Sounds like a family butchers which might have been trading for a brace of centuries. It is, in fact, a newish restaurant but right next to Smithfield Market, which has a much longer history.
Smithfield Market or, more officially, London Central Markets, is the largest wholesale meat market in the UK and one of the largest in Europe. It’s found within the Square Mile of the City of London and it’s housed in three imposing listed buildings not far from Barbican and St Paul’s Cathedral. There has been a livestock market on this site for over 800 years; it has remained in continuous operation since medieval times.
Since the late 1990s Smithfield has become more of a social hub and has developed a reputation with City types who frequent its bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Bird of Smithfield joined the ranks of those local hospitality establishments a couple of years ago and is already a destination restaurant of character.
A Georgian-style townhouse has been transformed into Bird of Smithfield, Alan Bird’s restaurant featuring contemporary British cuisine. These labyrinthine premises boast two bars, a rooftop terrace, a private dining room and a restaurant, all this covering five floors.
Bird has eclectic design. There are still original features but the décor is a melange of tasteful retro with hints of earlier ages. The first-floor restaurant sports a mirrored ceiling which adds drama. Plenty of neutral colours on soft furnishings, with vibrancy from artwork.
The menu isn’t huge but I don’t think it needs to be. There are traditional dishes and some with a twist but all just right for this location. Guests seem to be after-hours city workers, although I dream of an early morning tour of the historic market followed by breakfast at Bird’s. Or perhaps a few hours wandering the uplifting environs of St Paul’s, with lunch at Bird’s.
A culinary archive
Smoked Mackerel and Crab Paté garnished with boiled egg with creamy yolk was my starter, although in reality we had scoffed the small loaf of freshly baked bread and generous pat of butter as our pre-starter-starter. The crab was delicate and the associated salad was fresh and light.
Herb and London Gin-cured Salmon was my guest’s starter and it was a substantial portion of mild-cured fish. Salmon was once common in the Thames; gin has long been associated with London and was the downfall of many a citizen at a time when the water could kill you. This dish is a culinary archive and delicious too.
Traditional Cod and Chips with tartare sauce and mushy peas was my main dish. Yes, more fish, and just outside a meat market but it’s associated with Britain just as much as is roast beef. This plate defeated me: it was a considerable portion of well-battered fish that seemed more steamed in its crunchy casing than fried in oil. Golden and not at all greasy, this is a must-try, especially for tourists. I am a great supporter of the local fish and chip shop but they are few and far between these days and they are of variable quality, but Bird’s do this classic every bit as well as the white-tiled emporiums of yore. And those peas truly are meant to be that way and they are a comforting garnish to the perfect chips. Please don’t ask for ketchup – it just doesn’t work.
Alan’s Shepherd’s Pie was my guest’s main course and it’s a signature dish of the aforementioned chef/owner Alan Bird. This had a well-textured and flavourful lamb meat filling, with a decorative piped mashed potato topping. There was a small serving of peas but this hearty eater needed a side, and buttered spinach was a good choice. The only complaint was that the meat element could have been more generous. Perhaps that’s just an illustration of the degree of enjoyment expressed by the diner.
Plum and Sherry Trifle is another very English offering. This was an individual serving of fruit, jelly, custard and cream. Another hefty helping so if you are modest eaters you might want to split one. If you are a dessert aficionado then perhaps forego the loaf of bread on arrival.
Bird of Smithfield is unique. It offers authentic British food, well-presented and no distracting frills. I was impressed with my meal and also with the quality of the service, which had more in common with fine, rather than smart/casual, dining. Birds is a must if you work in the City or are visiting. If they keep an eye on standards then this could become an institution.
8.00 am – 12 midnight Monday to Friday,
12 noon – 12 midnight Saturday
Closed on Sundays
Bird of Smithfield
26 Smithfield Street
London EC1A 9LB
Phone: 020 7559 5100
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018