Kebab Kid, 90 New King’s Road, London SW6 4LU. Takeaway only, cash only, kebabs £4.75-£9.50.
Nusr-Et Steakhouse, 101 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7EZ (01821 687738), steaks £85-£1,450.
It’s a Sunday lunchtime and I’m sitting outside a restaurant in London’s Knightsbridge, famous for serving a £1,450 steak, eating an £8.50 kebab. I have brought my own table, chair and checkered tablecloth. It’s a ridiculous gesture, but the Nusr-Et Steakhouse is a ridiculous restaurant, and one stupid twist deserves another. Still, I’m sure I’m out-eating all the patrons through the massive wooden doors behind me, pouring their gooey bounty onto gold-leaf-wrapped steaks. Because my lamb shawarma comes from the legendary Kebab Kid in Parsons Green, and it’s really good too.
Nusr-Et Steakhouse, inside the Park Tower Hotel, is the latest opening for Turkish butcher turned meat dealer Nusret Gökçe, better known as Salt Bae. A few years ago, a video of his signature steak-salting move went viral. He was photographed in a tight white T-shirt and dark glasses, sprinkling salt down his muscular forearm as if he were proving he could season meat and pop an ovary in one move. He imagines Rod Hull’s Emu, naked and dishonoring himself by vomiting down his own neck. Salt Bae, which means Salt Baby, was born. He now has 38 million followers on Instagram. If he was looking for something to illustrate the male terror of sexual inadequacy, a Salt Bae video would do the trick. He handles knives. He likes to be photographed topless.
‘You’ll find customer reviews online saying it’s not all that. It’s all that’: Kebab Kid. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer
There are now 19 Salt Bae steakhouses around the world, trading stupidly overpriced steaks, many of them completely draped in gold leaf, flogged to people who should know better. They include David Beckham, Leonardo DiCaprio and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. The gold-wrapped burger costs £100. The gold-wrapped eight-hour short rib is £765. There’s the 2kg Tomahawk at £1,450. Finish with gold-wrapped baklava for £50. Shortly after the London branch opened, a photograph of a receipt for £1,812.40 for a table of six was posted. viralincluding £1.40 cans of Red Bull at £11.
Many suggested to me that I should eat there and separate the place member by member encrusted with gold. I declined This newspaper has better things to spend your money on. In any case, it turned out that I could learn an awful lot without even going in. One afternoon I went over to see the menu with the prices. It’s not on the website, but it’s available in the restaurant on a QR code. It comes complete with videos of browned steaks encased in dry ice, like dubious contestants on Stars in their Eyes. Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be a bloody outrage. A woman behind a golden rope was busy telling a solo diner that she could only occupy her table for an hour. I chatted with a beardless man who had come out for a cigarette. How much did he spend today? He shrugged. “Three or four?” We’re not talking hundreds, right? “No, but we are seven.” I ask him what his job is. He laughs. “I’m a financial jerk.” So why is he doing it? “It’s kind of funny, isn’t it? And the man himself is there.” Salt Bae has 19 restaurants; I wonder how business will manage when he’s elsewhere.
‘The meat is separated from the bones so it curls up and is easily accessible’: chicken wings. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer
Here’s the thing. Some metals are more reactive than others. Never try to eat with brass cutlery. Your dinner will taste horrible. Stainless steel is great. And then there is the least reactive metal of all: gold. Food wrapped in gold will literally taste like nothing, at least at first. Oddly enough, I like my food to taste of something. This is why I decide to get mine from Kebab Kid.
It was opened by a Greek Cypriot couple, Cos and Yanni, in 1976 and then taken over by the current owners, Hatch-Barnwells, a decade later. They didn’t change a thing except add a couple of dishes. It is now run by his son Charles, who credits his Indonesian mother for the new recipes. It’s cult-like takeaway, especially among London taxi drivers, which naturally means you’ll find customer reviews online saying it’s not all that. It is all of that.
‘A deep crispy brown’: lamb kebab. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer
Start with the Garlic Fried Chicken Wings, the meat cut off the bone so it curls up for easy access. Try the cumin-enhanced falafel. The lamb shoulder and chicken shawarma are built daily, marinated, and then grilled on the spit until crispy brown. Any trimmed lamb fat helps to fry the hand cut fries. The salads are crunchy. Ask for a smear of tzatziki. Don’t forget the pickled bird’s eye chiles for the punch. Be sure to get a triangle of their deep-filled baklava, made for them from a North African recipe by a former employee. Yours for £3, not £50.
Like Salt Bae, the woman serving me here has a long knife. He doesn’t wait for me to pull out my phone before using it efficiently to cut the meat. He also salts the kebab with a shaker, like a normal person who doesn’t think about Instagram. I eat the wings and the first kebab in my neighbor’s car. Marc has been trying to get along with me for years and I can see why. He and his wife Elvira come here every Valentine’s Day to eat kebabs in the car, because the romance is not dead. I can feel the love. I can also smell Marc’s can of Vimto. He’s just my neighbor; I didn’t bring it up.
Deep filler: the Kebab Kid baklava. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer
We take another kebab to the Nusr-Et and I prepare the table for my grandiose gesture. In my kinder moments, I wonder if Mr. Salt Bae isn’t getting the last laugh. Unlike the billionaire Sultan of Brunei, owner of the latest outrage at the Dorchester restaurant, he did not start out as a wealthy man. He came from a poor working-class family. He now he is enlightening the rich and stupid. He could almost be inspiring.
There is a 1976 essay on the end of empires by the fabulously named General Sir John Glubb that is instructive here. He posits that empires easily go from opulence to decline and then collapse. Sitting at my picnic table with one of Kebab Kid’s best, I wonder if we are now on the brink. After all, in addition to not having a taste at all, all that gold leaf will go right through the body. So let me leave you with this picture: Salt Bae’s customers, the morning after last night, stepping off the throne, looking down and seeing that all their money has bought them is a shiny load of shit.
Brad Carter of Carters of Moseley in Birmingham has opened a kebab shop in Manchester. His One Star Döner Bar is part of the Escape to Freight Island food market in the Mayfield district of the city. The venture, based on Carter’s street food experiences in Berlin, began during the lockdown, while the restaurant was closed. The kebabs are made with Cornish lamb and Tamworth White chicken and wrapped in pide from a Turkish bakery in Manchester. Visit escapetofreightisland.com.
Welsh restaurateurs Phill and Deb Lewis, who already have a group of pizzerias in South Wales, have opened Kindle, a sustainability-focused small plate restaurant in Cardiff. It is located on the site of a former warden’s cottage in Sophia Gardens and all seating is outdoors under covered pergolas. There are blankets and hot water bottles available. Chef Tom Powell, formerly of the Walnut Tree on the outskirts of Abergavenny, has created a short menu that includes celeriac bravas, champagne quail and kale with charcoal-roasted onions. At kindlecardiff.co.uk.
And another sign of how we consoled ourselves during the dark lockdown days of 2020: Pizza takeaway and delivery company Papa John’s has reported a turnover increase of almost 30% to £94.9m , and a 200% increase in operating profit, from £2.6m to £8m. . During the period they opened 20 new stores and brought the chain to 467 UK sites. Visit papajohns.co.uk.
Email Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1