Last time I had dinner in Smithfield I ended up playing a Ukelele in the backing band of 1920s cabaret diva Tricity Vogue at the Smithfiled Tavern. Today I am two doors down, on a slightly more quiet Tuesday evening, in the company of old blog-dinner companion A. to sample the “Gastro-pub” delights of The Fox and Anchor. Unlike many pubs of its ilk, which have undergone the transition to proper dining establishments, this one remains firmly a pub, thank god, and hasn’t gutted its interiors to make way for exposed floorboards, trendy “greige”-washed, faux-french rustic tables and daunting emptiness.
The staff are eager to please, in an almost over-bearing manner, checking up on us every five seconds. I am served a swift campari and tonic as an aperitif then we knuckle down to business on this sweltering summer’s eve. The problem may have lain in the abnormally hot day – pub owners in the UK can be forgiven for not expecting 32 degree weather, however the menu, despite featuring some great seasonal veggies and meats, still seemed – how to put it – …hot?
I started with razor clams, although there were some delicious looking Maldon rock oysters on ice in baskets by the bar which would have gone down a treat slugged back with a Guinness. My razor clams were tasty if a tad overcooked. Meaty, rich, paired with chorizo – nothing new but a great combo nonetheless. As a starter it could have been a tad smaller, as it was incredibly filling. A good touch were the firm broad beans tossed in the briny juices. A’s whitebait was crispy and fresh, although – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – they could have done with a bit more coating to give it bite… Served in a cartouche with good homemade mayo, the portion was more manageable than mine, and both served with good bread, rock salt and Cornish butter.
We sucked on a bottle of Fleurie La Cerisaie Momessin 2009, decent raspberry-packed Beaujolais which was needed to go with the enormous hunk of lamb I had for a main. This had me reeling back in my chair looking for the maternity ward for my impending lamb-babies. A shank the size of a small child arrived, meltingly tender, deliciously rich and served with a side of new potatoes that could have solved third-world famine. I am but a wee thing and there I was, faced with about 20 potatoes in a bowl – that’s what I call value for money! There were more yummy broad beans, although by now I was fearing the bloaty-monster coming on.
A. had the fish cake, which was as thick and meaty as an Olympic discus, slathered in hollandaise and resting on a bed of wilted spinach. Well seasoned, but again the thick creamy hollandaise was so rich that added to the sweltering heat at the back of the pub it resulted in near delerium.
By the time we reached pudding, I felt nine-months pregnant, so I made the executive decision that launching into a massive plate of cheese wouldn’t make much difference. Nice, if unimaginative, selection, with proper crackers and chunky chutney. A. had eton mess, a glorious flurry of cream and meringue and …gleurghy, all that cream!!! Tres indulgent…
We rolled out the pub like giant wheels of cheese, with the owner and the barstaff merrily discussing the day spent at CAMRA’s real ale festival where many new discoveries to stock the pub nwith had been made. For yes, this is well and truly a pub, and in all honesty, I would like it to stay that way. I would definitely come back here for ales and whitebait, perhaps a plate of bivalves to wash down with stout, however, I’m not sure I would rush back for the dinner… Not, unless I had not eaten for weeks in advance…