Burgers EVERYWHERE. It’s coming up to my third burger expedition this week. The problem with birthday outings is that a lot of my friends have a bread and butter palate and are not willing to try different cuisines. Thus, in order to cater for everyone, I end up having to stick to the staple diner or middle-eastern restaurant. Given that many of London’s halal burger-vendors serve nothing more than average quality beef and fall short of their American dream, visiting so many of them in a short space of time could drive any sane, reasonable man to bludgeon his friends with a brioche bun. However, nestled away in the confines of Kingly Court, lies one American-style diner that truly heads home to its southern roots, and does justice to the high octane beef burgers that for generations, have kept America American-sized.
Note: Both the beef and the chicken here are halal. Alcohol is served.
On my first visit, I ordered the “Big Stax” burger, and upgraded it to a triple patty warhead. It was my 21st birthday and fearful of my newfound old age, I was determined to die happily in a mountain of meat. What returned was a truly battle-ready burger. Three patties of 28-day-dry-aged beef, (ordered medium-rare), stacked on top of each other, intermingled with layers of cheddar cheese and topped with a dose of maple-glazed beef bacon.
The beef patties were of an excellent quality – thick, crumbly, with an even cook throughout. There was only a hint of pink left in the centre, probably just a little closer to “medium” than “medium-rare”, but either way, the patty was wonderfully tender. When eaten alone, the patties were a little bland, but the “spicy comeback sauce” smothered within delivered enough flavours to satisfy the tastebuds. It did get a little bit salty towards the end and I told my dental comrades to ready the defibrillator, but that could possibly have been from the heavy dose of cheddar cheese. By far the best part of the burger was the maple-glazed beef bacon. They had a beautiful glaze, a sticky, chewy texture, and a sweet flavour that was simply wonderful.
I had also ordered a portion of boardwalk fries, (which had a wonderful, rustic quality to them), and a peanut-butter milkshake, which had a strong sweetness and a great consistency.
Update – 26/12/14:
I visited Stax again last week, and ordered a more sensible, snack-sized burger – (a double Big Stax instead of a triple. Okay, not that sensible) – with stilton cheese, boardwalk fries and a malted french vanilla milkshake. The patties were more flavoursome and less salty this time, and I suspect the small degree of saltiness experienced at my last visit came from the cheddar alone. This time, the comeback sauce combined with the strong stilton, the crumbly, moist patties, and the glazed, sweet and sticky beef bacon to create a powerful concoction of flavours that just kept on delivering, bite after bite.
The malted vanilla milkshake was also superior to the peanut-butter milkshake I ordered last time, and carried a much stronger flavour.
Update – 23/08/15:
Stax upon Stax upon Stax of joy. Over the last year, I’ve been credited as being a “very harsh critic”, given my scrupulous scrutiny and my reluctance to hand out food scores above 4.5/5. But, whilst a lack of 5’s may seem to reflect an overly critical nature, it is in fact, simply due to the preservation of this premium digit. A flawless food score must be preserved for those establishments that consistently prove their worth, and to determine once and for all whether Stax was worthy, Steak and I headed over for a final decision-making visit.
Steak selected the humble Stax cheeseburger, whilst I opted for a dish that once upon a time, I would have regarded as wholly unconventional – the chicken and waffle. If, this time last year, someone had suggested this intriguing combination to me, I would have regarded them to be clinically insane – a volatile danger to society who must immediately be placed into a straight jacket before their wild ideas cause harm.
The buttermilk waffle was extremely soft, light and airy, and instantly soaked up every drop of maple syrup I drizzled over it, capturing its light and well-balanced sweetness. The fried chicken that sat atop was tender and wonderfully moist, with a crispy, buttermilk coat that soaked up the maple syrup almost as readily as its carb-filled companion. A plentiful amount of seasoning ensured that the entire span of the breast remained flavoursome, and together, the chicken, the waffle, and the maple syrup created an incredible blend of complementary textures and flavours.
