Bird of Smithfield, named after its owner Alan Bird, opened in April 2013. Mr Bird was formerly chef director of Caprice Holdings, and was executive chef of the Ivy for almost 19 years, until the end of 2009. The restaurant is a multi-storey affair, spread over five levels including a roof terrace of a Georgian town house overlooking Smithfield market. The menu is British, with staples such as fish and chips and steak and kidney pie. Starters ranged in price from £9 to £15, main courses £15 to £38 with side dishes at £3.50, and desserts £6 to £8. Mr Bird was not around at the particular service when I visited.
The wine list had just under 50 choices ranging in price for £19 to £233 and a median price of £47. Example labels included Viognier Domaine Montmarin 2012 at £25 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £8, Crittenden Chardonnay 2009 for £49 compared to a shop price of £30, and Durfort Vivens 2001 at £105 for a wine that retails at £42.
The first floor dining room was simple but quite cosy, with jazz playing in the background. Bread is bought in from Flourish in Islington, and the sourdough loaf had good texture, served warm (14/20). A starter of crab and avocado with sorrel lacked much flavour, the crab not having the sweetness that it should have, the dish under-seasoned (11/20). Mackerel was served in three ways: seared, soused and as a tartare, with beetroot, apple and rhubarb. The vegetables were OK but the mackerel did not appear to be very fresh given its lack of flavour, and the soused element was overly sour (10/20).
Fish and chips brought the meat to safer ground, the fish cooked through well, the batter reasonably crisp; chips were not the best I have tried but were pleasant enough (13/20). Goosnargh spring chicken was served with girolles and wild garlic, and was cooked properly, though the bird did not have a great deal of flavour, while the mushrooms were a bit limp, and the edible flower as garnish seemed odd (just about 12/20). A Bramley apple and blackberry pie was better, served with rhubarb and custard ripple ice cream. This had decent pastry and a pleasant level of sharpness from the Bramleys (13/20).
The food service was perfectly competent, though ordering the wine proved rather surreal. I spotted a particular wine that I wanted and ordered that via the waiter that took our food order. A little later what I presume was the wine waiter appeared and said “ why don’t you try this wine instead?” pointing to a significantly more expensive bottle on the list. Er, no, I explained that I would quite like the wine that I ordered. He went away, and then came back with a completely different bottle of wine again: “how about this one?”. I assume that they had somehow mislaid the one I wanted, but this was never actually stated, and we ended up drinking a pleasant New Zealand Pinot Noir instead. I suppose this little exchange served to pass the time while the starters were prepared.
The bill came to £40 a head for the food (on later reflection it seems the wine disappeared from the bill, so I given up trying to understand the vagaries of the beverage service). With a modest shared bottle of wine a typical bill for three courses and coffee would come in at about £60 a head. Overall I wanted to like Bird of Smithfield more than I did. The room had a nice atmosphere, the menu was appealing and the service, wine aside, was capable, but the cooking was inconsistent. Any restaurant where the bought-in bread is the best item is just not trying hard enough.