Jonathan R Jones heads to London stalwart SMITHS of Smithfield in search of serious steaks.
For those of you too young to remember, SMITHS of Smithfield opened to much fanfare in 2000. It was the brainchild of chef-owner John Torode, now more famous as co-host of Masterchef. It is four floors of indulgence in a Grade-II listed former warehouse adjacent to London’s iconic historic meat market (no accident that the menu is mainly carnivorous).
The team here have come up with a winning formula – and it’s one that they hope to replicate at a new and more informal all-day dining destination that recently opened by Cannon Street tube. However, I head back to where it all began on Charterhouse Street in Farringdon.
Food and Drink
A starter of pan-fried foie gras is rich and sweet and comes with sauted wood blewit mushrooms, a ginger bread crumb, zingy slices of kumquat and pretty borage flowers. The smoked quail is covered in crunchy peanuts (which over-power the smoky flavour) and is complimented by slices of grilled peach and a drizzle of maple syrup.
Surprisingly the whole thing doesn’t get too sweet allowing the rich earthiness of the quail to come through. A dinky soft-centred quail scotch egg is a lovely chef-y touch.
SMITHS has always been all about the beef. Here you’ll find a menu dominated by a selection of serious steaks, all butchered and cut in house. Tempted by the noveIty of exclusivity, I opt for the highland rump sourced from Grace Noble’s Aberdeenshire-bred highland cattle; SMITHS are the only London restaurant to stock it.
As promised, the meat has a delicious creamy quality. Whether that is the result of the cattle feeding on the by-products of the nearby Deeside Brewery, I honestly couldn’t say (each dish has a biography which might border on the humorous for the uninitiated).
The rump comes cooked to perfection with a delicious crust; I only wish I’d dared ask for it a little rarer. You won’t be disappointed. And if you have cash to burn there’s more to explore, including the ‘big cuts for sharing’ which start at £80.
There’s also a generous selection of fish dishes (cod loin, lemon sole and sea bass when we visited), not to mention pork, a beef and oyster pie and lamb. My companion opted for the latter. The Cornish lamb rack was as an unexpectedly colourful plate with vibrant green tomatoes, tomato pesto, girolles and black olives rubble.
Vegetarians are under-served here with just one main course (grilled globe artichokes) and one starter (tempura courgette flower).
The decadent sides are well worth getting stuck into. We couldn’t resist the creamy lobster mac ‘n’ cheese (with generous chunks of lobster) and the chips were lard-fried perfection. Even the buttered greens come with chorizo (best not bring a health-conscious or vegetarian companion!).
The wine list is not just extensive but also rather intelligent. Although there are some eye-wateringly expensive reds to be found, we left ourselves in the capable hands of sommelier Raphael who guided us through our meal with a perfectly matched – if sometimes unexpected – selection of wines by the glass. The Jurancon was a revelation.
Desserts, aptly referred to on the menu as ‘puddings’ are on the heavy-ish side with more than a nod to English tradition. The rum and ginger sponge was on the dry side and lacked the moist chew of the nursery favourite. The dark chocolate cheesecake was much more successful: sweet with a hint of bitterness and for once the seemingly now ubiquitous salted caramel ice cream really added something.
The decadence of the dining is such that by this stage you’ll be convinced that opting for the suggested wine accompaniments to the desserts is essential. If you do succumb, dear reader, I can assure you that you will not be disappointed. But I can not guarantee that a hangover will not ensue.
Look and Vibe
There’s no need to request a table with a view since the whole restaurant is designed to make the most of the stunning vista. Your only decision need be whether to dine inside or out. The terrace overlooks the old Smithfields market and beyond you can see the Old Bailey, St Pauls, the Shard and the ‘Walkie Talkie’.
Whilst downstairs is all exposed brick, leather sofas and New York post-industrial (which to this reviewer seems somewhat dated), the Top Floor is a rather more understated affair. The interior could be described as ‘classic international restaurant chic’. The furnishings are simple and elegant; thankfully nothing detracts from that spectacular view of London. The sage green leather-upholstered booths add personality and a luxurious touch.
Midweek the clientele is a decidedly suit-y after work crowd. But don’t let that put you off; most of the noisy City-types are confined to the rowdy ground floor bar and the top floor is calmer if not necessarily quieter. It’s popular too; even for an early dinner it’s worth booking. There’s even a small smoking area on the terrace so those wishing to indulge need not trek to the pavement. And of course there is the house humidor from which to select your after dinner Havana.
Around £75 per person, based on three courses with sides and pairing wines, excluding service.
The bottom line
A classic rooftop dining destination where the steaks are as special as the view.
Top Floor, SMITHS of Smithfield, 67-77 Charterhouse Street, London EC1M 6HJ, 020 7251 7950, firstname.lastname@example.org, smithsofsmithfield.co.uk