What we thought of Durham's new 'all-you-can-eat' steakhouse - would we go again?

Estabulo in Durham is a restaurant which has seen how nearly every other restaurant in the world works and said “we’re not going to do that”. Pictures: DANIEL HORDON
Estabulo in Durham is a restaurant which has seen how nearly every other restaurant in the world works and said “we’re not going to do that”. Pictures: DANIEL HORDON

I’m a massive lover of steak - it’s my favourite treat item when I go out for a meal. So, when I heard about the new all-you-can-eat steak venue opening at Durham’s Riverwalk complex I knew I had to go and give it a go.

Estabulo in Durham opened its doors to diners this week more than 18 months after the brand first announced it would be coming to the city. The restaurant promises a Brazilian-themed dining experience with unlimited steak, salad and more.

When you enter the restaurant, you immediately go upstairs (a lift is also available) to the first floor dining area with stunning views over the Wear and Durham’s Castle and Cathedral out of the windows. Sadly with the winter nights drawing in the views aren’t quite as good on an evening as they would be in the summer, but it’s a lovely location nonetheless.

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The venue has been beautifully done out with big booth tables taking up most of the dining area, slick black tables and comfy seating. There are neon accent lights in the shape of the brand’s logo dotted around and lovely indoor plants which also help give the tables some privacy from other diners.

We were immediately shown to our table by one of the wait staff and given an explanation on how Estabulo works. I always get nervous when I need to have a restaurant explained to me. Call me old fashioned but what’s wrong with a menu and staff coming to take your order?

The inside of the restaurant. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Estabulo is a restaurant which has seen how nearly every other restaurant in the world works and said “we’re not going to do that”.

We were told that we could go to the salad bar and help ourselves to salad and that when we wanted meat we could simply flip a red and green card on our table to signal to the ‘Passadors’ whether we wanted more food to be brought to us. If your card is red the staff will leave you to eat, but turn it to green and they will appear with skewers full of different tasty meats which they cut at your table. You also have an iPad on your table which you can use to order drinks and desserts.

And you get all of this for a quite expensive £34.95 per head on an evening or £22.95 (Monday to Friday) and £26.95 (Saturday and Sunday) on a lunch time. You really do need to have quite an appetite to make up the £35 charge.

You go to the salad bar buffet to fill up your plate with sides. Picture: DANIEL HORDON

I’d taken my mam to Estabulo after we’d both got home from work. Much to my dismay she prefers her steak cooked well done, which the staff were happy to accommodate and brought her a little sign to signal that she would like a more-cooked cut. I was happy with the medium to medium rare cooking temperature they opt for by default.

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I’ve never been a big buffet fan. When you sit down you always face that awkward few minutes of wondering how soon is too soon to get up from the table you’ve just arrived at, in a move my best mate and I have long called ‘the buffet bounce’. I wouldn’t wish covid on anyone, but if buffets had fallen casualty to the pandemic I wouldn’t have been too disappointed.

Some of the colourful selection of food on offer at the salad bar. Picture: DANIEL HORDON

Without further ado we did ‘the buffet bounce’ and went to fill up our plates from the salad bar. There was a huge selection of lovely, fresh salads, all brightly coloured and flavoursome. As well as cold dishes like cream cheese stuffed mini peppers, pesto pasta salad, cold cuts of meat, bread, cheeses, coleslaw and more, there were also some hot dishes available – roasted potatoes, black beans, rice and garlic mushrooms.

Some of the salad dishes. Stuffed mini peppers, pesto pasta, chickpea salad, coleslaw, garlic mushrooms and bread rolls. Picture: DANIEL HORDON

Having loaded up our plates we returned to our table and turned over our cards to the green ‘Bring it on!’ side and as if by magic waiters started turning up at our table with huge skewers of juicy meat which they cut fresh for you. You also have your own set of tongs which you use to hold the meat as they cut it.

They apparently have 8 different meats on offer at lunchtime and 15 on an evening, although it was hard to keep track of exactly which ones or how many you’d tried. I can’t help but feel some labels on the top of the skewers would have helped, especially as we couldn’t always hear the waiters in the hustle-and-bustle of the busy restaurant. There are also some fish and veggie dishes on the menu, but I’m not sure where you order them from.

Some of the meat I had delivered by the 'passadors'. Picture: DANIEL HORDON

All of the meats we tried were beautifully cooked, although if you had a favourite it was quite hard to tell which one it was or which ‘passador’ had served it to attract their attention. The chicken was also very tasty with that lovely flame-cooked flavour.

Baskets of chips also randomly appeared at the table. Picture: DANIEL HORDON

Having flipped our cards over and back a few times and made a second ‘buffet bounce’ trip to the salad bar we felt quite full but just had room left for a drink and dessert, which we ordered via the tablet on the table. We opted for two mocktails, since it was a weeknight, and two different cheesecakes, which notably aren't included in the all-you-can-eat menu price and were £6.29 each.

The drinks were both fruity and refreshing and the desserts were just what we needed to finish off after having so much meat.

Our desserts, one fruity and one lotus cheesecake. Picture: DANIEL HORDON

We had some lovely food at Estabulo, but I just couldn’t understand the service system which was just a bit confusing. You had a buffet for sides, ‘passadors’ walking around with skewers of meat, a man who randomly turned up offering baskets of fries, and a tablet to order drinks and desserts. It was all a bit of a whirlwind and not as relaxing as a proper sit-down meal, and when you’re paying such a premium price you want relaxing and enjoyable.

Would I go back? For the food absolutely yes, but the service system just puts me off. Maybe I’m traditional but give me a menu and let me sit and enjoy a meal without having to get up and down like a yo-yo.

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