Doin’ the Business in Smithfield Market
Smiths of Smithfield offers a dining experience which tries to stay true to the roots of the area and different dining and drinking options to suit a myriad of occasions. And the breakfasts remain legendary…
Review by Martin Stickley
Smithfield market; the only remaining mediaeval wholesale market in England’s capital, and a place where for more than 800 years livestock and meat have been traded. This is an area which is steeped in history; amongst other things it was where Sir William Wallace and Wat Tyler met their ends at the hands of the crown executioner. If Tyler were around today I’m pretty sure he would have had something to say about how hard it’s become to find a traditional worker’s café for a decent fry up in London’s inner zones. With that in mind, it seems fitting that someone like Smiths of Smithfield should be trying to keep the history alive by trying to capture the spirit of all that history and offering a dining experience which tries to stay true to the roots of the area.
When I talk about history, it’s easy to forget that Smiths is by no means a new kid on the block. MasterChef presenter and chef John Torode opened the establishment nearly 20 years ago, and at the time it was considered a bit of a game-changer; a celebrity restaurant which wasn’t entirely naff. Now Smith’s has changed hands and following an extensive refurbishment, the four-floor Grade II listed building has been transformed into something more special, with each level providing a different dining and drinking experience. The ground floor still features the familiar all-day bar and eatery, the first floor now hosts a luxurious cocktail bar “Death & Victory”, the second “The Grill” where the tradition of the butchery heritage of the surrounding area is championed, and the top floor (No.3 Restaurant & Terrace) where it is all about the finer things in life.
I would have loved to have been lucky enough to take a thorough trip to report on all four floors; it would certainly make for a day of indulgence to go all the way from the ground to the upper echelons of Smiths in one visit but I was there to sample the famed breakfast.
First impressions: The ground floor is large and open with a cavernous ceiling so even at busy times there should be little cause to wait. The atmosphere was just about right for a lazy weekend brunch; the music just the right side of lively but with a relaxed vibe (if you would like me to be specific, it was acid-jazz), I picked up a newspaper from the rather good selection on the stand and ordered a macchiato. Despite not being too busy (there must have only been another three or four tables which were taken) there were a sizeable number of staff. At least three chaps walked the floor to serve tables whilst two others worked behind the bar to prepare the drinks. The breakfast and brunch menu should offer enough to cover all bases; not everyone likes a hearty fry up first thing in the morning whereas some of us like to eat something more substantial than porridge. Despite this being a notoriously carnivorous location there are a few vegetarian options available too. If you’re visiting later in the day there are more substantial dishes available on the lunch menu which features several burgers and a rather impressive number of sharing platters.
If you are there for breakfast however, you really cannot go wrong with the famous Smithfield special; smoked bacon, butcher’s sausage, black pudding, baked beans, grilled tomato, hen’s egg, hash brown and toast all make for a monstrously meaty feast. Shunning the obvious, I went for black pudding bubble & squeak with poached hen’s egg and hollandaise (anyone familiar with my taste buds knows of my black pudding addiction). Despite being relatively quiet, it took longer than I would have liked to be noticed by the waiters, and when what I thought was my plate arrived, it turned out to be someone else’s. The waiter disappeared before I noticed and I then had to practically stand up to flag someone down to rectify the mistake. I’m not naïve enough to think that such mistakes don’t happen in restaurants (and I’m usually not precious enough to mind too much) but when the service isn’t exactly stressed it’s certainly less forgivable. Nevertheless, the breakfast was undeniably good; the egg poached to perfection and the bubble and squeak offering plenty of flavour. The coffee was also pretty good, a mark that Smiths have taken the time to have a decent barista on site; something which can be taken for granted in many a breakfast eatery. After the coffee I took the decision (well, it was past midday) to round my breakfast off with one of the house cocktails; a delicious Passion Fruit Martini which more than made up for the service and proved that the barman was as accomplished at mixing alcoholic beverages as he was making coffee!
Although I didn’t manage to try the Death or Victory bar, of the other floors properly it is clear that Smiths now comes with a well-stocked arsenal. From the excellent breakfast/brunch choices of “Smiths” Café & Bar, to the flair and elegance of head chef Liam Walsh’s dishes at “No. 3”, each floor offers a different dining and drinking experience to suit a myriad of occasions. When a restaurant can boast that it features an all-day bar and eatery, luxe cocktail bar, classic British grill and a top end restaurant all under one roof you know it means business.
Enquiries: Smiths of Smithfield, 67 – 77 Charterhouse Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1M 6HJ / 0207 2517950 / www.smithsofsmithfield.co.uk/