292 - 294 St John Street
There’s something of a trend in the world of London pubs at the moment, for a return to the honest British food more familiar to those raised on the cooking of the 60s than the cooking of the noughties. Back-to-basics, great British grub, call it what you like: old-school cuts of meat and comfort food classics are appearing on menus all over the city.
The Blacksmith and The Toffeemaker is no exception. Nestled on a quiet corner in Clerkenwell, owners Marc Dalla Riva and Matt Rix have created a drinking den all about good British booze and honest cooking. The décor is a tasteful combination of old-school pub and contemporary cool: institutional wood-topped tables and stools, tiled floors and industrial metal light-fittings are combined with a duck egg blue bar, whitewashed walls, fireplaces and retro easy-chairs.
They take a similar approach to cooking, serving up old favourites with a modern twist. The result is food that is unpretentious and affordable, whether you’re choosing from the deli counter or from the daily-changing menu of more substantial specials.
If gin is your thing you’re in the right place. It’s well represented in this self-proclaimed gin palace, with an impressive selection including lesser-known varieties such as Sipsmith, Berkeley Square and Hayman’s Old Tom. After a couple of G&Ts, we opted for a bottle of full-bodied Tempranillo to go with our food and it went down very well indeed.
The deli counter is located at the end of the bar, so you can choose from a selection of dishes including black pudding scotch eggs, artisan cheeses and British cured meats. We chose potted duck which came served in a cute miniature preserving jar, with toasted brioche and home-pickled carrots and cauliflower. The duck was nicely shredded, and the vegetables delicately picked but robust enough to balance and cut through the fattiness of the meat. I consider myself to be something of a celeriac remoulade connoisseur, and having been raised on my Mum’s, I’m always on the lookout for one just as good. I wasn’t disappointed. Theirs was nicely seasoned and struck just the right balance between acidity and creaminess. My suggestion of trying the beetroot salad was met by horror across the table, as my dining partner proclaimed that she associates it with something crinkle-cut and stored in a jar of searing vinegar. However when pushed, she admitted that it was very tasty - bright, slightly sweet and with just the right amount of crunch.
We opted for rabbit pie from the daily specials menu. Essentially a pasty, the rabbit was well-cooked but the filling would have benefitted from a little more moisture, allowing the meat and the vegetable flavours to meld together more. A lamb hotpot came in a sweet little individual dish, topped with thinly sliced browned potato as it ought to, and with an accompaniment of shredded cabbage. This really was old school food – possibly a little too old school for some people’s taste – with no frills or modern twist, but it did what it said on the tin. Lamb hotpot it was. Red cabbage coleslaw brought things back up to date a little, and was a nice variation on the classic recipes.
We decided to let the waiter surprise us with dessert, and he brought us a chocolate mousse and a crème brulée. The chocolate mousse was delicious: dark, bitter-sweet with a light, airy texture. Our crème brulée tasted spot on but sadly hadn’t had quite enough time to set so it had the texture of double cream. Girls of initiative, we ate it together with the chocolate mousse as a pseudo-custard accompaniment and neither lasted long. Top marks.
This is the kind of great little neighbourhood pub we all wish we had on the end of our street. Whether it’s for a pint of ale, a pie, and a read of the papers on a Sunday afternoon, or a gin and tonic with some deli bites on a mid-week evening, you’ll be well-catered for.
The Blacksmith and The Toffeemaker: 292 - 294 St John Street, London, EC1V 4PA. Tel:
020 7278 9990.
For more information, please visit: http://theblacksmithandthetoffeemaker.co.uk/
Written by: Carine Seitz