We were invited to dinner at JW Steakhouse, in Mayfair (London) with fellow veteran blogger Michelle (aka @tweetygourmet). You may know Michelle for her uncompromising exquisite photography, so you can check out her site for the pictures scoop.
Starting from the beginning, it should have been apparent in the name, but we knew not what to expect from JW Steakhouse; sports wear sold by teenagers who have barely run a mile, public house bargain bottom alcoholic beverages on a bog off or an overpriced steakhouse in Leicester Square? We were not sold on the name and we are still not convinced it contributes to the identity of the restaurant. Not surprisingly JW specialise in American cuisine, in particular the classic steakhouse offering hand-cut selections of prime beef. As self-confessed beef lovers, we were eager to get our teeth in.
The JW Steakhouse American influenced dining room has an appealing sense of airiness which is refreshing. High ceilings and the panoramic breath of the room makes it a welcoming place to dine. The walls are wooden panelled amidst floor to ceiling blackboards of menus and Specials. Modern popular muso music unobtrusively plays in the background. There is a well stocked “Bourbon bar” at one end of the room with a TV (and incongruous London bus poster) which should probably be taken down, if we abide by old fashioned manners. As you can tell, the atmospheric dim lighting was not helpful for our photography, but played a part in creating a relaxing place with a fun weekend buzz.
For my starter I chose the JW Maryland style lump crab cake, with old bay tartar (£14) and Keith picked a haddock and sweet corn chowder which formed part of the Specials board. We were informed that the crab cakes used a minimum amount of potatoes and fifteen crabs! I have to say that the crustacean sacrifice-cum-massacre was very much appreciated. The crispy outer-coating enclosed shredded, moist crabmeat with a subtle spice and was pretty much perfect as crab cakes go. As there was hardly any potatoes, there was no interfering stodgy texture. The haddock chowder should not be a special. It should form part of the main menu as it was delicious. The creaminess of the soup was pleasantly interrupted by flakes of haddock, nibs of golden corn and rafts of what we think was spinach. Keith was pleased that it was not over seasoned.
For our mains, I chose the 8oz fillet beef steak (£33) with a creamy horseradish sauce (£4) and Keith adjusted the notch on his belt and ordered the 16oz Kansas City Strip (£36), with a Port and Stilton Sauce (£4). We paired our mains with a Ridge Lytton Springs Californian Zinfandel 2007, which was recommended by the Sommelier. We have our own expectations on steak plus wine pairings, but I would have loved to have heard more vociferous and confident options presented to us. On the whole the wine was excellent with berry, spice and zing, but a more robust South American Merlot would have made the steak really pop!
Back to our steaks. Mine was perfectly cooked (pink in the centre), as was Keith's. Michelle was not as fortunate. The waiters have a policy of asking you to check your meat whilst they wait. The problem was rectified immediately and she was presented with her beef as she had requested it. The steaks were undoubtedly excellent quality. Unfortuanetly, my fillet was served with cherry vine tomatoes which were watery and a touch on the tart side. It would have probably been preferable to have picked an in season garnish. My horseradish had a generous kick but was a fraction too cool. I also wish it had been less of a condiment and more of a runny sauce. Keith's 16oz Kansas strip steak on the bone served in attractive cast iron skillet, had reasonable marbling which made his steak succulent and moist. Whilst the skillet served as a warming dish for the steak, it was unfortunately quite cumbersome and clumsy when attacking the beef. The boozy port and stilton sauce was a lovely balanced combination of fruit and cheese which together, with the rich grilled beef and berry wine, sang a perfect combination. My favourite accompaniment was Michelle's Bourbon peppercorn sauce. I loved the spicy, subtle heat and lick of whisky. I would like to see Paul Hallett, Head Chef, put a firm stamp on JW Steakhouse. I would have expected there to be a “JW Steakhouse sauce”, developed and lovingly created using those French and American influences that have obviously bewitched him.
Our side dishes were sautéed wild mushrooms, market potatoes aux gratin and Bourbon sweet potato mash marshmallow crust. Both the former sides were superb. The potatoes in the gratin were firm and the enveloping creamy sauce was cheesy and gooey. It has been a long time since I have left anything on my plate whilst eating out, but the sweet potato mash just did not work for us. Aesthetically, it was beautiful. The cast iron serving dish had bouncy pieces of browned marshmallows basking on the top. As you dipped a spoon in, strings of marshmallow melt climbed from the pot. It should have been a great culinary moment, but instead, even with my sweet tooth, I found myself wincing from the saccharine flavour. We would put this side order in Room 101 with Carl Junior's guacamole bacon six dollar burger, Outback Steakhouse Aussie cheese fries and 1.3 litres of teeth rotting root beer, and just throw away the key.
By dessert, we were all so full, and looked to each other for encouragement. Pushing on for the sake of our blogs, we ordered warm apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (£8), a massive cheesecake (easily enough for 3–4 people) (£9) and Saint Michelle chose a selection of sorbet (£7). My apple pie was quintessentially American with a delicious golden crust and tangy, but sweet stewed apple and sultana filling. Keith's cheese cake was a prize winner. It had a crumbly, but sweet crispy crust, similar in texture to demerara sugar. Layering the crown was smooth, whipped cream. The cheese filling itself not too sweet and surprisingly light.
After the meal, we debated how we thought JW fitted in with other steakhouses. For awhile I could not place it. Then I remembered Delmonicos in New York, whose reputation precedes it. It occurred to us how few upmarket steakhouses there are in London. JW Steakhouse is an undisputed popular place with groups, couples and solo diners. There are the makings of a great dining experience. However, we believe JW Steakhouse needs to work on its individuality, whilst keeping up its quality, friendly service. Steak and wine are two peas in a pod, therefore an investment in personalities who believe and sell the wine would also be recommended. Paul Hallett needs to let his creative flair loose and mastermind his own dishes underpinned by American influences, and not the other way round.
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