John Torode is a talented chef, and very watchable on the telly. His new Smiths in Spitalfields unfortunately exposes his Achilles heel: no eye for design.
Unlike the original Smiths (of Smithfield), with its open-plan, Manhattan-loft-style rooms, this Grade II-listed building is a difficult site. The kitchen runs through the middle, which on the first-floor dining rooms means tables set around the sides of an enormous central column. A decent space planner could turn this into a strength, carving up the corridors to create nooks, crannies and cosiness. Instead, we felt a draught from the door, and had to look at walls in corporate greys and browns. It was like eating in a tunnel.
It’s a pity, because the cooking isn’t bad. The menu sticks with the ‘meaty’ leanings of its Smithfield sibling, but with a more casual outlook. We enjoyed a tumble of salad leaves, slabs of gamey wood pigeon, morsels of darkly moreish black pudding, and two halves of a perfectly judged quail scotch egg. A main course of skin-on Indian chicken may have been on the polite end of the spice spectrum, but featured plenty of moist, fragrant meat. Rump steak was full of flavour and came with chunky chips. For the suited Alpha Males of the Square Mile, it’ll fit the expense account bill.
This is Torode’s second stab at this site (his chicken restaurant on this location, The Luxe, felt just as odd). If you ever relaunch it again, Mr T, I beg you, hire a proper space planner. I hear Sarah Beeny lives in your neck of the woods – you could even ask her.