Steam & Rye is rapidly becoming one of my favourite City haunts. Granted, it’s not perfect, with some entertainment selections being quite bizarre, but this is more than made up for by the excellent cocktails and tasty yet reasonably priced food. It’s styled as a cross between a 1920s era rail car diner and a Prohibition-style speakeasy which manages to lend an intimate atmosphere despite the vaulted ceilings typical of the former bank buildings that saturate the square mile.
The staff are friendly and seem to be constantly on the move around the place which does make it easy to flag one down. Particularly for lunch, we were almost overloaded with service as we had not one but three different staff looking after us at the same time. In the evenings, the sheer number of people tends to eliminate such ratios but with at least four bartenders on duty you rarely have to wait for a drink. In fact, you can often grab one of the lovely ladies loitering near the bar (make sure that she actually works there!) and place an order through her.
Given it’s the City, your options are limited but there are a couple of good pubs and wine bars in Leadenhall Market. These are excellent for sipping a more affordable pint while you wait for your posse to show up – drinks at S&R are in the £10+ range and bound to be a bit painful on the wallet unless you are one of those fabled bankers.
Alternatively, Revolutions is right next door if you want to get a buzz on cheap(er) shots before heading in.
How about the food?
I’d visited S&R twice before finally making it in for lunch – largely due to the undeniable temptation of the 50% off food lunch offer valid to the end of January 2014. My cousins were easily persuaded to join, and we opted for a range of American diner classics to munch on. These took the form of the crab cake, fried squid, and bbq chicken wings to start, and then the burger, rib eye steak, and lobster roll for the mains.
Starters-wise, the chicken wings were well prepared with tender juicy meat and a sticky honey bbq sauce that was quite moreish. The crab cake has the appearance of a potato pancake but was chock full of shredded crab (definite win) although had a surprise of bit of crab shell (fail) so netted out to just okay. I think it could have greatly benefited from a bit of acid (seriously how hard is it to add a lemon slice?) and the squid even more so. The squid is fried in a tempura batter rather than your typical crunchy flour batter – it makes it lightly but with an oilier mouth feel – and garnished with a handful of deep fried white bait. Why? I don’t know. End result – get the chicken wings and ribs (they looked awesome going by) but leave the seafood alone.
For mains, let’s start with the steak and lobster roll. The steak was damn near perfect with a good seared crust, pretty grill lines, and an excellent thick layer of pink (we ordered medium rare) with minimal juice leakage. Whoever the steak chef is, he knows his stuff (or her stuff). This was on par with any steak in London bar Hawksmoor’s T-bone and Goodman’s bone-in rib eye. The lobster roll was well executed although the brioche bun could have done with a little less time on the grill to maintain its buttery-ness.
Now the burger – this is a big deal for me as a self-proclaimed aficionado. The patty was juicy but a tad overcooked and devoid of any pink – decent flavour but I have a feeling it had lost something in the cooking. The cheese and bacon were fine in their supporting roles as was the thinly sliced red onion. The bun was dry – far too dry to act as a base for the burger and I found myself desperately chugging water to make up for it. I’d prefer a tad less bacon and the addition of the sauce used to coat the chicken wings to really make it a satisfying sandwich.
We ran out of time for dessert (by the time we got the bill this lunch had taken almost 1.5 hours) so I’ll have to pop in again to try out the sticky brownie.
Alright, so food is decent but what about the cocktails?
The cocktail menu is pretty epic although the menu itself is a pain to read especially in the dim bar area. Still, pick anything and you are bound to be impressed. From the Monica Lewinsky which features whipped cream and an oreo garnish to whatever drink comes out in a popcorn carton, the drinks are delicious, potent, and will quite simply make you happy.
If the fancy concoctions on the menu aren’t your style, the tenders of the bar have the skill, experience, and knowledge to make almost anything. As is tradition, I’ve tested them out on classics: Old Fashioned, Sazerac, and of course a dry martini. Each drink has been beautifully presented in the appropriate glass and garnish, well balanced, and made to my tastes. Despite having to dig deep and shout to get an order in on Friday nights, it’s a bar I’m keeping on my list.
How about the atmosphere?
This can be a bit hit or miss. My first visit on a Friday night was incredible with a lot of the work crowd letting loose and a killer band belting out a mix of new hits and old classics. We had only gone for a peek and ended up staying two hours before I could drag the GF away from the dance floor. The second visit, granted it was on a Saturday, had a weaker band and the effect was clear on the crowd which sat listlessly rather than dancing up a storm. On the plus side, the smaller crowd made getting drinks a breeze. In short, Fridays are fun while Saturdays are more for starting a night in style.
I’d note that as we were leaving around 11pm on the Saturday, the stage above the bar was host to four scantily clad women doing some routine between a pole dance and catwalk. Given the crowd and weighting towards women, I’m not sure what the aim was but S&R is (in all other aspects) a classy joint and the act neither matched the level or theme of the place. I’ll chalk it up to an experiment but be warned.
Worth the dosh?
For food, it’s reasonably priced for a city spot (and at 50% off it’s a steal). Drinks are on the more expensive end although not ridiculous and given the level of skill and creativity it’s worth the punt. I’d save it for a chill night not a boozy one otherwise you may find more than just your head hurting in the morning.
Find Steam & Rye here
147 Leadenhall Street, London, EC3V 4QT
020 3701 8793