Bird of Smithfield
24 May 2013
Brecher managing partner Nicky Richmond indulges in a thoroughly crackling dinner at Bird of Smithfield.
My friend Don told me that his cousin Alan was going to open a new restaurant in Smithfield and that we would have to try it. I was a bit worried, in that what if it’s really rubbish way. I’d have to be polite and say the right things. Not my forté.
What he didn’t tell me was that “Alan” was Alan Bird, formerly head chef at The Ivy and whilst not yet a household name in the Jamie sense, he is certainly well known in the foodie community and given his pedigree, I clearly had no need to worry.
The restaurant is in Smithfield, in a former pub. You wouldn’t know that though. In the basement, the Birdcage, a nightclub-style bar; on the ground floor a casual café space where you can order small plates of food or just a coffee; on the first floor, the main restaurant; on the second a private, sophisticated, dining room with a separate seating area and on the top, an open roof garden. Something for everyone.
The décor is interesting: low-key, Mid-century Modern. Good artwork on the walls, a mixture of bold graphics and neutral colours and extremely comfortable, this is afeelgood space- a restaurant run by people who care.
The menu is refreshingly straightforward. Eight starters, ten main courses, six desserts and a couple of savouries. I like a nice savoury.
And the food is modern British, with a bit of a twist and a few unusual ingredients. To start, I had the ruby salad leaves with heritage beets, soft goat’s curd, cobnuts and pomegranate. As well as those ingredients, there were matchsticks of celeriac and the whole dish was a good combination of texture and taste, crunchy and soft, sweet and nutty, as well as being pretty as a picture. If you like beetroot, you’ll love this and the combination of the nuts, the sweet dressing and the soft goat’s curd was very effective.
I forgot to mention the loaf of bread that they brought at the beginning. I managed to eat half the loaf before I had to make them take it away. I have no “stop” button around bread. And there’s an interesting wine list. Both of us had to go back to work, so we only had a bottle between us. A very nice Vernaccia it was too, at a very reasonable £27.50 a bottle. I expect we could have had wine by the glass, but we somehow failed to spot that.
And for the main course and because we are living in perpetual winter, I ordered the comfort-food dish of Blythburgh pork belly and Welsh cockles served with ransoms and samphire. Amazingly, I knew what ransoms were, because I had seen them being tweeted from the USA where they are A BIG THING – like new season asparagus. They belong to the allium family and in case you are still wondering and can’t be bothered to look that up, alliums are that family which contains chives, garlic and onions. Ransoms are garlic leaves.
This is not a dish for the fainthearted. Pork belly is never going to be the dieter’s dish of choice and the lovely crisp fatty pork came swimming in a delicious oily sauce, resting on the samphire and wilted ransom. Three large fingers of crackling sat bolt upright in the middle of the dish. Rather dramatic, it was satisfying and bold, well-presented and colourful.
Obviously, what with the bread and everything, I was already full by that stage, but I’d already clocked the chocolate dessert. The rest of the menu faded into nothingness when confronted with the Maldon sea salt caramel and Cru Virunga chocolate crackling pot. How could I not?
This was a very rich and semi-solid layer of chocolate, like a very thick mousse, covered by caramel cream, sprinkled with sea salt and chocolate bits, which crackled on your tongue. Forget your salted caramel ennui; this was the business. I should have stopped after eating only half, because I had really had enough. Obviously I didn’t, though, because, quite simply, it was too good to leave. It was one of those desserts that make you go quiet and having stopped talking, it was the first time that I realised that there was music. Only a bit. But I’ll allow them that. After that chocolate dessert I’ll allow them anything, frankly.
I like this place. It’s only been open for a very short time but it already feels like it’s going to be a keeper. It’s in its slightly soft opening phase so the prices are a bargain. Grab it while you can.
Best for: Everything other than a formal lunch (tables a bit too close for comfort)
Worst for: Your more traditional City types, who just won’t get it
Scores on the doors 9/10