How do you define yourself? What do you actually like doing? What makes you you?
Forgetting the stuff I do to pay the bills, there are three things in my life: singing, coffee and eating. I’m a keen amateur in the former, have considerable skills in the second, and see myself as an out-and-out grand master in the third.
And if I were to define my eating skills more specifically, I would simply say ‘meat’.
I’m never happier than when presented with a large slab of consummately cooked cow; I take pride in my occasionally worrying addiction to pork; I’m happy to spend a week preparing salt beef; I even spent four months curing a ham.
How I managed to date two vegetarians in succession I’ll never know. (Although I should have known one of them was never going to work after she ordered a decaf espresso martini on our second date).
London is blessed with many fine eateries for the carnivorous, and, after pining about not enjoying dirty fried chicken on Twitter one evening, the ever-munificent Zomato stepped in and directed me towards the tiny little stretch of the famous Roman Watling Street, in the heart of the City.
Now Smithfield is a name you’ll be familiar with – the grand old market has been the centre of the capital’s meat trade for 800 years, and unlike its fishy (Billingsgate) and leguminous* (Covent Garden) counterparts, still operates right in the heart of town.
The restaurant which bears the same name has no actual link to the market, unless you count a passion for the product as a connection.
Myself and a colleague were due to head to this bijou eatery for a standard blogger’s dinner, (turn up and eat a few bits), but the next couple of hours were spent enjoying a full spread, deep in foodie conversation with the restaurant’s owner and communications consultant.
Now on the face of it this set-up has awkwardness written all over it, (nightmares of owner constantly asking if blogger likes food and blogger exaggeratedly smiling and rubbing stomach), but this couldn’t have been further from the truth.
David Haimes is a man who knows about restaurants. With Pizza Hut, KFC and Itsu under his belt, so to speak, including being the boss of the latter, I doubt many people know the quick-serve landscape better than him.
With Smithfield it feels he’s taken everything he’s learned over his career and added that extra heart, which only comes from a love of the subject. Like me, his love is meat. I also suspect he’s quite fond of his daughter, Chessie (formerly with Heston Blumenthal and Quality Chop House) with whom he runs the restaurant.
In no time we were being told all about the meat – fine cuts, sloooooowly cooked – and served mainly in the lunch rush, to busy, hungry City types who like their food but have little time.
The menu is short but seems fully formed.
Hot ‘Barnyard Buns’ can be pulled BBQ pork, brisket beef or spiced chicken thigh. These are all served in a brioche bun, the first two topped with leaves and the latter with grilled peppers. These all register as ‘hearty’ on the size chart and come in at £5.
Salads are topped with salmon, steak, chicken or even slow-cooked Portobello mushrooms (pretty crucial on this occasion as my colleague is vegetarian. Yes another one. She gave her thumbs up).
But the star of the show (and apparently the best-selling item) is the Smithy – a rump steak with mustard mayo and red onion marmalade, squeezed between a ciabatta sub. On taking my first bite, the juices ran down my chin and right then I knew it was a winner.
The lunch menu also has soups and the breakfast items (served until 11am) include a £3 bacon butty. Hot drinks, cold drinks and even some alcoholic drinks complete the menu.
My passion for the meat is clear, but it’s definitely worth noting the bread (both the brioche and ciabatta) which were softer than a puppy washed at 30° with extra fabric softener, even at the end of the day. It’s too easy to spoil a good sandwich with bad bread, but that’s not the case here.
Am I being a bit too praise-worthy of Smithfield? Well actually, no. For what it is, I can’t fault it. Here at Lady loves Cake we write about what we like, and like what we write about.
Smithfield has bravely jumped into the highly-competitive working lunch market, and with its smart restaurant, well-cooked meats and very agreeable prices it has all the makings of a fixture here for some time to come. Perhaps more restaurants will open soon.
The Romans famously built their roads, including Watling Street, as straight as possible. Perhaps they anticipated eager, hungry carnivores needing a direct route to Smithfield 2,000 years later.
*I realise this is absolutely the wrong word, but it sounds so wonderful.
Smithfield can be found at 31-32 Watling Street, London EC4M 9BR