Another day, another diner… I can literally hear your eyes rolling from here. I say hold fire on that cynicism though city slickers; the newly opened Stax just off from Carnaby Street may be that little taste of authenticity you’ve been missing.
This is down and dirty Memphis in the middle of Central London; the pure soul drifting from the sound system (the name is an homage to the infamous record label of Otis Redding and Booker T. after all), the informality and, on occasion, downright hilarity of the ultra-charismatic staff, the deep South menu which stays true to it’s roots. If gourmet is what you’re looking for then you just keep right on walking sister; the cuisine at Stax is homely and flavorful but has no time for mockingbird confit or ceviche of clownfish.
This new kid on the block (it is literally only a few weeks old) is the brainchild of Bea Vo whom having earned her place on London’s food scene selling incredible baked goods over at Bea’s of Bloomsbury, has been testing the waters for Stax with a weekend diner down at Maltby Street. Armed with secret family recipes and a head full of childhood road trips en famille through every burger joint and truck stop back home in the American South, Bea aims to recreate these happy memories right here in the Big Smoke and everyone’s invited.
Upon ordering our food through the front window (check out their inventive use of the space) with the wonderful supervisor Gu or ‘the Beyonce of Kingly Court’ as she’s more popularly known, we crack on with some hard milkshakes, wondering just how hard they were going to be. Danny Dyer hard? Ross Kemp hard? Dappy hard? Having tried both the vanilla bourbon ‘Blonde’ and the exceptional ‘Graceland’ (both £7.75) which packs an insanely good mix of peanut butter, rum and banana into its tall glass, I can tell you that these milkshakes are as hard as the Kray Brothers set in concrete and pack as much of a punch. I don’t know how much alcohol they put in there but it certainly warrants its title.
The main meal starts to arrive; Lead role? Stilton and bacon-laden medium rare burgers (£9.95); we had ours as single patties but go crazy; you can double it, triple it, add cheeses, sauces… You can probably order it singing and dancing if so desired. These were accompanied by Cajun dusted Boardwalk fries (£2.95) and a bucket of popcorn shrimp (£6.50)… no cutlery required, just hands, napkins and a sizeable appetite. For not going overboard on the seasoning in the patties, you can really taste the 28-day dry ageing on the beef and the crust on the slightly charred Stilton was an umami gift from the gods. The maple syrup cure on the beef bacon gave it the sweetest richness in flavour, really offsetting the tang of the blue cheese just right. The Boardwalk fries were decent and well-seasoned but it was the popcorn shrimp for me that really makes this main course pop. Coated in crispy batter, the shrimp inside is cooked to moist perfection.
Stuffed to the absolute gills and swearing to just eat a salad a day for the next week, we could not help but take the smallest of peeks at the dessert menu. A mere five minutes later and all healthy eating bets are off as we begin delving rather unattractively into the Stax ‘Duffin Sundae’ (£5.75), a sizeable sugary beast of rich French vanilla icecream, more-ish butterscotch and fudge sauces, whipped cream, a token gesture of fruit in the form of a maraschino cherry, all topped off with a deep, powdery Duffin (a doughnut muffin…natch) flavoured with hints of nutmeg.
The menu is on the manageably small side but still manages to cover all those important Southern dishes, from buttermilk chicken sandwiches to shrimp Po’Boys via fried green tomatoes, all offset by an array of traditional beverages including root beer, sweet teas and lemonade (again; family recipes) and pale ales. If you’re less of a night owl and more of an early to bed, early to rise kind of cat then fear not; Stax has brunch covered too. Blueberry pancakes anyone?
As we waddle into the distance following our thoroughly enjoyable evening at Stax, I leave you with this; fine dining it certainly isn’t but if you want to get your hands dirty and are counting coins rather than calories then get yourself down to Stax for a true all-American experience.