It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love a good steak – why else would I drag myself out of bed to get to Smithfields and carry home a few kilos of prime rib eye? Luckily, London has been fairly blessed but a number of top notch steakhouses from Hawksmoor to Goodman to MASH. And now NY has come in swinging with one of its established powerhouses: Smith & Wollensky. To be honest, I was a bit hesitant about trying it given the prices are as hefty as the portion size and make a meal at Hawksmoor seem like a reasonable venture. But since work was treat, how could I say no?
What you need to know
- It’s a top notch steakhouse but there are a few fish and other non-steak dishes for mains
- Cocktails are worth trying, particularly the barrel aged Negroni
- Wine list is extensive and focused on US regions
- It’s a decadent dining experience with a price tag to match
- The lighting is sufficient but on the low end – great for romantic dates but terrible for pictures
Food: ★★★★☆ Service: ★★★★★ Atmosphere: ★★★★☆ Value: ★★★☆☆ Overall: ★★★★☆
The S&W bar is pretty good (there is a massive bar area downstairs as well) but if, like me, you prefer trying out multiple places for any outing, I suggest going to the American Bar at the Savoy. It’s a bit pricier than your standard bar (although not any more so that S&W) but you really do get what you pay for and then a bit more. The martinis are smooth and deceptive, the old fashioned bold yet balanced, and the bar snacks something you’ll want to get refills.
What to eat?
As far as food, steak seems like a pretty good option here but before we get to that I have to mention the starters. Without fail, each starter’s presentation is flawless and the flavours are clear and well balanced. My absolute top pick is the crab cake although that simple description doesn’t do it justice. It’s a cake only in the fact that it’s a round shape but by large its composed of perfectly cooked tender jumbo crab meat held together by a light flavourful sauce. I’m not prone to excessive raving (just moderate raving) but this dish was spectacular and if I had to choose between steak and this crab cake, the crab would win every time.
Enough of that though, let’s talk meat. Smith & Wollensky is proud that its meat it the top 2% of Nebraskan beef. What does that mean? Well honestly, not too much to me at first but digging into it I discovered that Nebraskan beef is kind of like the Angus cattle bandied that you see around London. It’s a good quality animal and the top stuff is very good indeed – we’re talking your prime bits that are carefully raised and nutured to get the depth and breadth of flavour that is then concentrated through the aging process.
But you can get that level of meat at any steakhouse of quality so why go to S&W? For me, it’s the Cajun rib eye which is a truly impressive 24oz (around 700g) for an even more eye watering £65. It’s seasoned with a spicy Cajun marinade and best grilled to a juicy medium rare. The heat of the Cajun marinade pairs brilliants with the depth of the beefiness and it’s a steak you can’t stop eating.
As far as sides, the truffle mac’n’cheese is a winner with a enough truffle and cheese for flavour without making you feel a tad queasy. The chips are pretty solid and the roasted veggies are strong supporting acts. The one side that lets you down are the onion rings. There isn’t anything grossly wrong, but they are just bland. The onion flavour is lost in the doughy dry batter and it cries out for some seasoning or sauce.
Desserts are great – lots of chocolate which makes me happy. The apple tart was actually quite delicious with a light flaky pastry and tender (but not mushy) apples. That’s really all there is to say – they aren’t spectacular in the sense that you’d drop by just for a bite, but they are a great way to finish the meal, particularly with a glass of whiskey!
If you don’t like sweets, check out the cheeseboard too.
What about a drink?
Drinkswise, I started out with a barrel aged Negroni which delivered on every one of its promises. The barrel aging smoothes out the bitter bite of the Negroni but it remains refreshing and spectacular as a palate cleanser. And for a follow up, the smoky whisky of the Old Fashioned gets your mouth watering for its first bite of meat. Both cocktails were balanced perfectly and very drinkable (which could be a problem albeit not a bad one…hopefully).
During the meal, you have the option to pick from a very extensive wine list with a naturally strong US showing. In fact, it turns out that some of the Californian wines are actually better priced than at the US locations for S&W which I expect is due to the lower level of knowledge and demand on this side of the pond. Still, if you know what you are looking for then you can get quite a good wine for your pound and the Decoy Sonoma red was a very good wine indeed.
Worth the dosh?
For a special occasion, yes. The crab starter is definitely worth every penny but the steak is pretty punchy when it comes to the bill. I’d love to eat that Cajun Rib Eye every day of the week but in general I think that you’re paying for the style, decor, and general atmosphere which is a step above even Hawksmoor. That being said, it’s worth keeping in mind that you’ll spend at least £80-100 pp for a starter, steak, and shared dessert plus a drink or two.