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The Blacksmith & the Toffeemaker

Bars and pubs Clerkenwell
3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(3user reviews)

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Please note, The Blacksmith & The Toffeemaker now serves a fully vegan food menu. Time Out Editors, January 2018.

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.



Address: 292-294 St John St
Transport: Tube: Angel tube
Opening hours: Open 11am-'late' Mon-Fri; noon-'late' Sat, Sun
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Users say (3)

4 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

3.5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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It's everything you want from a vegan pub: hearty food, specialty rums and gins, cosy rooms, a handful of board games, and even a pub dog sniffing around for leftovers. 


Lob a jack fruit in any direction right now and chances are it'll hit a vegan restaurant upon landing which means that a) London is having the finest time imaginable for plant-based dining and b) if you're going to serve an entirely meat-free menu, it had better be a good one. The impossible burger is currently having its moment in the sun - it looks like meat, smells like meat and 'bleeds' like meat - and people like Gizzie Erskine have moved vegan junk food on considerably over the last year with ventures such as 'Pure Filth' so the Blacksmith & Toffeemaker is in good company with its menu of vegan burgers & sandwiches. Five minutes walk from Angel station, it's also in good company location-wise with vegetarian stalwart The Gate and gluten-free Niche also close by.

Visiting for the first time on a bright & crisp Saturday lunchtime, the place was empty save for one other couple browsing the menu. Equal parts funky and minimal, it's hard to tell if the absence of people was due to the lemony sunshine outside or the fact that while the welcome was warm, the place itself is quite tired inside. I'm a big believer in independent places having their own vibe but in a city where appearance undeniably plays a part in most decision making, it could be challenging to compete against places with a slicker finish. It feels a little like an old man's pub that decided to knock out some food one day as an after-thought.

Two burgers, three sandwiches, a pasta and some sides make up the food on offer with a sole dessert flag being flown by a perfectly-autumnal-sounding banana, cinnamon & date bread pudding. Sadly, this little piggie gorged on the crispiest, vivid yellow polenta fries so there was no room at the inn on this occasion for what sounded like the most comforting of custard-laden hugs in a bowl. 

The Nashville hot seitan burger was deceptive to the eye and the taste-bud; visually, it would have been hard to score it much above a 5 with its slightly dry looking patty sandwiched between a pretty dry looking bun, that was bare save for a slick of 'mayonnaise' and a few green leaves & pickles. In a world of drippy, oozy burgers, this did appear to have been forgotten about the day those adjectives were handed out however, when sliced and chomped into, it was a different story with a surprisingly soft texture producing a well-rounded and nicely spiced flavour. The moistness of the seitan alleviated any concerns about it being dry and claggy although there is a shorter, crumblier texture that will might unusual to the more carnivorous members of your party.

A chuna-melt using chickpeas as the base for the fake fish was slightly less successful in the flavour department. The bread used for both sandwiches was huge - FYI, the portions are very generous so bear this in mind when ordering and maybe go with an elasticated waistband when dressing in the morning - and while the filling was soft & yielding, there really wasn't any fish flavour at all and the whole thing was overwhelming in volume rather than taste. A seitan chorizo, jalapeno & refried bean sandwich packed an almighty punch of heat but again, there was hardly any texture to the fillings which melded together and that was my main disappointment with the dishes overall. There was flavour for sure but apart from the crispy toasted bread, there was little to distinguish between the 'meat' and the 'cheese' and the sauces. 

Sides fared somewhat better with those golden polenta fries crispy edged & fluffy centred and a serving of 'mozzarella' sticks impressively molten and silky inside a crunchy brown crumb, perfect for swiping through an accompanying marinara sauce. Value wise, you get a lot for your money here at around £15 a head for a main, side & drink and I applaud the idea of taking a lovely old building and turning into the most bang-on-trend of eateries but if you eat with your eyes first, then there's work needs to be done and after a few bites, the lack of separate textures would probably drive me back into the arms of nearby competitors such as Mildred's.

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.

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