I am prone to bouts of serious unobservedness. So by the time I heard that the old Smithfield market pub, the Fox and Anchor, had been revamped by the guys from the near-by Malmaison the place had already been open for a couple of months. Still, in this case it was defintiely a case of better late than never. The spruce up helps show off the original decor to great effect -- the domineering old dark wood counter, the decorative glass pannels, the little nooks and crannies. They now offer rooms above the pub, but have kept up the tradition of breakfasts from 7 am. There's a changing selection of real ales on tap (around £3), which are served in pewter tankards (though in reality this is slightly less cool, as there's a gentle taste of metal and you can't easily see how much head there is on your pint). The menu is short, starring a tempting array of British classics, and there are specials on the blackboard.
Food-wise the standout was the beef and oyster pie (£10.95) - melt-in-the-mouth chunks of slow cooked meat in a rich, plentiful gravy, topped with a crisp duvet of puff pastry and served (I am guessing this is some kind of bizarre English tradition) with a couple of oysters. The meat, apparently comes from Ginger Pig (lauded by everyone from mutton-loving Prince Charles to Jay Rayner), and the thick chips are fried in goose fat and come in funky little cones. The steak tartare looked really cool, served on wooden boards and topped with an orange yolk. I thought the seasoning was perfect, but the husband deemed it not hot enough (luckily they provided Tabasco as a remedy). The juices from the real, non-dried wild mushrooms had beautifully soaked through into the accompanying toast (£4.95).
There are a few quibbles, of course. The bread is a bit of a disappointment, the steak with a duck egg from the specials board was very lacklustre, the TV screens are an unnecessary distraction (though bonus points for showing a black and white, silent farce!) and being within spitting distance of the city the place is to full of suits to feel like a real local...
But we went back for a second visit within a week of our first one, so I think it's fair to say we are smitten!
The Fox and Anchor, 115 Charterhouse St, EC1M 6AA; Tel. 020 72501300; Tube: Farringdon or Barbican; www.foxandanchor.co.uk