I’ve never been to New York, but I’ve known of the great American steakhouse Smith & Wollensky ever since I read American Psycho many years ago. As a discerning psychopath, wealthy protagonist Patrick Bateman name-drops hundreds of fancy brands – some real, some not – and S&W is one of them.
So, basically, it’s American Hawksmoor. Its own name, rather charmingly, is derived from two random entries from a phone book in 1977, and the vibe is friendly yet rather grand. Mike and I had been invited in to try the new Adelphi Bar, which captures some of the opulence without having to spend £50-odd on a steak.
Drinks first then. The cocktail list is comprehensive but it’s worth flagging down Ernest the Head Bartender – you’ll spot him because he’s sporting waist-length dreads and a bandana – because the man is a an absolute maestro of mixed drinks with an encyclopedic knowledge of spirits. “I don’t even really like wine,” he told us, conspiratorially, “Whisky is my thing.”
And not just whisky, it turned out, but all things shaken and/or stirred. Tell him what you like and see what you get – I can especially recommend the Lady Marmalade (£13.00), a strong, tart drink with honey, marmalade and frothy egg white.
On paper S&W is a steakhouse, but there’s much more on the menu than cow meat and the obligatory lone seafood and vegetarian dishes. There’s also a good selection of reasonably-priced bar snacks to choose from if you, like us, are concentrating on the cocktails. In my experience, these old-school American steakhouses are pretty heavy going (the truffled mac ‘n cheese at the Heliot Steakhouse around the corner nearly killed me), so these bar snacks will actually do you for dinner if you have a few of them to share. If you are going the whole hog (cow?) and eating steak, there are some absolute bobby-dazzlers on the menu, including a 700g T-Bone and a 1kg Tomahawk. (If nothing else, this gives you a wonderful opportunity to observe my beef/baldness theory in the wild, viz. the bigger the steak, the balder the man.)
We tried (and loved) large, bouncy scallops, seared to a seductive crust, with enough garlic and parsley butter to properly drench a piece of crusty bread afterwards. But it’s hard not to suffer some sticker shock from the £19 price tag, which is more than five times the scallops at Kricket. (Though admittedly the latter’s are being served out of a corrugated iron shed in Brixton, whereas these are in a glamorous art deco bar on the Strand.)
Buffalo Cauliflower (£8.00), though not as light as the cauliflower pakoras at Native, was served briefly fried in a spicy batter and enthusiastically dunked (by us) in a rich dip.
Our hot (and cold) beef injections were administered via succulent USDA Beef Sliders (£12.00) in lacquered brioche buns, and my favourite Beef Carpaccio (£8.00). Traditionally beef carpaccio uses the delicately flavoured fillet, which acts as a vehicle for olive oil, rocket and Parmesan, but this one uses thicker (hand-sliced?) ribbons of the much beefier sirloin. It’s a rough-and-ready, macho take on a classic that’ll please serious beef buffs (though maybe not the purists).
The house jerky (£8.00) is also worth a punt, though it won’t be doing much for your Instagram game. Gnarly, charcoal black sticks of desiccated meat are clumsily presented in a silver chip pot, some crunchy, some crispy. It’s impossible to know which is which before you take a bite, so they’re not exactly first-date fodder…best wait a couple of years with your significant other until you’re totally comfortable spending five minutes furiously chewing the best jerky of your life in awed silence.
It’s rare I consider a pudding a must-order, but the ‘Gigantic Chocolate Cake’ is so absurdly, magnificently enormous it can’t be ignored. It’s dense and fudgy and moist with a palpably generous glug of Bailey’s and a thick, creamy ganache topping. It is, as Bruce Bogtrotter might have described it, a bit of a pantydropper.
We actually look our slab home – and it is a slab, frankly makes all other descriptions of food as slab-like look comically exaggerated – and put it on the scales. The thing weighed 950g. It had heft. Like an axe. Mike, whose appetite straddles the fine line between impressive and disgusting, took five days to eat the whole thing, so the serving suggestion of ‘for 2-4 people to share’ is selling itself a bit short. The good news is that it keeps well, so don’t be afraid to take it home and put it in the fridge. (It does cost £18, so don’t waste any…!)
A steak dinner at S&W will set you back as much as the best of them, but for a couple of luxurious cocktails (and some naughty bar snacks) it’s a great post-work or pre-theatre venue. The restaurant does seem to be popular with the Batemans of this world (i.e. not psychopaths, but certainly not afraid to give their company credit cards a good workout). You can avoid these at weekends, but otherwise, the bar is a great, informal place to sit and people-watch.
After all, homicidal maniac or no, Bateman had great taste.
Smith & Wollensky, The Adelphi, 1-11 John Adam St, London, WC2N 6HT
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.