnt steak and mashed potato. I cannot face pudding, but they bring it anyway — ice-cream that has melted and frozen again, served in tiny golden cones. Because that is what little girls hate.
STK, 336–337 The Strand, London WC2R 1HA. Tel: 020 7395 3450.