I love Smithfield Market: the oldest and largest wholesale meat market in the UK, it transforms each morning into an unlikely meeting of besuited office workers and white-coated butchers; coffee-clutching bankers side-stepping huge wheelie bins of animal carcasses on their way to the City.
The surrounding area is home to a number of fantastic restaurants, many of which source their meat from the nearby market. One such place is Smiths of Smithfield (S.O.S.) - split into four floors, each with a different menu and ambience, the overarching focus is on good quality meat used in solid, well-thought-out dishes.
I recently ended up visiting twice in one week - once with a group of work friends, for a boozy meal in the Second Floor "Dining Room", and once for a relaxed weekend brunch on the Ground Floor.
The evening meal in the Dining Room - an atmospheric, dimly-lit, loft-style eating space - was extremely good. The twelve of us were seated on a square table, three on each side; a seating arrangement we found far preferable to being spread out over a long rectangular table. The food was excellent, and pretty good value too: drinks and mains, plus a couple of shared puddings and a few coffees came to £34 a head - not bad at all, given the quantity of wine imbubed.
Other members of our group opted for impressive looking "Smiths" burgers (chunky patties topped with melted cheese and tomato relish and draped with a strip of bacon, served alongside a bucket of tasty fat chips); a large portion of roast lamb (the special of the day, for two to share - two generous cuts of meat sitting astride a pile of roast potatoes, with a jug of mint sauce on the side); tender salt beef with horseradish and spring onion mash; a colourful risotto primavera; and slow-roast pork belly with salsa verde.
Only two of my colleagues ordered dessert, but I managed to sneak a spoonful of both! Sticky toffee pudding, topped with a creamy scoop of vanilla ice-cream and drenched in a gorgeously rich caramel sauce, was exceptionally good. White chocolate and berry cheesecake (which may have been a special of the day, as I couldn't see it on the menu) was also delicious: firm, crumbly baked cheesecake studded with sweet berries and drizzled with a swirl of fruit coulis.
Brunch, a few days later, came after a heavy night out (in Infernos no less - we like to keep it classy!). By day, the ground floor bar area doubles as a casual dining room. Light and airy, with warehouse chic decor (all exposed beams and chrome air vents) and big communal tables, the atmosphere is laid-back and family-friendly, with a relaxed buzz of chatter forming the back-drop to your meal.
Along with another of my friends, I ordered a Full English. It wasn't perfect: the toast (topped with scrambled eggs) was soggy, and the bacon - neither smoked nor browned - was a bit rubbery and quite 'pork-y' (if that makes any sense). However, I have very high standards: to be fair to the chef, fried mushrooms, eggs and sausage were all perfectly fine, roast tomato was good, bubble and squeak (a tasty patty of mash and greens) was very palatable, and my friend liked the black pudding (which I don't eat, so am unable to comment upon).
My other friends went for a bacon sandwich (more of that rubbery bacon, although he didn't complain) and a chicken burger, which looked pretty good - although not quite as tasty as the burgers enjoyed by my colleagues a few nights before.
Our brunch ended up lasting somewhat longer than we'd expected, with an interminable downpour of torrential rain causing us to be trapped there for over four hours, but we were happy to linger.
The waitresses, while friendly enough, were a bit distracted. It was incredibly hard to get their attention, and even when we did manage to catch their eye, they kept rushing off mid-way through our order (which became pretty comical the 3rd or 4th time it happened!)
Despite the avoidant waitresses, we did manage to order in a few rounds of drinks - the usual teas, coffees and juices, and, later on (as the rain outside continued...) some more interesting beverages. I ordered a coke float (this wasn't on the menu, but they obliged me by dropping a scoop of ice-cream into my drink), while two of my friends upped the stakes by opting for alcoholic milkshakes.
They both went for the same drink - the Brandy Alexander, a concoction consisting of brandy, frangelico, vanilla and chocolate ice - which was delicious, although very rich! (I might have to go back to try the Apple Crumble - a delectable blend of apple schnapps, goldschlager, vanilla ice, and crumbled biscuit).