Something of an institution in America with ten outlets across the country, Smith and Wollensky has crossed the Pond to branch out into London. The restaurant has maintained the trappings of its American restaurants with the font that is redolent of the opening credits of every Woody Allen film. Step inside, and you’re greeted with an Art Deco-inspired interior. It’s a classy atmosphere with a refined bar to the side. It’s the kind of place that would be home to Dorothy Parker, Sherwood Anderson and the rest of the residents of the Algonquin Table.
But this is a steakhouse and the restaurant is betting its reputation on the quality of its beef. The menu states that its steaks are selected from the top 2% of beef in America and this USDA Prime is dry-aged for at least 28 days in order to increase the tenderness. These are compelling statements, verging on fighting talk in a city which boasts the likes of Hawksmoor, Goodman and others, all of whom are competing to serve the best steak in London.
Before testing out the quality of the steaks, my companion and I started off with the Yellowfin Tuna Tartare and seared king scallops with pea purée & bacon respectively. My companion was very enthusiastic about his choice of the tuna, which was delicately prepared and exquisitely served. I was a little disappointed with the scallops. The use of pea purée was good but the presence of heavily salty bacon made for an unwieldy combination of flavours.
When it came to selecting our steaks, we were intelligently guided by our very informed waiter. Using our likes and peccadilloes about meat, he picked out the NY Cut Bone-In Sirloin 21oz for myself and the Cajun Marinated Bone-In Rib-Eye for my companion. He also picked out a very nifty Zinfandel. In addition to the beef, we went for some accompanying hashed brown potatoes, creamed spinach and truffled mac n’ cheese.
Given that this is the focus of the restaurant, the quality of the meat was very disappointing. Even though it was prepared well, there was a definite flabbiness to the meat with an immediate dissipation of flavours. The sides were also low on quality, appearing to have been cooked in a hurry and with no distinction. However, my companion was much more positive about his rib-eye, complementing the depth given by the marinade.
I rounded off the meal with an apple tart fine, which was light puff pastry layered with frangipan and apples and was served with salted caramel sauce. This part of the meal was exceptional, delicately put together and with all the hallmarks of considered preparation.
Smith & Wollensky should be a top place to go for a steak. The interior makes you feel like your IQ has gone up ten points and the service is fantastic with friendly and knowledgeable waiters offering expert advice about every aspect of your meal. But there is a central problem about the quality of the meat being served. It is simply not good enough and given the price you’re paying, it should be a lot better. I hope that it finds a way past this and matches up to its many competitors in the city.
Smith & Wollensky
1-11 Adelphi Building
John Adam Street