Vegetarians – turn back now. This is not one for you. American steakhouse, Smith & Wollensky, are offering diners the chance to win “a whole cow” this March. Executive Head Chef, Tom Cook, has created a 14-course menu inspired by the tradition of ‘nose-to-tail’ dining, which subscribes to the opinion that “If you’re going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing” (Fergus Henderson, The Whole Beast). We wandered on down to their basement digs at the gloriously Art Deco Adelphi Building to preview the menu’s greatest hits and see what one lucky winner (and 19 of their friends) are in for.
After a drop of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label at the glamourous basement bar, we are directed to Smith & Wollensky’s low-lit private dining room. An imposing oblong table takes centre stage, flanked by a dedicated bar and direct access to the kitchens. The low ceiling, comfortable moss green leather chairs and hefty, monikered cutlery gives it a decidedly old-school feel without being dated. As we settle in, Operations Director, Nathan Evans, talks us through the menu, explaining that he has selected some wine pairings that he hopes will lend themselves to Tom’s dishes.
We start proceedings with a quartet of canapes: a soft and flavourful mini ox tongue Ruben sandwich; a quenelle of tartare served on a thin crisp; a shot glass of oxtail soup and a piece of smoky and woody homemade jerky. The steak tartare is beautifully seasoned with the sweetness of the beef flirting with the gentle hint of pepper. A chipotle mayo is negligible but adds to the overall flavour profile of the bite. The soup uses a good, clean, homey stock, but the serving at room temperature throws us somewhat.
Our next dish’s presence – a delicately sliced Sirloin Carpaccio, lightly dressed in truffle oil and garnished with rocket – is announced by smell alone. The beef itself is unassuming in its initial taste as the seductive aroma of the truffle floods our senses. The textures of the ingredients are pushed to the forefront as we strive to isolate the nuances of the meat. It is only when our tongue encounters a few sparse rocks of sea salt that the dish truly comes to a head and the beef is given a vehicle for expression. Nathan has picked a simple dry green wine from Austria as the carpaccio’s companion; the acidity cuts through the fat content and oil, coming to a clean conclusion that is very pleasant.
We move to the mouth of the beast for our next course with a Beef Cheek Raviolo accompanied by horseradish velouté and paired with an amazing, slightly sweet and gently oaky Chardonnay from Burgundy. The glassy, aldente pasta encases soft, rotundly flavoured beef and impossibly soft white onions. This sits in a rich, dark stock, upon whose surface floats small cubes of carrot. The wine perfumes the nose and its creaminess works wonders with the slow-cooked beef.
Grilled Calves Liver with Onion Souboise and Beef Bacon divides the table, as offal is known to do. The onion puree’s sweetness matches that of the lightly charred liver and the Pinot Gris from Alsace, which approaches a dessert wine in its taste.
Next up is the course that we’ve been waiting for – a Smoked Jacobs garnished with Corn Relish, paired with our first red of the evening, Soter Planet Oregon 2015. Cook has left the boneless rib to speak for itself, with no jus or fuss. Tender to the point of falling away with the lightest touch from a fork, the meat is topped with corn kernels which bring a juicy sweetness to the dish. It is a simple dish in many ways and whilst tasty, is entirely surpassed by the wine.
Jammy on the nose, this slightly smoky, smooth and powerful Pinot Noir is a revelation. We pull Beverage Manager, Scott Levy, aside to quiz him on this unusual red and he explains that South Oregon grapes have a fuller taste than Burgundian Pinot. Whilst the texture is still light, the flavour is pronounced and unlike any Pinot Noir we have tasted before.
Once we’ve drained every last drop that our glass has to offer, the Kidney Stroganoff is laid before us, accompanied by a thick, robing red from Northern Rhône. Whilst slightly austere, dark stone fruit and berries come to the forefront, engaging well with the stroganoff. The dish itself is expertly balanced; the meatiness of the mushrooms corresponds with that of the kidneys whilst the cornichon and vinegar combat the overall richness and provide a diversity of textures. The result is a hearty, playful and engaging dish.
Our final savoury course comes in the form of a trio of Fillet Medallions with complementing sauces. Cooked perfectly to medium-rare, the pieces offered are a traditional steak au poivre, a gorgonzola, bacon and spring onion godsend and a final 17 spice Cajun steaklet. These are matched with “Love sauce” (decadent aged beef fat), more gorgonzola, and peppercorn sauce. The steak au poivre is no joke. We love our freshly cracked black pepper but wow, this is cough-inducing. This may sound like a complaint but its far from it; the strength of the pepper is met with the juiciness of the steak and brings out peppercorn in the Chimney Rock, Napa, California 2013. The second steak is even more heavenly: soft steak, crispy pork and creamy, thick gorgonzola, liberally topped with even more sauce from the pot we are given. Bizarrely, this also works wonders with the wine, bringing out thick, jammy dark berries. Our final medallion, is the gorgeous Cajun, whose flavour profile is complex and rounded. A light numbing starts to be felt over time from the various peppers and spices, playing with the full-bodied nature of the wine.
As our plates are cleared, we sit back and marvel at how we have romped through so much of the cow. Our final course and only sweet, a Citrus Terrine made using the gelatine from the cow’s hooves, is presented to us with a rather saccharine glass of Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec NV. Fresh, bright blood orange and light jelly play with textured oat crumble to culminate in a stimulating finale that is homey and fun.
With our cow sitting happily in our bellies, we head upstairs to the ground floor bar where we sip on a Penicillin 14 – a cold toddy with smoky attitude thanks to the addition of Ardbeg 10yr – and contemplate the experience. Some dishes were certainly more successful than others, but the quality of the meat was unquestionable, and the wine pairings were excellent. Needless to say, if we had the chance to try the 15-course menu, we certainly would.
To enter the competition, customers can visit www.smithandwollensky.co.uk. The competition opens on 1st March 2018 and closes on 31st March 2018 with a winner being drawn on the closing date. The 14-course menu is also available for pre-booking of parties of 20. (14-courses £225 per person or £325 with fine wine pairings).