By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
Originally opened in 1970s New York, named after randomly chosen surnames from the owners’ local telephone directory, Smith & Wollensky landed in London earlier this year, marking the chain’s first UK opening. Taking over a vast space within the iconic Adelphi Building, just a stone’s throw from Charing Cross and Covent Garden, the décor inside offers just as much glamour as we’d come to expect from the Manhattan Steakhouse staple. Monochrome-mural flooring joins ritzy art-deco structures, lavish green leather seating and dark wood furnishings. As for the food, Smith & Wollensky boast the best Steak in London. A bold statement given the amount of quality meat-eateries in the Capital, yet it was the Sunday Lunch menu that caught us upon our recent visit to the relatively new opening.
Upon arriving for our primetime lunch reservation, the ostentatious restaurant is surprisingly peaceful, bar a handful of couples that photograph every single aspect of the restaurant’s menu, soon to be splattered across the world’s Instagram feeds, I’m sure. There’s also an incredible amount of staff on hand with little to engage in. As for the menu, £60 for a Sunday lunch does seem ludicrously expensive, but given that this includes bottomless house Red or White Wine, it’s possible to make one’s money’s worth in drinks alone – especially given that my accompanying friend drinks like a fish. However, as soon as the dessert is finished we find ourselves faced with the bill (before asking) and being almost rushed out of the door; so it’s not as bottomless as one may presume.
To start, a pile of elegant tuna tartar has a wonderful clean taste, yet upon delving towards the bottom of the dish, the final morsels of delicious fish are drowned in soy sauce, resembling an overwhelmingly salty bowl of cold soup. As for my friend’s salt and pepper squid, served in what resembles a miniature shopping basket, it’s very well-cooked but let down by the cloying mango chutney that’s more sweet than ‘spicy’. The mains are, for the most part, very good with both my companion and I reeled in by the roast pork special. The portion sizes are just as gargantuan as can be expected from a quintessentially American restaurant. Although the service is friendly, however, there’s still a number of teething problems that should’ve been ironed out by now, most notable are the communication problems as the wrong mains are delivered to the table. This wouldn’t have been too much of an issue has the accompaniments found themselves almost stone cold by the time that the correct dishes arrive.
What’s impressive with the meat, however, is the fact that it’s served slightly pink. This would deter many of the city’s less keen pork eaters, but for me it’s a real relief. There’s also a Yorkshire pudding and a sliver of crackling that’s absolutely perfect. The huge potatoes roasted in duck fat are good, although a little cool by the time we manage to tuck in (as mentioned before) and the gravy is delicious albeit only just enough to coat the meat. The real highlight is the evidently homemade stuffing, made using sausage meat and plenty of sage and onion. A whole plateful by itself would’ve made the dish 100% perfect.
On to the desserts, my desired fruit tart is unavailable but an apple tart is offered. The thin strips of apple (skin, core and all) deliver a good balance between sweet and sour and the pastry is well-made, it’s just the sickly toffee sauce that’s smothered across the tart that’s disappointing. My friend’s NY Cheesecake, however, is absolutely brilliant. Again, the portion is so big that there’s more than enough for us to share the enjoyment. There’s nothing particularly dreadful about Smith & Wollensky’s latest opening, just a number of annoyingly small quibbles during our visit leave the great American Dream just out of reach.
Smith & Wollensky can be found at The Adelphi Building, 1-11 John Adam St, London, WC2N 6HT.