Restaurant Review: Smith and Wollensky, Covent Garden in central London
With a plethora of steak restaurants across the capital, Londoners and tourists are spoilt for choice when it comes to where to get the best T Bone and Porterhouse, but there is a jewel in the steak house crown that is Smith and Wollensky (S&W). Nestled next to the infamous Aldephi Theatre by The Strand, S&W stands out for all the right reasons, with its striking emerald green trademark, slick Art Deco interior and power-dining setting. According to their website the Smith and Wollensky brand was founded in 1977 in New York, and was named after randomly selecting surnames from the phone book. It is the brain child of Alan Stillman, the creator of TGI Fridays and is infinitely more grown up.
My dining partner, Adam, and I were lucky enough to visit on a bustling Friday night and we were immediately overawed at the beautiful, elegant interior. Art Deco with a modern twist, deep autumnal colours with brown leather chairs, hard wood flooring and tiled walls. The ambience was buzzing, with low lighting (more of that later) and lots of tables taking advantage of the ‘sharing’ philosophy. S&W don’t do small and there are plenty of sharing platters on offer, with a seafood platter that looked out of this world, to their signature Gigantic Chocolate Cake, which looked like it would feed a small army, but says on the menu, feeds 2-4 and consisted of multi layers of chocolate sponge and mousse, decorated with a cow shaped biscuit!
I started with an espresso martini (the best start too any meal I find) and whilst agonising over what to choose from the extensive and glorious menu, our waitress brought us a basket of delightfully warm bread with an ample portion of salted butter.
I chose hand-dived Scottish scallops with garlic and parsley butter, which were perfectly cooked. Seared to ensure a crunchy top and melt-in-your-mouth middle, heavy on the garlic (which I love) and were served in the shell, they were accompanied by 2 large slices of sour dough bread, which were perfect for mopping up the delicious garlicky butter. Adam chose Wollensky’s famous split pea soup with bacon and remarked at how gratifying it was. Thick and creamy, dotted with crunchy croutons and, apparently, the best soup he has ever eaten.
With bowls and shells scraped clean, we went on to the mains. The restaurant boasts an extensive steak range, with steaks from Ireland and the USA, ranging from premium Irish filet charbroiled to USDA prime dry-aged steaks (dry aged for 28 days), with prices ranging from £39-£78 (although the porterhouse as a special is £140). Our waitress recommended the USA dry-aged, so I plumped for the ‘modest’ 395g sirloin and accompanied this with truffled mac’n’cheese. The steak was cooked to my liking and was the perfect consistency for me (I prefer my steak meaty to ‘buttery’). The mac‘n’cheese was very appetising, with a creamy texture and delicately flavoured with truffle. Due to the American sized portions, I was unable to finish mine but, no worries, the waitress packaged this up in a container and a distinctive S&W bag, and I realised, looking around, that I wasn’t the only diner beaten by the enormity of the meat, with plenty of others holding the distinctive green and white bag! Adam chose the 680g bone-in-rib eye (also from across the pond) and it was literally the size of his plate! This, we found, was a blessing as he cut into it and realised that half the steak was fat and therefore inedible. The bit that wasn’t fatty, however, was truly delicious with the ‘buttery’ melt-in-the-mouth texture and was complemented by a perfect béarnaise sauce and crisp French fries. We washed this down with a glass of full-bodied red, which was recommended by our waitress and accompanied the meats well.
The dessert menu was typically American, with profiteroles, sticky toffee pudding, New York cheese cake and a cheese board. I chose the New York Cheesecake with a sweet Graham Cracker crust and a raspberry coulis. Cheesecake is my favourite dessert of all and this one certainly did not disappoint – rich, decadent cheesecake with a buttery biscuit base, topped with a sharp coulis, which cut through the sweetness perfectly. True to form I could not finish it, so our waitress was happy to add this to the ‘doggy bag’. Adam was full up from his steak, so passed on dessert (and no you can’t share my cheesecake when we get home).
Whilst the overall dining experience was superb, the one thing we couldn’t help but notice was that as the evening went on the lights got dimmer, to a point that it was so dark in the restaurant the couple next to us were having to read their menus with the torch on their phones! We brought this up with our waitress who said that this was the S&W philosophy and that it was felt this added to the ambience – we were not so sure!
After the meal, Richard Chebi (assistant general manager), gave me a tour of the building and told me about the history of the brand. He showed me the private dining rooms that were set on the basement floor – the perfect setting for city business events. The tour then continued to the onsite butchery and dry age store, where I saw first-hand where the beautiful beef is stored and prepared and, lastly, the kitchens, where I had the pleasure of watching the chef hard at work grilling the steaks.
Smith and Wollensky is not for the faint hearted, the price tag matches the American size portions but the restaurant is impressive and emanates class and sophistication. The atmosphere is lively and the sharing platters make for a very social and fun dining experience. The steaks are first class and taste all the better for being butchered and dry-aged on site. There is a clear pride and passion here and the impressive, extensive meat and seafood menu ensures you are spoilt for choice. Highly recommended by Luxury Lifestyle Magazine.
Prices range from £7-£19 for starters, £5-£10 for sides and £6-£18 for desserts. The steaks range is discussed above. The drinks menu is even more extensive than the food, and wine ranges from £36-£205 and £65-£295 for sparkling and champagne. The restaurant also does an impressive all-weekend American brunch www.smithandwollensky.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Brunch-Menu2.pdf
Address: The Adelphi Building, Covent Garden Riverside, 1-11 John Adam St, London WC2N 6HT / 020 7321 6007