Higher Steaks – Dining at Smith & Wollensky

Just under two years ago in a burst of publicity more usually associated with the opening of a big West End show, the US steak house chain of Smith & Wollensky set up shop for the first time in London. Even in the US where many steakhouses seem to have a history stretching back nearly to the founding fathers, Smith & Wollensky (S&W) is a relative newcomer, first appearing in the mid 70’s so pretty contemporaneous with such other long lasting trends as day glo pants, disco and silly putty.

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Well hey ho, S&W has managed to outlast all of those, who’d have guessed eh, and now operates about 10 locations stateside as those as naff as me would say. I’ve visited a few including the original in New York, though on that occasion all I can remember was that there was a lot of wine and everything tasting delicious. It was this memory which made me so keen to try out the London incarnation.

So one Thursday in early spring, the temperature feeling more May than March, you’d have found me and the Delightful Dining Companion (DDC) standing outside the Theodore Bullfrog on John Adam street. We fortified ourselves with a couple of truly awful glasses of wine prior to our meat feast. S&W’s London outpost was just up the road, though also up a rather unexpectedly sharp incline in a purpose built new venue.

The interior is upscale, welcoming and leaning heavily towards S&Ws house green in terms of decoration. It’s pleasant, but like the planet Mars, lacking somewhat in atmosphere. I had expected the joint to be packed with upper end American tourists from the Savoy and other notable establishments. It was actually fairly full of British management consultant and investment banker types.

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We were given a nice corner table and started paying attention to the finer things, in this case the cocktail menu. I started with an Ampersand, a Hennessy based cocktail, which was sweet and bitter and just the thing to kick start the taste buds. The DDC had a sage mimosa which was a pleasantly light palate cleanser, and so easy to drink I slightly regretted my choice of the Ampersand.

The cocktails were priced between about £12 – £16, which is at the top end even for the high end if you know what I mean, but not quite enough to require the defibrillator. The steaks on the other hand, probably have caused tables to be thrown over and waiters to shout ‘clear’ on more than one occasion.

Being fair, you can have a reasonably priced meal at S&W if you’re prepared to order things which aren’t steak though being fairer this might seem reasonable only in comparison. To put it into an analogy, whilst the steak is prices are Himalayan the rest of the menu us merely Alpine. I’m also of the opinion that ordering chicken at a steakhouse is a bit like ordering off the English menu in a curry house, and just as likely to disappoint.

3Most of the steaks though are big enough for two, and we opted for a USDA 28 day aged bone in ribeye, a snip at £68 pounds. To start as we were again sharing, we allowed ourselves to select from the vertiginous offerings and opted for chili and garlic shrimp. To balance this out the wine was positively subterranean walletwise, and I believe at £28 about the very cheapest they had.

The shrimp starter though pricey was easily enough for two and I think would have been overwhelming for one. The complimentary bread was a treat in itself, warm and tasting vaguely like muffins. It was a very satisfying starter, good ingredient cooked and served well.

We had about 10 minutes between the opening act and the main event, enough time to try the wine, and explore the rest of the property. Downstairs there’s a bar area called the Adelphi , on this occasion it was being manned by a group of office types who looked like they’d been there since at least lunchtime and possibly the day before, making it perhaps less attractive than it could have been. There’s also a lot of additional seating, suggesting that S&W is perhaps not attracting as many punters as originally hoped.

Making my way back upstairs, I could see that the main attraction had arrived in the form of a small planet made of steak accompanied by moonlets of Cajun fries and creamed spinach. OK the steak might have been the most expensive I’ve ever had when paying for it myself, it was also exceptionally good. It tasted like steak does when you think about the best steak, and it was cooked superbly. The sides were good as well, which helped, though in keeping with the theme of the evening the creamed spinach packed an awful big punch to the wallet at £10 a serving.
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So what are my conclusions after all this. Well if you’re a steak aficionado I’d say that this is a must try, even just the once for the sheer brilliance of the steak. The prices though are far too high to make this anything other than a once in a blue moon occurrence unless you’re lucky enough to be a) a lottery winner, b) an expense account millionaire. The bill was £180 for the two of us, with us sharing most of the meal. Compare that with £150 odd at the Ivy of all places and you can see why I’m reluctant to suggest that you drop everything and rush there. A shout out though for the service which was impeccable throughout, and you can understand why I’m perhaps looking for a client or three who enjoys a good steak.

Till the next time when we’ll be back in South West London, promise.

Rob


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www.smithandwollensky.co.uk


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