The maple syrup integrated the two main components together so well in fact, that rather than resembling the result of a car crash between a KFC van and a Wafflemeister stall, it seemed as though fried chicken and waffles were always meant to be. The sight of fried chicken atop a waffle just suddenly seemed to make sense, and whilst with each bite, my brain couldn’t work out whether it was eating a main course or a dessert, it just didn’t care because everything just meshed together into a sweet and meat ecstasy. Why did the chicken cross the road? Because there was a waffle on the other side. Without a doubt, the chicken and waffle is yet another product of American madness that turned out to be an unusual stroke of genius. Beauty and order, born out of chaos.
Whilst I was in the midst of a culinary epiphany, Steak surprisingly enjoyed a significant portion of her cheeseburger before I had to pick up the pieces. With a crumbly beef patty, a set of sweet and sticky beef bacon, and a thick but airy airy brioche bun, the burger was seamless in its textures and flavours.
We also ordered a pink lemonade – a drink that sounds as though it contains as much of a manly essence as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tears. (That’s a trick statement – Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t possess tears). What it did possess however, was a light and refreshing sweetness that was perfect for a hot summer’s day.
Value For Money: 3.5/5
The quality of the food is nothing short of excellent. However, my Big Stax burger, once upgraded to a “Triple Stax”, was £17.45 alone, without sides. Whilst that’s slightly pushing it, considering it’s in Oxford Circus, and considering the high quality of the beef, it’s not that bad at all. If you’re not a human hippo like I am, most single patty burgers and mains are around the £8-£12.75 mark, although, without sides. Sides come in at around £2-£4, (unless you opt for a popcorn shrimp bucket which costs £6.50), drinks range from £2-£4, whilst milkshakes hover around the £5 mark. You get what you pay for here, and you certainly won’t regret what you spend.
The staff at Stax Diner are very polite and friendly. On our first visit, we unintentionally turned up about twenty minutes late for our booking as a result of train issues, and despite the fact the venue is tiny and gets very busy, they kindly honoured the booking. Service is otherwise prompt and efficient.
Stax Diner goes for a worn-diner look, with short stools and tables, wooden flooring and panelling, and an assortment of random ornaments and decorations. It has a pretty cool vibe to it, though it can make for quite awkward sitting if you have a lot of baggage with you, and everyone who knows me, knows that excess baggage is very much a part of me. (No I don’t mean my stomach, I mean my gym bag. Get out of here). It is quite a small venue so I’d advise that you avoid visiting as a large group. There were only nine of us during my birthday outing, but it felt as though we had taken up most of the diner – especially since we were sat by the door and thus in the field of vision of the large queue of customers waiting to come in. As someone who chews about 30-40 times and hence eats pretty slowly, you can imagine that the last 15 minutes of my meal was spent avoiding the anger in the eyes of the queue outside. I was certain that if my burger didn’t kill me, the people outside certainly would.
Stax diner is located a quick ten-minute walk from either Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus stations, and public transport is certainly advised given the relative non-existence of parking spaces in the nearby area.
The diner blasts classic retro tunes from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, which seem to fill Kingly Court to its entirety, and the court itself is a pretty cool place. There’s an awesome buzz associated with Kingly court and Stax, and both seem to intermingle quite well.
Update – 23/08/15:
Stax. An establishment that consistently delivers on its promise of exceptional diner food from the American south, time and time again. Putting the cramped living conditions aside, Stax offers a brilliant diner experience, with beef burgers of a formidable quality, friendly service, and a laid-back, upbeat atmosphere, all of which are just what you’d need after a hard day at the office, or a relaxing catch-up at the weekend. With such a rapid expansion of London’s halal gourmet burger scene in recent months, both veteran and rookie establishments must differentiate themselves from the vast sea of competition, a task that is without a doubt, extremely difficult to do. And yet, Stax manages to do just that.
Not only has Stax established itself with its exceptional quality and unique menu, but there’s an element of branding to the very flavour and feel of its food. Burgers are burgers – composed of relatively uniform elements, and yet, there’s just something special about a Stax burger. The taste, touch, feel and sight of a Stax creation is the source of tick-inducing cravings across London, and that is where Stax stands out. They are, without a doubt, one of the forerunners of London’s halal gourmet burgers, and with new, stiff competition arising with relentless frequency, it’s imperative that they stay that way. Stax Diner – Take a bow, keep it up, and don’t let me down.
Originally published: 16/09/14
Address: 1st Floor, 1.7 Kingly Court, London W1B 5PW
Telephone: 02077 343190