Mark Ludmon returns to Smiths of Smithfield in London after its latest refurbishment
It is 18 years since TV chef John Torode opened Smiths of Smithfield in a largely unfashionable area of London. Since then, Smithfield and Farringdon have evolved into a destination for drinking and dining, including world-leading cocktail bar Oriole, and, throughout it all, SOS has endured. After the four-storey 800-capacity venue was acquired by pub group Young’s last November, it has undergone an extensive refurbishment, including the creation of a plush new cocktail lounge, Death + Victory (pictured top).
The overall design concept has stayed true to the roots of the Grade II-listed building, drawing on the “essence” of the Smithfield Market building which has stood opposite as a “cathedral to meat” since the mid 19th century. Each level is designed to have its own identity, starting with the Ground Floor Bar, which is a welcoming space for all-day dining with the versatility to switch to a vertical drinking bar later in the evening. “We wanted to retain the industrial heritage of the space but make the layout softer, brighter and more welcoming,” explains Kevin Grima, design director at Harrison.
Here, diners can enjoy all-day brunch, sharers and pub classics alongside lighter, healthier dishes including vegetarian and vegan options. With its own drinks menu, it offers craft beers, cask ales and premium spirits, specialising in those from London, as well as classic-style cocktails ranging from a Passion Fruit Martini to an Old Fashioned with Hudson Baby Bourbon and maple syrup. The Ram – named after the symbol of the new owners – combines a Young’s Bitter syrup with Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky, Angostura Bitters and orange zest.
Up the open staircase, past Death + Victory – of which more later – you come to the second-floor Grill (pictured above) which takes its cues from the meat market that dates back to the Middle Ages. It offers locally sourced prime cuts alongside day-boat fish plus a chef’s table seating 12, giving diners a view of the theatre of butchery in the kitchen. The drinks list focuses on wines and lagers that go best with the different cuts and dishes.
With an open kitchen and a view to the cocktail bar below, the Grill features blasted brickwork and exposed pipework alongside more luxurious finishes including butter-coloured leather seating and booths. “We wanted to create a chef’s table experience that captures the theatre of live cooking as well as installing glass-fronted meat fridges for customers to see the quality and provenance of the produce,” Kevin adds. “Softer seating and better lighting were installed to improve comfort and ambience.”
The top floor (pictured below) features a year-round rooftop terrace and a 100-cover destination restaurant called No 3 at Smiths, offering views across the City, both inside and out, thanks to floor-to-ceiling fully retractable glazing. The elegant interior features plush booths and brass pendant lighting with pressed linen tablecloths to reflect the top-end service. “We have retained the classic feel of the restaurant but have made the dining room lighter, brighter and given it a more contemporary colour palate,” Kevin says. Under head chef Liam Walsh, this is a modern British restaurant championing seasonality and provenance. Signature dishes include 28-day-aged scotch beef Wellington to share, roasted halibut, Dorset crab and slow-roasted shoulder of Hampshire lamb.
For cocktail lovers, the destination is Death + Victory on the first floor. It takes its name from a plaque laid in Smithfield to honour the Scottish hero William Wallace who was executed in the area in 1305. With a marble Art Deco-style bar lined with upholstered stools, it is furnished with high wingback armchairs, booths and lamp shades in a bold palette of blues, greens and burnt orange. There are also two rooms suitable for private dining and parties. “The space has been designed to be an atmospheric, intimate cocktail lounge that is not only a destination in itself but is also a desirable space for hosting all-day meetings as well as private parties in the evening,” Kevin at Harrison says.
The cocktails were devised by bar manager Amandine Morand and her team with spirits company Pernod Ricard UK. The list is inspired by the 850-year history of the market, with each section based on different time periods and spirits categories. Recalling when the area was just a grassy knoll, the Smoothfields (pictured below) is made with Jameson Caskmates whiskey, amaro, egg white, lemon juice and sugar syrup, while the execution of Wallace and other rebels inspires tequila-based drinks such as the Freedom which mixes Olmeca Altos with lychee liqueur, rose liqueur and lime juice.
For the 18th century – the time of the first gin craze – gin serves include Bull in a China Shop (pictured below), which sees Beefeater 24, Lillet Rouge, Aperol, Campari and green tea served in a tea cup and saucer. The failure of World War Two bombs to destroy the market inspires one of the vodka serves, Lucky Escape, made with Absolut Original, Campari, pink grapefruit juice and grenadine. Two cocktails with Havana Club 7 Year Old rum take you up to the present day, including Uncertain Times – a mix of rum, Kahlúa, maple syrup and chocolate bitters.
While the future of the market has often been uncertain due to redevelopment proposals, the future of Smiths of Smithfield seems assured. With the nearby Crossrail link opening at the end of this year and the Museum of London shifting to Smithfield in the next few years, the bar and restaurant is well placed for years to come.
Smiths of Smithfield, 67-77 Charterhouse Street, London EC1M 6HJ
Tel: 020 7251 7950
Originally published in the July 2018 print edition of Bar magazine.