In America, steak is something of an institution. Quality is of utmost importance and only two per cent of the steak produced in the US is classed as “prime” by the United States Department of Agriculture.
In some instances, strange processes (like giving cows beer and massages in the case of Kobe beef) are used to provide an added selling point. However, there are no gimmicks here. USDA prime beef has been carefully inspected for marbling, maturity and leanness which in turn affect the beef’s colour, texture and flavour.
This is something which Alan Stillman knows all too well. As a young Jewish man whose family imposed traditional values, he started what was then a little-known restaurant called TGI Friday’s – in order to meet women. Following its success, Stillman opened Smith & Wollensky (two surnames randomly picked from a phonebook) in 1977.
This was a steakhouse serving the absolute best beef the home of the brave had to offer. As its popularity grew, its locations multiplied, and in 2015 a Smith & Wollensky restaurant opened in London. It was here, in the Adelphi building, that I found myself slurping down some Carlingford oysters and admiring my surroundings.
Taking influence from the building itself, the restaurant is decked out in an art deco style. With geometric tiling, wooden panelling and leather bench seating, it has an elegant feel. There are further touches – such as 20s style paintings, soft lighting and a functional yet elegant light bulb chandelier – which give an added sense of sophistication.
Across the table, my guest was tucking into the hand-dived Scottish scallops which, as well as being impressively big, were incredibly flavoursome and juicy. Complemented by an Old Cuban featuring Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut champagne and a Bellini Martini featuring Cîroc vodka and Favola prosecco, our first course prepared us for what was to come.
I had opted for the T-bone steak: 700 grams of USDA prime beef, costing £74. My guest had chosen the slightly more affordable but equally tempting Kansas City cut bone-in sirloin. This is a different cut of the same grade of beef which is weighed, with almost psychopathic precision, to 595 grams.
Where supermarkets tend to add water to their meat, quite the opposite is true at Smith & Wollensky. For 28 days, the beef is treated in a dry-aging room which is temperature-controlled and has walls lined with salt. The beef therefore loses an incredible amount of liquid and you can truly taste this in the finished product – as it intensifies the flavour.
Of course, this doesn’t mean to say that the meat is dry. While it was delicious, my bearnaise sauce highlighted that the steak was juicy enough without it. The steak knife, made near redundant by its client, cut effortlessly through the beef.
Our attentive waiter had suggested I opt for “rare plus” as opposed to rare (exactly what I would have asked for should I dare to be so picky). The result? The steak couldn’t have been cooked more perfectly.
My guest was just as impressed by the Kansas City cut sirloin. Juicy, succulent and beautifully buttery, it certainly hit the spot. While some of the cheaper cuts tend to have a better flavour, the USDA prime beef simply can’t be beaten on texture and nonetheless, I couldn’t imagine a better tasting steak.
Sides of duck poutine and truffled mac and cheese served to remind us of quite what a monstrous meal this was. The strong flavour of the duck went well with the rich gravy and the mac and cheese was beautifully crispy on top, and creamy inside.
Rounded off with tasty New York cheesecake and refreshing gourmet ice cream, Smith & Wollensky hadn’t failed to impress. Two starters, two steaks, two sauces, two sides, two desserts and six drinks cost £320 ($415). However, the million dollar question was this: is a one-hundred dollar steak actually worth the money? The answer, undoubtedly, is yes.