I won't eat rubbish food. Full stop. Period. But sometimes there are reasons other than a five star rating for visiting a restaurant. The Fox & Anchor public house in London's Smithfield (the meat market district) is one of these.
It's historic. The building dates from 1898 and is Grade II listed – which means that everything is much as it was in Queen Victoria's time. Almost, they've added electric lights and wi-fi. And the beer pumps are up to date.
It's not just that. It used to be one of the very few pubs where open for breakfast. Along with the nearby Hope, it served porters and others in the meat market with breakfast, which could be washed down with a pint (or two, or three) of beer. This made it much sought after when pub opening times were tightly controlled.
Nowhere else served alcohol with breakfast – and you can still get a great English fry-up at the Fox from 7.30am. The full works costs £16.95 for which you get two eggs cooked to your liking, sweet cured bacon, two pork & leek sausages, minute steak, lamb kidney, calves liver, black & white pudding,tomato, mushroom, baked beans, fried bread, and a pint of stout to finish.
It's also nostalgic. It takes me back to the days when pubs were about drinking rather than eating – and the City was full of dark, mysterious dens where brokers and bankers rubbed shoulders with print workers and plumbers. The days before mega bonuses and a sandwich lunch at your desk.
You generally don't need to reserve but some parts of the Fox are better regarded such as the three “snugs” - wooden booths where you can plot in privacy.
The food is good – with generous portions. And it can be wonderfully retro. You can get a prawn cocktail (admittedly with added crab and smoke salmon) but I went for the Buffalo mozarella, Nutbourne farm tomato and melon salad (£7.25) while my co-diner opted for Steak tartare, egg yolk, fried bread and assorted pickles (£8.95). They were both simple – and delicious.
My main course reminded me of the days when I first started working in the City when the height of sophistication was steak and chips. Yes, at £21.95 for the char-grilled Sirloin Steak, chips & peppercorn sauce prices have risen. But so too has the quality. It was mouth-watering.
My friend opted for the beer battered cod, chips & mushy peas at £15.95. Equally good and so filling that neither of us had any room for pudding.
Another reason for the inability to cram in a dessert was our beer consumption. We had a few pints each well into the afternoon – make sure you have plenty of time as this is not a place to rush – of the excellent Young's Special, a bitter brewed a few miles away across the river. There is also a wine list but fans of the Fox pay no attention to that sort of thing!
VERDICT: Wholesome and historic.
The Fox & Anchor 115 Charterhouse Street London EC1M 6AA T: +44(0) 20 7250 1300 E: [email protected]
Nearest station: Farringdon.