A Masterchef Experience

Those that know me well also know of a little skeleton in my closet in that I appeared as a finalist on Masterchef in 2000. This was the “old format” Masterchef, a cosy Sunday teatime experience with Loyd Grossman drawling and drooling his way around three competing amateur chefs. Since the demise of the Loyd show I confess that I’ve never really got on with the newer formats. I think the thrust of it, on the whole, is not as interesting or compelling, and I also don’t particularly like the judges either.

So it was that I found myself at the restaurant of one of the judges, John Torode’s Smiths of Smithfield (http://www.smithsofsmithfield.co.uk/). His restaurant is an interesting concept. Basically the higher up in its three floors you go, the more refined it gets, with the top floor offering fine dining, seas of white linen and top-end wines. Given this was a lunchtime, and therefore I wasn’t going to sampling any of said fine wine, I’d booked the second floor which is like an upper class bistro in menu and ambience. The whole restaurant is cavernous, regardless of floor, with high ceilings and large tables that are well spaced.

It probably goes without saying that there is a lot of meat on the menu, given some of the best butchers and meat wholesalers are just across the road in Smithfield market. But what’s nice about Smiths is that is isn’t just slabs of various cuts of steak but there is a whole variety of different meat dishes, from pigeon to pheasant, pork belly to rack of lamb. And there’s also plenty of fish and seafood too, which I’ve had before and is exceptionally fresh.

On that note I chose grilled sardines on crostini for starter and my guest had scallops. Both were cooked to perfection, well seasoned and obviously very, very fresh. The ribeye we both ordered for main course was outstanding. Clearly well aged, and properly cooked to medium rare – not, as is all to often the case nowadays, undercooked by a nervous grillchef. The chips were fat and crisp and the accompanying mustard mayonnaise was both a surprise and a delight. Although the food was excellent, I did regret playing it safe in the end, and wished I’d had the fish of the day, seabass, having seen portions being delivered to other tables.

What I like about Smiths though is that Torode has managed to combine great ingredients into a well thought-out menu and has used the physical space of the restaurant to achieve a relaxed yet lively environment. I’ve been to Smiths many times and I’ve never, ever seen it empty or quiet. I think that’s a real credit to Torode. He has kept to many of the golden rules that he espouses on his version of Masterchef though – get great ingredients then don’t make it too fussy.

Must stop now, I’m beginning to sound like a Masterchef judge.

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