Smithfields is a strange place. The meat market still dominates the area with its air of Victorian industrialism whilst relegated to the narrow side streets are a wealth of über-trendy eating and drinking spots. They are not there to water the cattle owners or fatten the meat traders of the market but are instead aimed at giving the nearby city bankers somewhere to spend their bonuses.
One such venue is Smithfield Bar and Grill. It is this venue’s décor that really sets it apart. And I really do mean venue; with upmarket cocktail bar in front and sumptuous restaurant out back you could easily spend the whole day (and evening) here discussing Manolo Blahniks with the girls or the price of shares with the boys. The suave and sophisticated interior is Mad Men (1950s America) brought into the 21st century with sweeping black leather chesterfield-style banquettes lining the dark walls and sparkling chandeliers topping the tables. This is an interior that cannot fail to generate a glamorous night-time ambience no matter what hour of the day.
Taking advantage of that quiet (or in the City, silent) period between Christmas and New Year’s when even the most diligent worker’s motivation drops to zero, I decided to pop out for a long lunch. We booked out of habit as Smithfield is renowned for being a buzzy and busy restaurant and indeed, despite other restaurants in the area being somewhat void of dinners, Smithfield already had more than half its tables filled. This was a good sign – hopefully we were in for a treat.
Part of the Blackhouse group, the menu is designed to please everyone but amaze no one. Name any cuisine and there is a household favourite just waiting to be ordered. The menu is dominated by 28-day hung beef in its numerous forms – including wagyu steak, chateaubriand or even served with a whole lobster – but after stuffing ourselves with the full turkey and trimmings over the last few days we couldn’t find the appetite for such a hefty meal.
My dining companion had the Japanese-style bream with bok choi and broth, while I opted for the Mexican fajitas. The fish was well cooked and aromatic but the chicken fajitas were on the dry and oily side. The service was friendly and efficient until it came to getting the bill but I often find this is a problem in many restaurants – why is it always so hard to get a waiter’s attention as soon as you want to pay? And when we finally did get the bill, it was a fair price for the upmarket location and the stunning décor.
I would come here again but next time I’d take the hint from the cattle market across the road and order a steak. I’d also hit the cocktail bar first so that I’m merry enough not to notice if the food still doesn’t quite hit the prime spot again.
Smithfield Bar & Grill, 2-3 West Smithfield, London EC1A 9JX. Tel: 020 7246 0900. Web: www.blackhouse.uk.com
Summary: a glamorous interior but the food could do with a little more attention to detail.