When I was young, I watched a television show about a man who, possessed of the spirit of greed, ate gold and died. I recognised hubris then, and I recognise it now. In a country filled with foodbanks people are hungry to eat gold, which is, in food standard circles at least, called something less miraculous: E-175.
E-175 usually comes in flakes, leaves or powder. It has no nutritional value. It passes through you, though of that there is no evidence on Instagram, which is a shame. They should really follow through. E-175 is big on Instagram, which is the engine of the fashion for eating gold. It is an entirely visual thing.
Gold is not a food, and it does not have a taste; you might as well eat nothing. Eating it is entirely performative; something for people for whom real food is not important enough. It is consoling though, because it means I do not have to follow the line of critics to the newest restaurant selling golden food, which is Nusr-Et at the Park Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge, even as I do not have to follow them to restaurants that sell air.
Donald Trump taught us that some things can’t be satirised. I don’t want to go to Nusr-Et. Knightsbridge excels in themed restaurants for the itinerant super-rich. I once reviewed Mari Vanna, a Russian restaurant in Knightsbridge, which seemed like a haunted dolls house for Russian mafia who miss their mothers. Nusr-Et sounds more vulgar, and less sorrowful. There are many branches, so I will quote the reviewer I trust most, which is Pete Wells in the New York Times. He said the food at the Manhattan branch was 'terrific,' but Wells is always fair. He has the schtick of a kindly school master and he didn’t mind that the chef-patron of Nusr-Et, Salt Bae (his real name is Nusret Gökçe, and he is from Turkey) spilled salt on his trousers while serving the steak. He does this with knives, while dancing. Then the diner must eat a piece of the steak from the knife. It is a version of the tasting menu – where the diner is again the hostage of the chef, but without knives - and I wouldn’t do it.
This is not bread, then, but circuses: the circus of Instagram. This website thrills to colour, and golden steak for £630. It is not the first incident of golden food: we have had golden sushi, and golden doughnuts, and golden Kit-kat bars. Gold was eaten in the ancient world too but now the trend is most popular in Dubai. When I ate in Dubai it seemed to me a place where religious repression and violent misogyny meets hyper-Capitalism. What could be worse? I had no appetite.
Now it surfaces in London but still I don’t know if painting steak with gold, which has no taste, is more irritating that calling a cook – in this case Nusret Gökçe – the Sexy Butcher of Istanbul with a straight face. Because the stupid name is the same thing as adding E-175 to a piece of cow: it is all marketing, as is the photographs of Salt Bae sitting amid joints of beef like so many sad damp pillows. There are plenty of good steak restaurants in London: notably Beast ('the beast is inside you'). Beast also seeks to incite your cruelty, but it asks rather less money for the pleasure.
I did look at a photograph of the golden steak. After cutting it looked like a human arm, sliced up in gold armour. I suppose there is a metaphor in there: the metal endures, the flesh does not. But you don’t need to spend £630 to learn it. Poetry could tell you that for nothing.