* The Fox & Anchor: one of Resource’s Top 12 London Hotels
Carnivore extraordinaire and Art Director of The Slow Journalism Company’s Delayed Gratification, Christian Tate heads to Smithfield meat market for a tankard of local ale, a plate of meat and a night in a fine room above the inn.
When Resource asked me to take a trip to the Fox & Anchor I was a little more than excited – not only because I’d heard great things and read great reviews about the pub, but because of one very important factor: location, location, location. The Fox & Anchor, you see, is situated in London’s Smithfield, a stone’s throw from the area’s famous meat market where traders have bought and sold meat for over 800 years. The market was once on the periphery of London – on ‘Smooth Field’ just outside the city walls. Centuries of development and expansion have seen London spill out of its original boundaries and engulf the area, and though cattle may no longer graze on the banks of the river Fleet (now an enclosed sewer), Smithfield still retains its raison d’être – to supply meat to the metropolis. So, as an unashamed carnivore, my stay at the Fox & Anchor is underscored by an expectation that there will be meat, there will be lots of it, and that the meat will be very, very good – I am not to be disappointed.
Now I should also mention that I am to stay the night at the pub – it’s a point I hadn’t really thought about before my arrival, having been more than a little preoccupied by the possibility of a hearty meat-based meal. Smithfield is not an area that I’d ever considered staying in before – but the location has a lot more to offer than exceptional access to meat. With the tourist-traps of St Paul’s Cathedral and Tate Modern at a leisurely walking distance to the south, Covent Garden and the West End a bus ride away to the west, Sadler’s Wells and Islington to the north and the Barbican Centre and City of London on the doorstep to the east, Smithfield is in something of a sweet spot when it comes to London’s attractions. Indeed that spot is all the sweeter thanks to the market’s influence – a strange bubble where past, present and future London collide. Smithfield is a living, breathing, working mix of heritage, tradition and contemporary London life where market traders hauling carcasses at 4am mix with revellers falling out of famed London club Fabric, Victorian pubs that open at 7am sit side-by-side with slick modern bars, watched over by the majestic dome of St Paul’s and the brutalist concrete towers of the Barbican Centre.
It’s this fantastic mix of the traditional and contemporary that the Fox & Anchor also embodies. The building itself is a glorious green and taupe-tiled Victorian creation, dark mahogany panelling and a copper-topped bar encircle you as you make your way into the narrow serving area – so far so traditional. But, as I make my way upstairs (via my own separate outside entrance) I find myself in a large, modern, airy interior which wouldn’t look out of place in a New York loft. The suite is cosy and contemporary with an occasional traditional touch such as the huge metal roll-top bath and matching sinks, it feels luxurious and has everything you would expect from a top London hotel suite – with the added bonus of being above a lovely pub.
As I make my way downstairs to meet my dining companion I can’t help but wonder where we could possibly be eating – the narrow bar area has a few tables positioned along the right-hand wall, but all seem to be occupied. As I ponder this over a pint – a delicious honey-coloured Camden pale ale served in a pewter tankard – it soon becomes clear that there is more to the Fox & Anchor than first meets the eye. At last my companion arrives and, eager to eat, we are guided to our table, negotiating a labyrinth of wood-panelled private and semi-private nooks, alcoves and rooms at the rear of the pub – it’s a magical space, a candlelit Victorian backdrop lending character and an air of intrigue to the atmosphere, and a certain anticipation about what is to come.
I go for bone marrow on toast to start, with my fellow diner choosing a seafood bucket stacked with succulent pink prawns, scarlet crayfish and crab claws. The bone marrow is rich and tasty, a generous portion which leaves me wondering if I haven’t quite literally bitten off more than I can chew, particularly considering the smoked bacon chop and mash that’s to follow. I bravely persevere with the main course, a hearty bottle of 2004 Malbec helping to wash down a truly magnificent cut of meat. My companion’s choice of slow-cooked lamb with roasted vegetables and Port gravy elicits more than a little food-envy from myself – thankfully he obligingly offers up the tantalisingly tender meat, seductively sweet carrots and rich ruby gravy to taste – just for completeness, of course. We are both thoroughly stuffed by the last forkful and can’t even contemplate ordering dessert, but after a suitable break (there’s no hurry here) and a gently encouraging recommendation from our waitress, we opt to share the Eton Mess. Divine.
So as my dinner guest merrily staggers off into the night I retire to the bar to drink in the atmosphere – and a cheeky glass of Port. It’s a curious mix of patrons here: cocksure City boys in suits splashing the cash, wide-eyed foreigners off the beaten tourist track, wise old local traders spinning a yarn and young fashionable fops supping at tankards with a knowing wink – a Dickensian tableau with a true 21st century twist.
I squeeze past the smokers – and singers – outside and climb the stairs to my room a happy man. The next morning, having slept – and showered – for far longer than I should have, I experience the first disappointment of my stay: that I’m very, very late for work! I hurriedly drop off my key downstairs and, with great reluctance, decline the offer of a full English breakfast.
The Fox & Anchor is a gorgeous place to stay, the luxury and modernity of a boutique hotel with the traditional atmosphere and friendly ambiance that you only get with a real old-fashioned London pub. Smithfield may not be the obvious choice, but if you want to experience a slice of authentic living, breathing London heritage, with all that the Capital has to offer on your doorstep then this is the place to be. Or if, like me, you’re a bit of a carnivore, just drop in for an unmissable meal with some great cuts of meat and seasonal ingredients. I’ll certainly be back for that breakfast – early morning pint optional.
Fox & Anchor, 115 Charterhouse Street, Smithfield, London, EC1M 6AA
Tel: +44 207 250 1300, www.foxandanchor.com
See Resource’s Top 12 London Hotels feature in full here.