Rebecca Anne Milford tracks down the best places to eat in London. Here she finds a much-admired American steakhouse that has made its debut across the pond – cue lots of puns about the steaks being raised.
In three words: Glamorous, Sumptuous, Charming
American imports generally do okay in the UK – Friends, Taylor Swift, Reeses Pieces (yum). And now I’d like to add another thing to that list – the classic steak restaurant Smith & Wollensky, created in New York in 1977 and now gracing our English shores with its prime cuts of meat.
Here’s a little fact for you – the restaurant’s moniker comes from randomly picking two surnames from a phone book. But I assure you there is nothing random or accidental about this gorgeous place – from the tiles that have been specially restored and enhance the sensation that one is stepping back into a golden era, to the exceptional food that must comply with rigorous standards. The aim is to deliver the delicious steaks, exceptional service, and a classically stylish atmosphere that have made the US establishmens so popular. So how has this been achieved?
Location: Smith & Wollensky have a classic Americana appeal, and now their racing green awning can be found in the historic Grade II-listed Adelphi Building, a mere wander away from the Thames.
The Occasion: Smith & Wollensky caters for those looking for a great meal in elegant surroundings. Sumptuous booths make it a great place for friends to catch up, or there are more intimate spots for dates. There are also fabulous rooms to rent – our fave being the Teddy Roosevelt room. And the sparkling Art Deco bar below suggests this could one day be a desintation cocktail joint.
Decor: The interior incorporates the famed S&W combination of vibrant red and deep, luxurious green, while still managing to see current and on-trend. Art Deco touches are abundant, and the attention to detail is superb. From burnished bronze ceilings that glow when the light is warm; the specially selected turquoise tiles that bring more authentic beauty; and the shimmering brass and leather booths; the place oozes opulence, stlye and glamour. And little wonder – it was designed by interior guru Martin Brudnizki
Atmosphere: There’s a Mad-Men-esque charm about the whole place – we went at lunchtime on a Sunday and found it a charmingly chilled affair, but can imagine in the evening it has a great appeal for those wanting some revelry. Descend to the glittering bar downstairs and you’re almost overtaken by the feeling that you’ve stepped into your own Hollywood movie, where anything exciting could happen.
Steak is king here, with USDA Prime steaks ranging from 21oz NY cut bone-in sirloin, to 24oz Cajun marinated bone-in rib steak, while delicious British cuts include a 8oz/12oz premium Scottish fillet mignon. Smith & Wollensky have a dry-ageing room and a butchery on-site so you can really trace the quality of your dinner, and this attention to detail translates to the meal on the plate. But this isn’t all – other American classics like jumbo shrimp, buttermilk onion rings and truffled mac ‘n’ cheese, along with the famous shellfish platter, might tempt you from the beef. On Sundays they have an unbeatable brunch, which is what we road test.
What We Ate:
Naturally we had to have steak – it would be kind of sacrilegious if not. But prior to this feast we decided to ease ourself in with some less carniversou delights, and this also proved that Smith & Wollensky can deliver delicious meat-free dishes. A starter of Burrata and Tomato Salad was bright, glistening, and smacked of freshness, while the burrata only had to be touched with a knife before it oozed into the golden oil. My Lobster Salad was a revelaton – absolutely gargantuan chunks of lobster poking out from layers of avocado aioli and mango chutney, given a kick from chipotle mayonnaise.
For the main course we opted for two steaks – one from the land, and one from the sea. Yep, the Herb Crusted Yellowfin Tuna had to be tried too. It arrived in two huge slabs, cooked to perfection and shimmeringly a deep, dusky pink . It was artfully arranged on a French bean salad with roasted tomato vinaigrette, which added pleasant Mediterranean flavours while not detracting on how damn good the fish was. The whole dish manged to be hearty without in any way feeling heavy – perfect since I also decided to pair it with some wholly indulgent (and incredible) Truffled Mac n Cheese.
But now.. that real reason we were here – The Steak. We went for 12oz Fillet Mignon, charbroiled (which we found out means to cook very quickly, so both sides are griddled to perfection and the middle remains pink). It was indeed wonderful – a poweful smoky flavour filled our mouths on first bite, and then our teeth squeezed into soft, succulent meat. We had the ‘Oscar’ variety, meaning it was accompanied by jumbo lump crabmeat, spears of crunchy asparagus, and a creamy hollandaise, for ultimate luxury. Any person who enjoys rich flavours will adore this, but to be honest I could have just enjoyed the steak alone, it was that tasty.
We didn’t think we could fit in dessert, but were thankfully persuaded. The Coconut Cake is insane and needs to be shared by any normal person. Any fan of coconut will be in their element – soft, moist, coconut sponge layered with coconut whipped cream and Malibu Rum Syrup, served with a crisp tuile, freshly shaved coconut, and drizzled with exotic passion fruit sauce. Even thinking about it now is making my mouth water.
What We Drank:
Since it was a Sunday we started with a Bloody Mary – good and spicy, it blew my head off in a good way (the richness prompted my dining partner to say it was the best she’d ever had). Cocktail-wise I definitely recommend the Barrel-Aged Negroni – it’s not so oaky that this detracts from the subtle Campari and gin combo, and is a seriously good short drink. Also Espresso Martinis are a great way to end the meal. Wine wise, the menu is something to be impressed by, and I’d feel confident in hailing it as one of the most accomplished American wine lists in the country. It made for wide eyed perusal, and we were happy to be led by our waiter. The result was a thoroughly enjoyable Stag’s Leap from the Napa Valley – full of flavour, it was just perfect with the steak. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for that wine all over.
Overall: Now, we Brits don’t like to be told we can be bettered in anything – but when it comes to steak restaurants that combine hearty yet appealing food with serious glamour and fabulously warm hospitality, then Smith & Wollensky are nailing it. Whether you come wanting a light lunch, a sumptuous dinner or simply some cocktails and bites in ultra-glam surroundings, this is the place to visit. There is a feeling of pride that emanates from the very walls – and with such superior food, dedicated staff, and the sensation of being a Hollywood star as you dine, then I can see why.