Updated: May 5, 2021
It's Thursday lunch time, at the tail-end of a snap Covid tighten-up. Staff are masked and tables socially-distanced, but the atmosphere is buoyant. Business wear and the general bonhomie suggest deals being celebrated, contracts signed; mututally beneficial outcomes toasted with the 'tink' of burgundy glasses.
The 1990s - the era of the great white plate may have been responsible for producing the travesty that was nouvelle cuisine and criminally over-oaked, tongue-dessicating chardonnay, but it was also a time when restaurants excelled at 'hospitality.'
In those halcyon days, it was the norm to be greeted by the owner on arrival. You'd follow the waft of "Poison" or Givenchy "Gentleman" across an expanse of thick carpet, to be seated on plush upholstered chairs at tables laid with crisp white cloths. You might loosen your belt in anticipation or surreptiously slip off your stilettos before girding your loins, giving your liver a pep-talk, checking your wallet and blocking off the rest of the day in your Filofax. Lunch in the 90s was a full marathon rather than a sprint.
S & K Steak and Oyster Bar harks back to those days, minus the bad bits (tiny portions, tables of drunk politicians, powder pink and maroon colour schemes).
A discreet front door opens to a circular bar fronting the long dining space. There are soaring ceilings, pillars, a staircase to a gantry level (whose function remains a mystery), lots of blonde wood and accents of copper and millennial pink. It echoes the palette and feel of its neighbour, co-owner Simon Gloftis' other restaurant, Hellenika, in the equally stylish The Calile Hotel and indeed, they share architects in local firm Richards and Spence.
S & K (the initials of the owners, Gloftis and chef Kelvin Andrews) feels like a like special occasion dining kind of place, but the potential for stuffiness is diffused by the warmth of the staff and a whimsical playlist that makes me restless with the urge to chair-dance.
We've scored a booth overlooking the kitchen in which a seemingly disproportionate number of staff operate in a zen-like calm - we're obviously not going to any see Ramsayesque kitchen shenanigans today.
Having surrendered ourselves to the whim of the chef, the first dish to be brought over is oysters from Merimbula on the southern NSW coast. Sitting on a salt bed, they're beautiful - the plus-sized supermodels of the oyster world - plump and glistening. They come with mignonette - the champagne added at the table for a little bit of old-school theatre.
Next up is a heart-shaped spanner crab carapace, filled with shreds of the sweet flesh, super-finely chopped gerkin, egg yolk and a luxurious mound of oscietra caviar. The idea is to mix it all together to marry the flavours. It's so perfect, my friend Sam and I debate the etiquette of licking a crab shell (we eventually agree decorum over greed in this case).
S&K has a potato menu- Yes, a potato menu - from French fries to Romanoff potatoes and everything in between. We have an ethereal, silky mash, loaded, no doubt with butter and cream and topped with with sweet nuggets of lobster.
Then, divine agnolotti, stuffed with a sweet corn puree, bathed in sage-scented burnt butter and generously topped with black truffle.
Sam and I diverge on the next course - she with a steak, ("unbelievably good") me with a piece of Patagonian toothfish. I love how simply the proteins are served here - Sam has a little dish of mustards for her steak, while my fish comes charry-glazed with a thin layer of miso - the umami a perfect counterpoint to the slight sweetness of the fish.
S & K's wine list is brilliant, but pretty top-shelf. However, there are by-the-glass choices including some interesting and food-friendly wines alongside more expensive Coravin-sealed drops - like a 2012 Radikon Oslavje. Then there are eye-twitchingly upmarket champagnes and heart-stopping Barolos if you've something to celebrate.
Desserts dip into the classics - sweets Sam and I might well have ordered in our reckless youth when calories were an abstract concept and cash was for spending with hedonistic abandonment.
Her creme brulee is exactly as it should be, the burnt toffee lid cracking satisfyingly with a spoon-tap, while my lemon meringue tart is equally en pointe.
We emerge from S & K with fully bellies, blinking at the sunlight and a little sad to be curtailing our short-lived taste of the champagne and caviar lifestyle.
It's 3.30. We've given it a good go, but no doubt, the 90s Sam and Natascha would have looked up at us from their booth, pouring another glass of Chardy and sneered "what, leaving so soon?"
G.12 The Calile Hotel, 48 James St, Fortitude Valley QLD 4006