Bird of Smithfield: Mostly on-song (January 2014)

Let’s face it, Smithfield Market is a fairly uninspiring location, ugly buildings and somewhat a no-man’s land, not quite in the City-proper or in funky Shoreditch. Yet, there is an established hub of good eating options around here and Alan Bird’s eponymous restaurant is a broadly welcome addition. The building in which it is housed, on the south side of the market, has been completely refitted since the previous occupant’s time and both the exterior Georgian façade and the interior, decked out in a high modernist style (1920s and 1930s mirrors, light fittings and stunningly beautiful original art work) impress. The somewhat decadent mood is also enhanced by the upbeat jazz music that reverberates through the whole building. The dining room is on the first floor, but there is also the option of a bar with a lighter menu available via a separate entrance on the ground floor and a roof-top terrace for warmer times. Bird’s menu pays homage not only to his training at The Ivy, but also to the proximity of the local meat market, and comes across as traditional English with a slightly modern twist. We liked the touch of a whole and still-warm loaf brought to our table before ordering and the food only got better from there. Both my eel starter with mackerel tartare and my main of slow-cooked pork belly with braised cheeks were beautifully presented and the tastes could be described almost as sensuous and melt-in-the-mouth lovely. My two comrades were equally impressed with their options, in particular the chef’s ‘posh’ Shepherd’s Pie. However, prices are not cheap, even in a London context, with no starters available below £10 and the most dear main (a halibut fillet) peaking-out at £30, although this was somewhat offset by a more competitive wine list. The list tended to border on the traditional, but there were some more interesting options available from the US in particular, and we enjoyed our bottle of Fleurie, priced around £30. Service was good but by no means stand-out. As we left, I wondered why the place was only half-full: maybe the location, or perhaps the pouring rain (but then, we had booked in advance), or even the prices. On food, Bird certainly deserves to prosper, but whether it will endure in London’s market of already crowded dining options remains to be seen.