OPINION - Salt Bae, the hype king who brought us the £1400 steak, is finished in London – I'm calling it

There was a time when Salt Bae wasn’t met with only cynicism. His silly goose-neck salt sprinkling was the meme of the moment and when he arrived in London in 2021, queues to his Knightsbridge restaurant formed quickly, bills in the thousands hit social media, and steaks in glittering gold captured the zeitgeist. David Beckham and Leonardo DiCaprio were among scores of celebs to tuck in.

But for all the seasoned fetishism, this Turkish butcher, real name Nusret Gökçe, might have had his day in the sun. A turning point came about at last year’s World Cup in Qatar, when for reasons still unknown, he made his way onto the pitch to celebrate with winners Argentina. Lionel Messi looked visibly annoyed. Only champions and heads of state are supposed to touch the trophy, yet Salt Bae got his burger-slapping fingers on it and posed for photographs with the stars.

In fact, there has been controversy elsewhere: reports of staff complaints; of staff complaining they had been asked to wait outside his London restaurant to make it look busier – claims that were disputed and settled. And it’s at his site here that his powers appear to be waning. He might have a 28-strong international group, 54m followers on Instagram, and UK sales of £13.6m in 2022 – accounts were filed to Companies House last week – but for how long?

Ventures built on social media hype need to be worthy of the promotion they have cultivated

At Nusr-Et steakhouse in SW1, the heating is being turned off, and lighting limited outside business hours. Early reports said this was down to energy costs, though the restaurant group told this newspaper that it was a sustainability initiative.

Gold leaf, Salt Bae’s most eye-catching topping, has not been flopped onto steaks in London for well over a year. And those celebs? The restaurant hardly knew 'em.

Ventures built on social media hype need to be worthy of the promotion they have cultivated. Nusr-Et is a meat empire built almost entirely on a small, tanned, muscular man curling his lip, slicing a steak, and then sprinkling it generously with sea salt. This is a proposition for the frippery of Cannes and Dubai, but London?

Last year, Standard food critic David Ellis went to review Salt Bae’s new £39 menu – itself another possible sign that customers were not as abundant as before – and found it wholly wanting. His wagyu steak “tastes like the beef you’d find in a van outside the footy,” wrote Ellis.

You might consider the cost-of-living crisis, but Salt Bae’s proposition has never been for those looking for cheap eats. Quite the contrary. And besides, there are plenty of people around with money to spend on good steak. Those in doubt might observe the fact the Salt Bae’s New York burger joint closed last year.

So here I am proclaiming the beginning of the end for Salt Bae. His inevitable demise, at least here in London. Diners will always jump on the meme wagon but, like even the most popular meme, it will soon only be just a tired memory of a golden time. Beef, you see, has a sell by date, however much it’s salted.

Josh Barrie is a food and drink writer