It’s been a long time since I last ate at Smiths of Smithfield’s Top Floor flagship restaurant in Charterhouse Street. Back then I wasn’t impressed with the service although the food was good but this was around ten years ago. Restaurant management has changed since then so it was good to return to something of a favourite with Barbican residents over the years, after such a long absence.
For those who don’t know it, SMITHS of Smithfield is a four floor operation comprising primarily three restaurants/bars all serving different food options, although given its location opposite London’s main meat market, meat dishes tend to dominate. There is also a further floor with a new specialist bar specialising in craft beers, plus private function rooms.
The ground floor is occupied by a lively, and often very noisy, bar/eatery serving what might be described as the Smiths version of fast food including an extensive all-day breakfast menu. It is open throughout the day and evening seven days a week and is busy much of the time. At weekends it serves a popular brunch.
As you progress upwards through the building, in theory you are accessing what might be considered superior dining options. Thus on the second floor is Smiths’ ‘Dining Room’ – emphasis on wood decor – wood floors, wood tables and chairs, exposed beams and exposed brickwork walls. A more normal restaurant-type menu is on offer here in the mid-price range – but again quite an emphasis on meat with a good range of steak options available.
But we were destined for the Smiths pièce de resistance – its gourmet Top Floor dining room and terrace, the reputation of which probably made now celebrity chef John Torode’s name – although he is no longer associated with Smiths, but it is none the worse for that. In comparison with the noisier and darker dining options below, the Top Floor restaurant is bright and airy with the south and west walls all floor to ceiling glass and a much calmer ambience. The brightness is helped further with all the tables covered in crisp white linen tablecloths – and the views from both the terrace and the restaurant over the Smithfield market rooftops towards St Paul’s and with the Shard in the distance are quite spectacular. Luckily there seem to have been height restrictions imposed on the surrounding area which means the view is relatively uninterrupted by massive tall buildings.
We were promptly seated at one of the banquettes which run between the main restaurant area and the bar and given menu and wine list – and a little time to soak in the ambience while making our decision of what to eat. The menu is not a huge one but caters for most tastes although there is only one vegetarian main course option. There is something of an emphasis on rare breed beef with a range of steaks of differing sizes plus some presumably massive steak sharing options. There is a choice of eight starters on the typical menu and six non-steak main course options.
Virtually all the starters appeared delicious on paper (and the ones we chose were in fact too) and my dining colleague ended up opting for two starters instead of a starter and a main. After a certain amount of prevarication in decision making I went for the chicken liver and foie gras parfait, burnt orange, pistachio and toast (£10) while my colleague for her starter starter chose crispy duck egg, ceps, squash, sage, pumpkin seeds (£9.50) – one of the options I had been agonising over myself.
The parfait was served in a glass tumbler from which it required a certain amount of dexterity to be extracted and the serving was extremely generous. It was excellent.
My colleague went into raves about her duck egg starter – She was almost ecstatic about it!
And then to the main courses. I chose a 9 ounce South Devon fillet steak (£38) – medium rare – with peppercorn sauce on the side – and perhaps this was the only disappointment of the evening in that the piece of meat, although cooked to perfection and extremely tasty, was a little on the tough side, particularly for a fillet. When I mentioned this to our charming waitress she did offer to replace it, but in the interests of not delaying the meal excessively while awaiting a new piece of steak to be cooked I decided to plough on regardless. It was probably better than OK taste-wise, but having anticipated a good piece of tender fillet steak cuttable with the back of a knife, it was a slight flaw in what would otherwise have been a very memorable meal.
My colleague had her second starter as her main – roast wood pigeon, plums, sake, hazelnut, dandelion (also £10)– which again, like her first, was declared to be exceptionally fine commenting that she’d forgotten how good pigeon was to eat. She was even proud to find a tiny piece of shot – which at least pretty well proved that the pigeon was of the wild variety.
We chose wine by the glass – I started with a South African pinotage (£8) – delightful aroma, nice wine, while my colleague requested a rosé from the Sommelier who suggested an Italian Sangiovese varietal (£ 10) (unusual in that Italy isn’t generally known for its rosé wines). Maybe not quite dry enough for my taste but much appreciated by the drinker! As I moved on to the steak the Sommelier suggested I switch to more full bodied red and this time chose another South African wine – a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Paarl area (£15.50) – again a great choice.
Nowadays I tend to forswear desserts in the interests of a trimmer figure (abject fail) but, in purely for our readers of course we did try some of their carrot cake, tonka icing with pistachio ice cream (£7.75). Although not a dessert person it tasted pretty good to me!
With the slight blemish of a fillet steak tougher than I would have expected, which was, I suspect bad luck in that Smiths usually gets rave reviews about the quality of its meat, the meal was otherwise excellent in all respects. Cost a little over £50 a head excluding service. Certainly not a low cost evening out but one is obviously paying for a lot more than just the food in a restaurant like Smiths’ Top Floor (It was still less costly than my last theatre outing to see the excellent RSC production of Henry V at the Barbican). The venue is great, the atmosphere is top notch and the quality of food (mostly) excellent.
Smiths Top Floor restaurant Is now open 7 days. Monday to Friday 12pm To 3pm, 6pm to 11pm; Saturday 6pm to 11pm; Sunday 12pm to 3:30pm. Note the latter timing. The top Floor restaurant is thus now open for Sunday lunches and with the rooftop views, and the terrace dining option in warmer weather, would seem to be a terrific place for a Sunday lunch out. The menu offers a selection of dishes from the normal à la carte menu at normal prices plus three additional roast options (duck, pork and beef) including veg and trimmings at £18. Take the family. Kids options for mains are available at £5, £6 and £7. Almost certainly one to try if you fancy Sunday lunch out close to the Barbican.
Smiths of Smithfield is at 67-77 Charterhouse St, London EC1M 6HJ. Phone: 020 7251 7950. Bookings may also be made online at www.smithsofsmithfield.co.uk