It’s impossible to be all things to all people, but Smiths of Smithfield comes close. This massive temple to British meat encompasses five bars and restaurants spread out over four levels of a historic building in the heart of 130-year-old Smithfield Market, offering a completely different experience depending on where, and when, you drop by.
On the ground floor, it’s a casual, industrial-chic bar and grill open from breakfast to “late” (probably past your bedtime). Up a flight is a wonderfully cool cocktail bar with cozy vinyl banquettes and milk jug barstools that’s perfect for dressing up and sipping negronis on date night. All the way on the top floor is a fancy rooftop restaurant aptly named Top Floor, with an outdoor terrace, upscale menu of rare breed beef and line-caught fish, and elegant white and chrome decor.
We’ve saved the Dining Room on the second floor for last, because that’s Debbie Zeffman’s territory. She’s the assistant bar manager, and she’s going to share the lowdown on how best to enjoy this stylishly laid-back space. Zeffman commands a team of 15-20 staff members, and, like a proper Londoner, enjoys a good gin cocktail on occasion. Here, she chats about Smiths’ eclectic clientele, most delicious dishes, and surprising connection to one of Britain’s most legendary rock bands.
Tell me more about Smiths of Smithfield.
There’s a floor to suit everyone. With the ground floor café and bar, you’ve got a vast open space which people come to for breakfast or for a drink after work. We even get the guys from the meat market coming here at breakfast time – only it’s their lunch or dinner, as they’ve been up since 4am. You can spot them from a mile off, as they’re big burly men who come in wearing their white coats and hats and order huge plates of food. Luckily, they don’t bring their meat cleavers with them. On the first floor you’ve got the cocktail bar and two private dining rooms, and on the top floor there’s fine dining and an amazing terrace overlooking St Paul’s.
What’s the vibe like?
It’s lively. Downstairs it tends to be a younger crowd, as we’ve got a lot of media and creative agencies here in Farringdon. But we also get businessmen coming here for lunch with their clients. The atmosphere gets more formal as you go upstairs, and the top floor has a totally different atmosphere – with white tablecloths, cigars, and brandy.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu?
My favourite dish has to be the South Devon Cote de Boeuf, with chips and mustard mayo. It’s served on my floor and it’s so good it’s making me hungry just thinking about it. All the beef is 21 days dry aged, which gives it a stronger flavour. It’s really succulent, and the way it’s seasoned and presented is just beautiful. It’s basically thick, succulent meat on a chopping board for two people to share.
As a bar manager you have to taste all the cocktails. What’s your favourite?
My favourite cocktail has to be the Gin Perry, which is made from Hendricks Gin, Poire Williams (an eau de vie; a bit like Calvados but made from pears), and a homemade basil digestive. It’s really light and refreshing.
How has Farringdon changed over time?
It’s changed loads. A few years ago, there used to be just a couple of cafés and pubs here and not much to choose from – but now there are some really cool bars, pubs, and restaurants. You can pretty much find anything from German hot dogs to Venetian tapas, and lots of burgers and steaks, of course. Smiths has been here since 2000, though, so it’s seen everything change around it.
Tell us a little-known fact about Smiths.
One of Smiths’ investors is drummer Nick Mason from Pink Floyd.
What do you love about London?
London’s a really innovative city that moves forward quickly and changes all the time. I tend to hang out in Hackney, as that’s where I live, and there are so many nice bars and restaurants there that you don’t need to branch out any further. If you want to go clubbing, though, you could do worse than go to Fabric, a club that’s literally in the basement next door to Smiths.
When you’re not working, where do you like to go out?
My regular haunt is The Haggerston, especially on a Sunday night. There’s always a great vibe down there, and live jazz from 11pm to 3am–the musicians are always in top form. Another place I like is The Dead Dolls at The Arch on Cambridge Heath Road. It’s a railway arch that has been turned into a bar and venue that sells the most amazing cocktails and always has great bands and DJs playing at the weekends. You can hear anything from blues, hip-hop, funk, jazz, and lots in between. They’ve also got a great street food vendor there at the moment called Kome. Restaurant-wise, I would highly recommend an Italian restaurant on Exmouth Market called Paesan. It’s delicious, homemade Italian food served as small plates — perfect for sharing with friends. It’s not your typical pizza/pasta restaurant, but something much more rustic and very authentic.