Every Londoner knows about Smithfield’s carnivorous heritage. With the 800 year-old meat market at its heart, and a history enriched by a reputation for hosting the greatest cloth fairs, lavish jousting tournaments and even the odd execution of heretic.
But while the area does have a fine collection of restaurants and bars, very few have been able create a dining experience worthy of this wonderful, quintessentially British, backstory. The two exceptions are Smiths of Smithfield’s and St John’s, places that elevated their respective founders, Messer’s Torode and Henderson, into the echelons of restaurant royalty.
The Grill on the Market has set itself up as a challenger to the established order. Positioning itself as a home of affordable, carnivorous comfort food, it has set out its stall on a site where many a brasserie before has failed to be anything more than mediocre. The Grill impresses from the outset in the weather-beaten, wood-paneled bar (in a fashionably distressed rather than unfinished way) shows off an array of cocktails from slings, hurricanes and flutes, to re-invented Martinis, and a signature a Smokey Old Fashioned.
The restaurant to the rear is with a 120 capacity pulls of the trick of being both big and intimate, through clever use of booth style tables, low lighting, and off-white and soft brown colours. The punters are your Clerkenwell meets the City mix, of architects, designers and well-heeled bankers. The waiting staff were hot, hip and friendly.
Any restaurant that offers dripping as a starter with rustic bread, wins extra points in the meatiness arena. It was delicious, by the way – more like a gravy than liquid fat. From an extensive menu we picked the garlic king prawns and mussels in cider and chorizo to start. The former were sweet and tender, albeit lacking a little bit of the promise garlic. The mussels were perfectly cooked, but the chorizo and cider cancelled each other out, making us think that it should have been one or the other. For mains we resisted the temptation to order of the specials list and went for the 200g fillet and 450g T-bone steaks with Béarnaise, asparagus, French beans and shallots, and chips. Of course. The Northerner rated the fillet as the best she had eaten, which given she is a connoisseur of this particular cut is high praise indeed. My T-bone was a steak of two halves – one side was cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection, however the other side was a little mixed. It was a bit chewy, even for this carnivore. The desserts of crème brulee and sticky toffee were light and not too sweet. Perfect for our taste buds. From the equally extensive wine list we opted for the Argento Malbec, an old favourite that didn’t let us down, and worked very well with the meats.
The Grill on Smithfield has an ambiance and style that would not be out of place in the Upper or Lower East side of New York, and that can only be a good thing. It's vibrant and fun and has a menu that caters to most people’s tastes and budgets. The caveat being that you are a carnivore. But that is only in keeping with the area.