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smith and wollensky bar
'Lavish but laid back, from the minute you enter to the moment you leave'

Smith and Wollensky

Open Mon–Thurs midday–11 .30pm, Fri midday–midnight, Saturday 11am–3.30 pm and 5pm–midnight, Sunday midday–4.30pm

The blurb

Smith and Wollensky (which legend has it were two names picked at random from the New York phone book by the chain’s founder) is a firmly established institution across the pond, from its 1977 flagship restaurant in New York to a boutique selection of locations throughout the US. The Adelphi building off the Strand is its first English incarnation. Famous for their USDA Prime steaks (dry-aged and butchered on-site), opulent seafood platters and simply heart-stopping chocolate cakes, Smith and Wollensky promise to feed you, and feed you well.

However, the dream for the London site was always to have a destination bar to go with the restaurant. Where their first license application restricted them to restaurant attendees only at the bar, after proving their good behaviour to the locals S&W finally have their stand-alone bar area up and running. So your dedicated West London Living correspondent has skipped the steak this time in favour of a New-York-style tipple (or three).

The style

I’ve got a soft spot for feeling like I’m sipping my cocktails back in ’20s America. And, sitting amongst the Art Deco splendour of the S&W bar, it’s a soft spot I was able to indulge completely. Low-lit and glamorous, the restaurant itself is big enough to seat up to 300 diners, but the bar area is a more exclusive affair—only eight or so seats at the bar itself and 40 covers overall.

Located below street level and seated on one of the comfortable bottle-green leather bar stools (atmospherically lit from above by similarly green and white Tiffany lamps), the only real view is of your fellow diners. Which isn’t a hardship, set against the tasteful Art Deco excess on show; a multi-million-pound refurbishment of black and white geometric floor tiles, deep brown leather seats and bespoke Cubist paintings. From the minute you enter to the moment you leave, lavish but laid back seems the best way to sum up the S&W bar.

The crowd

It’s an eclectic but friendly mix of folk at S&W—or in the restaurant at least. There were plenty of dates, and it’s certainly family-friendly too—though the night we attended seemed a touch on the quiet side (we actually had the bar entirely to ourselves). While this did mean super speedy service, it was a shame because S&W deserves a crowd plus a waiting list.

The impression I got, though, was that—gratifyingly—this is not a venue for the see-and-be-seen crowd. It’s an elegant corner of central London where you come for a well-made drink, and where you end up a weekly regular on first-name terms with all the staff.

The food

Bar snacks are an undervalued art, and one at which S&W excels. We were unable to ignore the famous beef on the menu, and ordered the USDA Beef Sliders (£12), three mini burgers with the meat as it should be—all juicy beef, no breadcrumbs or other nonsense extras—encased in a sweetly delicious brioche bun. Alongside we had two Scottish Scallops (£19), served simply in garlic butter with sourdough bread, perfectly caramelised (albeit a touch on the pricey side).​

But there were two stand-out dishes that are worth a return visit in themselves. First the Homemade USDA Prime Beef Jerky (£8) was a salty, spicy, smoky delight. Served with a tangy tomato relish and creamy dip to enhance or take the edge off the intense heat, I couldn’t bear to see the bottom of the bowl.

Second, the show-stopper overall: a Gigantic Chocolate Cake (£18) the size of a breezeblock. Smothered in mirror-shine chocolate and filled with smooth chocolate ganache, it’s a curiously light cake for one that looks so much like a heart attack on a plate; unabashedly American yet surprisingly manageable. Having said that, it is intended to be shared between two to four people. We gave it a good go, but ended up taking home a doggy bag (emblazoned with a slogan I couldn’t agree more with—“Lucky Dog”).

The drink

Despite still daydreaming about the beef jerky, the cocktail menu was what we were really there for. Created by head mixologist Ernest Reid, it’s an eclectic list. There are a few riffs on old classics for those playing it safe (you’ll find all the usual Espresso Martinis, Bloody Marys and Vespers), but it mostly consists of entirely unique creations. If Valkyrie’s Blood (£12), a lethal but delicious mix of vodka, port, pomegranate liqueur, lillet rouge and grenadine, doesn’t sound intimidating, then this is the place for you.

Judging by the wealth of golden spirits behind the bar our mixologist was clearly a whisky fan, so we began there. I ordered the Orkney Bee (£14), a blend of Highland Park 12, lavender honey, lemon juice, egg white and lavender bitters. What sounds like the contents of a grandmother’s handbag turned out to be a unique delight—the surprisingly subtle lavender flavour highlighting the sweetness of the whisky and the egg white giving it the smoothest finish. My companion went for an Old Timer (£12), a much more sober-sounding blend of Bullet Bourbon, Old Fashioned syrup and Jerry Thomas decanter bitters. Smoky and deep, this is a drink for those who like to look and feel as though they’re having something much more serious than a cocktail.

Next on to a refreshing Gin Garden (£12) for me—the mix of Tanqueray 10, elderflower liqueur, cucumber, apple and lime juice was as clean and easy to drink as water, and seemingly as refreshing. My partner opted for a Perfect Lady (£12); a blend of Tanqueray, creme de peche and lemon juice that was like a dainty but drinkable lemon meringue pie.

To finish we ordered from the dessert cocktails list, which were rich enough to order alone instead of as an accompaniment to dessert. Mr Reid pays tribute to both his Barbados-born father and Spanish mother in my final choice, the Sh’Bert and Ernie (£12), combining Mount Gay rum, Licor 43, lemon juice and chocolate bitters. The result, true to its title, really did take me back to eating lemon sherbet aged six! Coco Beware (£10), my companion’s final choice, with its mix of Belvedere, cherry Heering, Mozart chocolate vodka and cream, sounds sweet but packs an alcoholic punch.

In a nutshell

In the age of the speakeasy-style cocktail bar (where cocktails often seem to be made from pickled smoke, served in glasses shaped like a brogue), the S&W bar is a welcome return to something simpler. It’s curiously unflashy in presentation, but clearly everything is served with a big dollop of American heart. The cocktails are as original and beautiful as could be wished, and if on sight the style doesn’t blow you away, the substance undoubtedly will.

Smith and Wollensky, The Adelphi, 1–11 John Adam St, London, WC2N 6HT; 020 7321 6007; smithandwollensky.co.uk

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