For the longest time Ben and I had wanted to visit Stax Diner. Every meeting we had would end with the assurance that our trip would be soon. Days, weeks and months passed with Stax seeming further and further away. I was beginning to worry that it would never happen.
Finally the time was right, Ben and I both remembered to make plans to visit and on a balmy March day in 2015 we ventured into Soho. Walking from Oxford Circus our excitement grew. The months of anticipation had given Stax Diner mythical status. I had never seen the menu, never even heard what food they did, all I knew was that Ben was excited to go. That was good enough for me.
We walked into Kingly court, its narrow arch giving way to the cavernous atrium. On each wall restaurants sit wafting their delicious smells into the central space. Stax Diner, according to the list on the wall, was on the first floor. We headed for the stairs and began to climb. Pushing the heavy door Ben and I crammed into the tiny entrance. A thud from a speaker playing indeterminable music made it difficult to hear as the waiter beckoned us over. A few steps weaving between low tables with metal stools and we were there.
We picked up the menus in front of us and began to peruse the selection. In a restaurant this size we expected a small menu, like those in Honest Burger and Patty and Bun, so we were taken aback when we saw the selection. There were 4 beef burgers and 4 chicken burgers each with a number of customisation options. Hesitantly we ordered, a Double Big Stax for Ben and a Spicy Hot Chickadee for myself. Both burgers contained caramelised onions, mayo, cheese and maple glazed bacon. Ben opted for Stilton on his Big Stax, whilst my burger came with cheddar and some added hot sauce.
The Spicy Hot Chickadee promised so much from its ingredients list. My expectations were extremely high, and that may be where its downfall began. I expected a satisfying crunch of golden fried chicken followed by a mixture of salty cheddar and sweet onion, then the bacon should have come through salty and sweet all rolled into one rich and exciting taste. Finally there should have been the tingle of the sour hot sauce begging me to go back and take another bite. Stax managed the crunch of the chicken, but from there the whole burger began to fall. The caramelised onions were so potent that the cheese became completely lost, the bacon only providing a hint of saltiness for one bite after which the rasher was gone. The bun I can only imagine was meant to hold the ingredients in place before the first bite, because its disintegration during eating was quite unwelcome. The hot sauce, what the Spicy Hot Chickadee is supposed to be built around, merely tingled momentarily before extinguishing, a rather unsatisfying end to it all.
I did not eat the Double Big Stax myself and so will incorporate Ben’s feedback into what I saw. As Ben lifted the burger up for his first bite a flood of liquid landed in the basket below and began to solidify. Not a great start as this indicates poor quality meat. As Ben ate the burger it became apparent that the patties had been over cooked and the Stilton merely crumbled on at the last second. Without being given its chance to melt over and into the patty, distributing its flavour throughout the burger the Stilton knocked out all other ingredients, including the caramelised onions so prevalent on the Chickadee. Unfortunately, like me, Ben finished his meal unsatisfied.
Were we both full? Yes but we were not satisfied. We had built Stax Diner up to something that it obviously could not be. Our wonderings around restaurants have left us with an expectation for a burger, we assume those selling them know that the meat should be the main event. It should be of top quality chuck steaks ground that day from well kept cattle and the toppings should be there to lift the meat and enhance it, not drown it out completely. Stax is a restaurant with a lot of promise but in every sense it fails on implementation. There is nothing wrong with the flavours they have tried to combine for each of their burgers, each one well thought out, but there needs to be much more finesse in what they do for this to truly be somewhere worth going.