Lucky me, I’ve landed a new gig here. I used to be the food editor but I seem to have morphed into the Standard’s first ever Salt Bae correspondent. From now on, it’s all Bae, all day. In seven years, I can’t recall an opening that’s drawn such attention, even if it is divisive. Over the past fortnight I seem to have written about little else but Nusret Gökçe — that’s the proprietor-chef’s real name — in part because on our website, every story is drawing thousands of readers. There’s real-world success to match: I walk past his Knightsbridge steakhouse often and it is packed day and night, which is no mean feat for somewhere with a reputation built around £830 gold-wrapped beef.
My first reaction was revulsion: over the past 30 years, this city has built a global reputation for culinary creativity. And then here comes a man with his steakhouse, embroiled in lawsuits over alleged unpaid bills and threats against staff, and London goes mad because four years ago he was a meme and David Beckham happened to post on Instagram about it.
But thousands of words later and I’m suffering from a kind of writer’s Stockholm syndrome. To my own astonishment, I’m beginning rather to admire the man. Thing is, I can’t help it. Take last Friday, when four men went to the Nusr-Et restaurant and got through five bottles of wine, a single steak and 20 baklavas. The bill was £37,000.
There are no rules to spending — everyone’s money is theirs to spend as they see fit — though in a time of food shortages, £20 universal credit cuts and the looming energy price hell, you don’t need me to point out the vulgarity of dropping a house deposit on five bottles of wine. But if I thought waving my hand about like I was holding a sock puppet would mean someone might gift me a few grand over the UK’s average salary, well, you wouldn’t be able to stop me. There’d be sodium chloride everywhere.
I can’t see Bae is in the wrong here. It’s not his fault he’s proving right that old line about a fool and his money being soon parted. If a certain set prefer to eschew, say, the Guinea Grill or Hawksmoor or any of London’s magnificent steak places in favour of a viral moment from 2017, who can blame him for taking advantage?
Bae is a master grafter. What this all really speaks to is not the quality of his food or his chutzpah with pricing, this is about what people want from restaurants. Cooking is rarely the priority. Marco Pierre White told me he reckons it’s all in the lighting; I think it’s something in the way the staff make you feel. But for others, it’s the bragging rights.
There are others still who just want a place to spend some time among their sort, or at least the sort with similar means. Places where most of us can’t go. And when they’re spending that way, that’s called “f**k you” money. And so it is, I find myself almost fond of our salty friend for taking as much of it off their hands as he can. Besides, it leaves all the good places for us. Cheers Bae.
In other news...
Got the “super cold”? Don’t forget the lessons of Covid
No rest for the wicked, or even those who’ve been wearing masks. The pandemic is on the wane but now there’s a “super cold” — or, at least, the common cold is hitting harder since everyone’s not had one for so long. Getting rid of it is more lots of Lemsip than hoping for a new and improved Pfizer, but let’s not forget the lessons from the past 18 months: keep your distance from others, wash hands often and stay home if you’re ill. At least Seinfeld’s now on Netflix.
What do you think about Salt Bae’s new London restaurant? Let us know in the comments below.