The Blacksmith & the Toffeemaker

  • Bars and pubs
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Finsbury

The name may sound like a homage to two of Clerkenwell’s ancient trades, but it’s a modern whimsy. What was the Queen Boadicea, and before that the Bull, and before that the New Red Lion – a fine, open corner site with original glazed tiling inside and out – has been renamed after a song by a cult Yorkshire troubadour, the late Jake Thackray. Obscure, perhaps, but it’s a nice name for a pub all the same.

And a straightforward pub this definitely is – not a gastropub, nor a ‘pub and dining room’. The focus is on drink, with a lengthy list of British gins. B&T does a cracking G&T, such as a Hendrick’s with Fentiman’s tonic. There are four real ales, two of which when I visited had made the trip south from the Caley Brewery in Edinburgh.

Food is served, and choices are chalked on a blackboard to keep things simple. The impression that diners are eating in a pub, and not that drinkers are supping in a restaurant, is reinforced by the tables being bare of condiments and cutlery until orders are placed. This is a good thing.

The bar snacks menu is long and hearty, with the likes of sausage rolls, scotch eggs (both quail and hen), onion bhajis and pasties on hand to accompany a pint. The list of larger dishes is brief, but the fish cake we had was an early discus success of 2012, with chunky potato, flaky salmon and crispy breadcrumbs. And a lamb hotpot contained juicy meat that had clearly been slow-cooked for hours.

The B&T’s interior could be a lesson to aspiring refurbishers in how to spruce up licensed premises, introducing modern aspects to keep things interesting, while allowing an old building to retain its charm. Its three rooms have been smartly painted in a sober grey, high ‘sharing’ tables line up in front of the bar, and the rest of the furniture, of course, doesn’t quite match, but not startlingly so. Two fireplaces remain extant, and the also inevitable taxidermy is restricted to a case of sea birds.

Naming a pub after a song recorded by an alcoholic might seem a bit off-colour, but let’s see it as a tribute. And recently, a pub opened not far from here named after that enthusiastic drinker Hunter S Thompson – so maybe it’s a theme. I look forward to a vodka in the Jeffrey Bernard very soon.

Venue name: The Blacksmith & the Toffeemaker
Contact:
Address: 292-294 St John St
London
EC1V 4PA
Opening hours: Open 11am-'late' Mon-Fri; noon-'late' Sat, Sun
Transport: Tube: Angel tube

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Laura

It's so British it hurts and, on top of that, it's also properly trendy and stylish (being on the fringes of Islington, it'd stand out a mile if it wasn't). The Blacksmith and The Toffeemaker is the standard English pub and grub minus the grumpy old men and plus a big dose of speciality spirits. I was told there would be delicious cocktails - Kammerling is a ginseng spirit, and can be mixed to make something called an Adam and Eve - and classy British food. Yeah, it helps that they're down the road from some of the poshest restaurants and bars in London, but they're still out of the way enough to have proper old-fashioned pub quizzes and the occasional live music night - just like a real pub. They make some of the biggest and best pork pies, scotch eggs and quiche (okay, it might not sound English, but it definitely came from here) in the known world. We challenge any pub kitchen to turn out more food as dainty but filling as The Blacksmith and The Tofeemaker.