Despite some mixed reviews at launch, there’s a growing buzz around Bird of Smithfield. It’s owned by former Ivy head chef Alan Bird and although the restaurant is high-end, the food offers decent value.
I’m sure that from time to time most of us can be influenced by social media hype. To be fair, we often fall into this trap ourselves. If a restaurant is always busy, loved by bloggers and fawned over on Twitter, it doesn’t automatically mean the food will be great. Often, it just creates unrealistically high expectations.
We booked a table at Bird of Smithfield on a Friday night and after an impromptu walk around the block (damn you Google maps!), we found our way to the restaurant. It’s split over five floors in an old Georgian Townhouse. The bar is on the ground floor with the dining rooms and roof terrace (overlooking Smithfield market) above.
When we eventually arrived, we were warmly greeted and shown up to the first floor dining room. Our waitress read us the specials (steak pudding and wild boar with lentils) but we were still in the dark about the dishes. When we inquired as to how the boar was cooked and which cut of meat it was, she seemed confused and said she’d find out from the kitchen. I assume it was some kind of stew but we’ll never know because she didn’t come back.
Our meal here was unusual because there were three very good dishes and three bad. I think the fairest thing is to group them into two separate menus. I’d call them food heaven and food hell but that’s got too many negative associations these days (sorry James).
- Dorset crab, avocado, sorrel & granary toast
- Loomswood Farm duck, sweet potato & beetroot
- Maldon sea salt caramel and Cru Virunga chocolate crackling pot
Like all the food at Bird of Smithfield, the crab and avocado starter was beautifully presented. When crab is fresh like this, it’s got a lovely sweetness and depth of flavour. For me though, the tastiest part is the brown meat and that was in short supply, with only few spots of it dotted around. Despite this, it was an attractive and well balanced starter.
Duck and beetroot is a classic combination and this was the best dish of the night. As well as the well-seasoned, perfectly pink duck breast, there was also some confit leg meat encased in pastry. It was like eating a duck pasty and it really elevated the dish.
The crackling pot was rich and chocolatey and topped with whipped cream and popping candy. The latter is a bit ‘Masterchef 2011’ but it didn’t detract from the dish so I’ll forgive them. It was served in a teacup and the balance of sweet and salty was just right. There were two chocolate-chip cookies on the side and we definitely couldn’t resist dunking them.
- Crispy Suffolk pork cheeks, bitter leaf salad & green sauce
- Blythburgh pork belly, turnips, apples & watercress
- Rhubarb and Bird’s custard trifle – best thing is the pun
On the menu, the pork cheeks were described as ‘crispy.’ When they came, we realised that this actually meant they were breaded and deep fried. That’s not always a bad thing but these were a little tough and under seasoned.
The most disappointing dish of the evening was the pork belly. This is one of my favourite cuts of meat and I was so looking forward to it. However, as soon as it arrived, I knew that it wasn’t going to be right. The pork had been cut into three slices and (by the look of it) pan-fried to finish. I’ve never eaten dry pork belly before so this was a first. I didn’t even think it was possible to dry out this cut of meat! To make matters worse, there wasn’t a drop of gravy or jus to be seen. Writing this now, I actually regret not sending it back.
We liked the meringue topping on the ‘Bird’s Custard trifle’ but apart from that, the best thing about it was the pun in the title. Considering its name, I find it strange that there was hardly any custard in there. The rhubarb was also too sour and undercooked.
When we look back on disappointing meals, we often wonder if the problem was just that we ordered badly. On the other hand, there really shouldn’t be any bad dishes on the menu.
However, I’m sure most kitchens have off-days from time to time and Bird of Smithfield has only been open since the start of May, so I’m loathed to write it off after only one indifferent experience.
There are some good things to say about the restaurant. The service was friendly and enthusiastic, the food looked great and a lot of it tasted pretty decent too. It’s also a fun place. Having the option to go up onto the roof terrace definitely adds something different and makes it more of an experience. The problem was simply the hit-and-miss nature of the food.
We’ve reached a conclusion. It’s better to spend a little more in the hope of experiencing exceptional food, rather than paying an average price and risk getting something mediocre.
Meal for two including service and a very reasonably priced bottle of merlot – £117.43.
Address: 26 Smithfield St, London, EC1A 9LB
Phone: 020 7559 5100