It’s mid-January and I pace up Park Lane with a spring in my step. It’s a brisk, bright wintry morning, the sun offering a welcome respite from the grip of a cold snap we’ve just shaken off. As I enter Grosvenor House, I’m buoyed by the self-congratulatory virtue of an unbroken spell of abstinence for the oxymoron that is ‘dry January’.
But the minute I cross the threshold of JW Steakhouse, I know the metaphorical heavens are about to open. A fine lunch is in the offing. Larman is already sat at the table, having had the privilege of staying the night before. Already conducting himself like he’s in familiar surroundings, he’s conversing with the bartender, positioned enticingly behind what looks like a mobile drinks trolley. January is about to get damp. Very damp indeed.
“Tell me you’re not participating in this nonsense,” Larman remarks with a withering look, “not when we have this to hand,” he gestures towards our patron. Clearly not, I muse, and take a seat, glancing up at our bartender who introduces us to what is a remarkable piece of kit. This is no ordinary drinks trolley, it’s a tableside bourbon bar, an off-shoot of the hotel’s watering hole. Deftly carved from 200-year-old oak, it carries fine examples of Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare, drawers spill forth cut crystal tumblers and embossed ice blocks, and, from a miniature barrel hidden in a surreptitious cupboard, it produces what can only be described as nectar on tap. It might be the sugar talking but what is served is up is among the finest Old Fashioned I’ve yet had. This is no exaggeration; Larman and I remark as such with almost every sip.
It’s an opener to dash the month’s purgatory in spectacular style, and we soon tackle that other symbol of self-flagellation, Veganuary, metaphorically thumbing our noses at the conceit with the choice of venue for our first repast of the new year. We are here for steak, and steak we shall have.
But, first, a glass of buttery North Coast Chardonnay neatly complements the signature crab cake; for all appearances like a mini fish cake, but this is pure crab meat, plump, succulent and fleshy. As the sun flares through the floor-to-ceiling windows, this is a welcome return to luncheon against the seasonal gloom and I take a moment to survey our chosen battleground.
JW is a credible competitor for a New York steakhouse, and if you’ve ever been to one, you’d feel right at home; the dark wood, vast chalkboard menu of cuts and other specials, and the high ceilings give this a nod to Manhattan. As you might expect, cuts are selected by weight and there is much debate between us as to what we’re capable of. The Tomahawk is agreed upon, but then, “800 grams should suffice, no, old boy?” We concur a kilo of prime dry-aged beef might be a little too much.
A steak knife the size of a hand saw is laid next to me, and we’re asked, “Would you like the steak cut at the table, gentlemen?” It’s a nice touch, and the cleaver-sized slab of French-trimmed ribeye arrives, bone-removed but presented on the griddle, as if in tribute, a rosemary-dressed roasted garlic bulb its solitary garnish. We dive in with as much vigour as our conversation, fries and creamed spinach aplenty. I maintain the bourbon theme with the whiskey-infused peppercorn sauce, and even the Cab Sauv selected is aged in bourbon barrels. At the end, I couldn’t resist inspecting the bone; shaving off a sliver of charred flesh and dipping it in the sauce. I could have been on a Kentucky ranch.
As you might expect from a New York steakhouse worth its salt, they haven’t scrimped on the desserts. We give the menu a cursory glance because we know what we want; the cheesecake. A 3-inch tower of graham cracker crumb arrives, topped by a trio of raspberries bathing in a surf of thick cream. We cleave it in half, revealing the cheesecake layer within, both tangy and sweet in equal measure. Lord knows how it’s meant to serve two, a mouthful would suffice, and it does, regrettably, defeat us.
I collapse back into my chair, cradling a ‘Kentucky’ coffee – you guessed it, with bourbon. Like a warm espresso martini, it concludes proceedings nicely, and knocking its competitor for six. Or, perhaps, a home run.
JW may not stand up to the staple specialists a la Hawksmoor and Temper, but it’s been a solid return to form, an excellent opener for the new year, and, thankfully, with January well passed us, normal service can resume.
JW Steakhouse, JW Marriott Grosvenor House, 86-90 Park Lane, London W1K 7TN. For more information, including menus and details of the Bourbon Bar, and for bookings, please visit www.jwsteakhouse.co.uk. You can read about Alex Larman’s stay at Grosvenor House here.