Smollensky's is one of the great names in grill restaurants... [and] continues to operate with the same values that Smollensky's flagship restaurant... began with back in 1986...
1986 is a bit early even for us, but I do remember that visiting Smollensky's in the early nineties was still considered an exciting new thing to do for food and a night out. But back then, British food was really quite poor and an American based grill that cared about service and food could shake things up a little. Without doubt however, over those 20 years, food in the UK has been on an inexorable journey of improvement and whether you consider the competition to be Pitt Cue, Red Dog, Byron, Burger & Lobster, Goodman, Bodeans or even Bubbledogs, the formulas that worked in 1986 will need to be considerably updated if Smollensky's is to stand shoulder to shoulder with this new peer group. Sadly, for us today, it fell well short.
A starter of blackened shrimp with creole mayo and lemon wedge (yes, they advertise the lemon wedge on the menu) had no real impact leaving you to wonder if it contained any creole spices whatsoever. A crayfish and mango salad was nice enough, and pleasingly, the salad leaves were fresh and crisp, but a heavy hand on the Marie Rose sauce provided a challenge even for a sauce lover like me.
When the order for the burger was taken, we were asked 'how would you like it done?'. The right question, heaven, hope surges. But then when it was ordered medium rare, health and safety kicked in and we were told medium is as low as they go; hope plunges. The burger was better than expected (we now didn't expect much), but in playing the game 'if Goodman's burger is a 10, what is this on the naught to ten scale'; the answer was a four. Since there is a Goodman in Docklands just five minutes walk away, and a burger there costs £15, the question is actually important. A basic burger at Smollensky's costs £10.50 with £1.25 for each extra topping (including cheese) which means that this £13 burger is price comparable. The dip in quality versus a Goodman therefore is inadequately compensated by a lower price. Patty & Bun meanwhile price all their burgers below a tenner; enough said.
Our other main was the ribs. Among the problems here was that they had not been properly prepared. As About Barbecues & Grilling says
When cooking a rack of ribs, you want it limited to the actual bone section of the ribs. Well above the ribs is a section of meat filled with cartilage, little bones (the Chine bone) and connective tissue... you can also find it by looking for a long line of fat that runs lengthwise along the rack.
As well as lacking basic BBQ flavours (it relied heavily on the sauce for that), and being dry at times, there was simply too much fat and connective tissue for this to be anything other than disappointing.
It left us wondering what the point of Smollensky's now was because it still feels to us like it hasn't moved on from its historical recipe for success. Maybe that recipe still works well with the mainstream, maybe there's enough office parties from the surrounding Canary Wharf area to provide bums on seats, or maybe Canary Wharf stacked only with restaurant chains is itself still years behind the rest of London's food scene. Whatever the answer, we personally would struggle to find a good reason to return.