On our trip to the U.K. for Naim Audio training, we finished up on Friday and had planned on flying back to North America on Saturday. However, we found that if each of us - eight of us in total - flew out on Saturday it would cost our company upwards in the area $10,000 more than if we spent a night in London at a hotel, had a couple nice meals and then flew out on Sunday. Leaving it up to my colleague Ian to find us a place to eat that evening, he picked out a winner in the Wapping neighborhood of London along the River Thames - Smith's Restaurant.
Since 1958, Smith's Restaurant has been synonymous with great food and "famous for fish". Mike Tavener and Darren Leitsch purchased the Smith's Brasserie in Ongar, Essex - north and east of London - in 2007. Famous regulars of the Smith's Brasserie location in Ongar included David and Victoria Beckham, as well as Rod Stewart. Tavener had longed to put a second restaurant along the River Thames in central London. As a boy, he used to sit in a pub with his parents along the Thames having lunch and looking out over the river.
Tavener bought a building that used to house Smollensky's Bar and Grill at Cinnebar Wharf along the Thames in 2009. It's walking distance to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge and offered great views of the bridge, the contemporary Shard high-rise, and Butler's Wharf. Executive Chef Stephen Bard had trained at Scott's Restaurant in Mayfair and was the head chef at the J. Sheekey seafood restaurant in the Charing Cross area of central London before coming over to Smith's Restaurant. The first patrons at the new Smith's Restaurant in Wapping were served on May 4, 2011.
Because of the popularity of the restaurant, we were unable to get a reservation any earlier than 8:45 in the evening. It was about a 10 minute cab ride from our hotel on London's east end to the restaurant. From the outside the restaurant was pretty non-descript. But walking into the place told another story.
The inside was very contemporary with a large wine selection inside a glass-enclosed case to the left as you walked into the entrance hallway. The hallway emptied into a small bar area.
A few steps up from the bar was the dining area. Sleek and cozy, the dining area faced the Thames with an outdoor dining patio just beyond the windows. The day had been a combination of rain and sunshine and the patio was closed for the evening.
As we sat down at a large rectangular table next to a large window looking west, one of my colleagues remarked, "Holy cow! Look at that view!" Just up river from Smith's Restaurant was the Tower Bridge, the ultra sleek skyscraper known as the Shard, along with a number of wharfs across the river. The sun was peeking out above the horizon as the clouds were beginning to move out for the night. It was a spectacular sight.
It was so spectacular that a number of us went outside to take pictures along a railing above the Thames. The scene with the back lit Tower Bridge and the contrast of the sunlight and the gray clouds, along with the contrast of the old wharfs with the Shard looming in the background made for a once in a lifetime shot. I took four or five photos of the scene hoping that at least one of them came out.
Gathering back inside the restaurant, we settled down and began to look through the menu that Smith's had to offer that evening. Seafood was the main focus, but there were also steaks, cornish hen, chicken, lamb and duck entrees on the menu. They also had a number of tempting appetizers on the menu, as well. We decided we'd start off with a few appetizers, get some wine ordered and then go from there.
The wine list wasn't overly extensive featuring a number of white and red wines - more white's than red's because of the seafood focus on the menu. But our group all loves big hearty red wines - even with seafood. My colleague Ian picked out a Spanish rioja wine from the Soligamar winery. It had great body and was a very meaty red.
We ordered a number of items - onions rings and calamari with an outrageously great garlic mayonnaise were two of the items that were shared at the table. But some of us ordered individual appetizers. My colleague Todd order the oysters on the half-shell. Big and meaty, the oysters were some of the largest I've seen. However, Todd - playing the "top this" game told us of hand-sized oysters that he ate during a visit to his parent's home on Prince Edward Island earlier this year. He offered one of the oysters to me, knowing my penchant for a good oyster and I'll have to say they were very good.
But I ordered the best appetizer of the evening - the John Ross Jr. oak-smoked Scottish salmon. Actually, I didn't know how much I would be getting but when the waiter brought out a plate covered with thinly cut, but wide slabs of smoked salmon - well, it looked like it could have been a main entree. And the taste - oh my GOD!!! I love good smoked salmon sushi, but this was a taste that was unlike any I've had before. The salmon had a good smoky taste, but not overpowering. It literally melted on my tongue. There was a lot of it, so I offered a number of my dinner partners a little piece of it. Had I not been intrigued with a couple things on the menu, I would have seriously considered getting another plate.
For dinner, I got the lemon sole in butter garlic sauce with a side of grilled scallops topped with a lobster sauce. I also got a side of the chips (steak fries) and asked the waiter if he could bring out a side of the outrageously great garlic herb mayonnaise to dip the fries into. The fries on their own were very good - excellent, as a matter of fact. It was the third straight night-time meal where the chips were outstanding. They really know how to make a great steak fry in the U.K. They were NOTHING like I've ever had in the U.S. And with the garlic mayo dipping sauce, it made the fries even more sinful than they were.
Here I am - carrying on about the chips like they were the highlight of the meal. Thankfully, they were not. The lemon sole was light and flaky with a wonderful citrus taste. The lobster sauce was a nice complement to the fish. And the scallops were good sized, meaty and had an excellent butter-grilled crust on the outside. This was simply and awesome meal.
Speaking of lobster, one of my colleagues got the 1.5 pound lobster. The body was cracked open and the claws were cracked for easy access. It looked very good. My colleague said it was superb.
Across the table from me, one of my colleagues got the Scottish Highland beef filet with a side of the peppercorn sauce. It came with a grilled tomato - I found that to be a staple with steak dishes in the U.K. - and it came with field mushrooms and watercress. The steaks at Smith's Restaurant are aged 28 days before serving. My colleague thought it rivaled steaks he's had in the U.S.
Below left is - I believe - the Scottish Highland prime sirloin steak that one of the guys got. It featured tender pieces of beef with an au jus sauce drizzled over the top. It, too, looked pretty damned good.
My colleague John was seated next to me and he had probably the best idea of the evening. Since it was getting late in the evening, John didn't want a big meal. He asked our server if he could just have a North Atlantic white fish - and that's it. The waiter suggested a grilled cod topped with a lemon butter sauce. When it was set in front of him, John said, "This is perfect! This is all I need!" I leaned over to him when he was about halfway through the fish and asked how it was. "This is excellent," he said matter of factly. "This is awesome fish."
I was pretty full from dinner, but some of the guys wanted to get dessert. My colleague Todd spied profiteroles on the dessert menu. He was going nuts that they had profiteroles. I had never heard of them. Immediately, Todd and my colleague Ian chastised me for not knowing about profiteroles. It was like I crawled out from under a rock in their eyes.
Profiteroles are a French pastry that is basically a creme puff in the U.S., only much smaller. They're filled with either ice cream, whipped cream or a pastry cream. The ones at Smith's Restaurant were filled with real whipped cream and rolled in powdered sugar. The profiteroles were then drizzled with a chocolate sauce and served with strawberry slices. Todd offered me one and I have to say the richness of the deep fried puff filled with the whipped cream was almost intoxicating. Todd and Ian were continuing to harangue me. "I can't believe you've NEVER had these before in France," Ian said. When I get dessert when I'm in France, it's usually creme brulee. That's probably why I'd never noticed profiteroles on the menu before. (In France they're known as choux à la crème.)
This was simply a Top Ten meal in my book. The setting along the River Thames, the stunning views from the restaurant, the smart and elegant decor, the top-notch service and the excellent food made Smith's Restaurant one of my most memorable restaurant experiences. More than three months after my visit, I still have tremendous memories of the place and will put it down as one of the all-time best seafood restaurants that I've ever been to