Stax Diner / Soho, London


Kingly Court, previously a bastion of dinky little boutique stores (and a skate shop that sold way too much Carhartt) in Central London, recently succumbed to the Smoke's insatiable need for more places to eat.

The company behind the Carnaby Street courtyard have put their money where our gobs are and re-developed the place as a new food court destination for the shop-weary masses, just missing the vital Spudulike. 

Notable takers to the new units include celebrated dough-botherers Pizza Pilgrims and Stax Diner, the new concept from the brains behind cake emporium Bea's of Bloomsbury. The novelty that the inventor of the Duffin (no matter what Starbucks says) was transitioning into savoury Americana aside, you had us at diner.

We wouldn't say Stax is a diner so much, perhaps more of a hybrid of of one. It lacks the vinyl-clad banquettes and formica table tops, the furnishings have veered down the now-too-common reclaimed kitsch alley, but it has some neat touches: the drum kit bolted to the ceiling makes an excellent light fixture, and with the records tacked to the wall behind the bar the place feels like an episode of Top of the Pops 2. 

The abridged menu concentrates on the now familiar, with a few lesser-seen American classics thrown in.  The cheeseburger is put together like a SoCal classic, with distinct similarities in its make up to Hodad's:  Slews of thick mayo is berthed above huge sloppy rings of grilled onions whilst hunks of iceberg leaves and fat slices of tomato line the bottom. 

The in-house ground patties are nicely dishevelled clumps, a lovely line of pink running through them, topped by a thick slice of great sticky American cheese. Although it was seared the crust didn't deliver the flavour bang it visually promised, and the under-seasoned meat was juicy and delightfully soft but tame. It was loosely packed, but to the point that it was falling apart before any dental damage had been inflicted on it. The sweet brioche suffered from being a touch dry and unstable in it's adhesiveness, failing to deal with the combined juices. By the end, a debris of meat and carb rubble lay strewn across the greaseproof lining paper.   

The onions were soft and added good moisture and texture but were also wanting in flavour, and the abundance of a thick-but-mild mayonnaise highlighted the lack of bold tastes for it to counter. The huge slab of tomato on top near-entire leaves of lettuce proved awkward and became a slip 'n slide for everything above and below to tumble around on. Whilst pretty, it was an awkward bastard to consume.  

That was soft launch, so we waited a few weeks and headed back to sample again and grab a second option. Whilst the onions had been manhandled on the grill a bit more and provided a better savoury note and the beef had been given a heftier dose of pepper, the burger still lacked the stomp of flavour you hope for, and still fell apart with gay abandon once grabbed. It was a shame for something with such visual potential. 

But hang on, the chicken and waffles. The fucking chicken and waffles.

Where the burger fell short, this made up for in leaps and syrupy bounds. The waffle had a bit of resistance on the outer shell but was nice and fluffy soft on the inside, a good hint of sweetness running through it. The huge goujon-like piece of chicken was covered in an excellent rugged buttermilk breadcrumb which had a superb crunch, with just enough give to it, and a great savoury seasoning. Inside was very moist flesh piping steam. With the syrup generously poured over both, the sweetness countered against the seasoned crust and chewy waffle was banging. Cannot say we've had better in the States.

The abridged menu has some other lesser-seen American classics on it. We will be back to try the shrimp po'boy and the cajun onion blossom, akin to something we have not witnessed since a trip to a Floridian Outback Steakhouse in our teens. Oh, and the weekend brunch guys. Jeez, there are a few more visits needed here for sure. 

  • Rob.