Smith & Wollensky is well-known and much-loved in America, but now they have opened their first restaurant outside of the US – and have chosen Covent Garden as the destination. Does the American dream, however, translate to these shores?
For something that started in a rather obscure way – named after a random selection from a telephone directory – Smith & Wollensky has come far with a very active business plan it seems. Launched in 1977 in New York, nearly four decades later and their iconic green and white colour palette has spread across a whole host of boutique restaurants in iconic locations around the US – and finally the UK is getting in on the act.
Located in the landmark Adelphi Building, any worries about finding Smith & Wollensky were soon banished when the green and white signage popped up on our horizon. Inside it looks great – a very American feel, extremely comfortable seating, and with an air of something new and different. Service throughout was great – from the warm welcome at the front, to our very chirpy sommelier who was only too happy to pick out the perfect champagne cocktails to start, followed by a spot on wine choice.
Our party of four were, in all honesty, a tricky bunch to please, from yours truly liking and sticking by the classics, to the vegetarian who didn’t really like vegetarian dishes (or fish), but did like cheese. Luckily the menu is extensive, offering a range of starters, shellfish, salads, main courses, burgers and steaks, the latter being something Smith & Wollensky are particularly renowned for.
The starters were over in a flash: both Jodie and I refused to choose anything else other than the squid and were rewarded with lovely presentation and a lot to chomp through. Helen’s seared King Scallops with pea puree and bacon was arguably the pick of the bunch, really nicely presented and a combination that worked to perfection. Heather’s desire for cheese was sated with the burrata and tomato salad, although it seemed to have second billing to the rather addictive champagne cocktails.
The mains really put us all to the test. Jodie, being the steak lover of the four, had to be the one to test Smith & Wollensky’s glowing reputation. Their steaks are USDA Prime, dry-aged and butchered on-site, making them the only steakhouse in London that offers a cut of meat that combines all three. Jodie picked the fillet mignon, but was unsure about whether to opt for the 8oz or 12oz – luckily, she opted for the former as even that hunk of meat defeated her. It was a lovely cut, tender and full of flavour, which made Jodie’s decision to also order mushrooms and whipped potatoes on the side a crazy one.
I had the pleasure of experiencing how good Smith & Wollensky’s meat is by choosing the burger. Now, it’s a very rare occasion that I use a knife and fork to dismantle a burger – I like doing things in the classical way after all – but the sheer size, and the risk of splattering my shirt with one of the many toppings, meant on this occasion I subsided. A good burger, for me, is one that has that melt in the mouth quality and Smith & Wollensky’s version had it in spades. Terrific. The staff were more than happy to dish up a crab cake starter as a main for Helen, the presentation of which took us by surprise, but it didn’t quite match up to the overall impact of the scallops. She enjoyed eating my chips all the same. And Heather’s salad was adapted with, yes, added cheese and received a thumbs up, but again played second fiddle, this time to the onion rings the size of Yorkshire puddings.
Despite protestations that desserts were unthinkable given the amount we had already eaten, somehow a cheesecake and an apple tarte arrived at the table (we couldn’t quite convince ourselves to go for the gigantic chocolate cake, which indeed looked gigantic on the table next to us). A sign of a good dessert is one, however full you feel, that still gets mopped up and this was the case here twice over.
It’s clear to see what the hype is all about when it comes to Smith & Wollensky and it’s about time that Londoners had the chance to tuck in. The American dream? It’s not far off.
Words: Mark Kebble
Smith & Wollensky, The Adelphi Building, 1-11 John Adam Street WC2N 6HT; 020 7321 6007; smithandwollensky.co.uk