Forget peanuts and a packet of a crisps – we bring you six superior snacks available in the City
Frightening as it may sound, a pub snack a decade or so ago in London usually involved making the following culinary decisions: ‘cheese and onion or ready salted, mate?’ Or possibly, at a push, ‘dry roasted or salted, darlin’? For reasons of sensitivity and taste we won’t even mention scampi fries in this publication. Fast forward to 2017 and the Square Mile’s pubs and bars are at the forefront of the fast growing realisation that salt and starch may suffice with a pint of cheap lager. But if you’re imbibing on killer cocktails, craft ales and organic wines then perhaps the concomitant tiffin should be made with a little more effort and love. Here’s half a dozen superior snacks that may just have the potential to kill off the peanut brigade for good...
Smithfield Market board, Fox and Anchor, EC1
Tucked away down a side street a throwing distance from the cavernous halls of Smithfield Market, the Fox and Anchor is the kind of pub Orwell dreamed of in his Moon Under Water essay, in which he pondered the dream English boozer. Pewter tankards, jars of pickled onions, slate floors and Edwardian tiles, the only major concession to modernity here is in the food. The Smithfield platter is a handsome beast indeed.
A wooden platter (naturally) festooned with a golden sausage roll, pork pie, scotch egg, pigs in blankets and curried mayo, this is a gargantuan snack that can make even the most metropolitan liberal come across all patriotic. If you can find a better old-school pub than this in the City, then please us know immediately…
Ibérico pork burgers with pickled cucumber and saffron, The Don, EC4
This long-standing City temple to classic French cuisine and vintage port retains its old-school Gaelic credibility but change is afoot at the bar menu at least. Concessions to modernity here could be unpleasant in a ‘Banksy in the Louvre’ way, but the array of bar snacks are surprisingly deft and delicate.
The Ibérico pork burgers, here served with pickled cucumber and saffron aioli are a coquettish ensemble of layers and flavours that should enable you to still have room for a couple of its salt cod beignets and its Padrón peppers with Maldon salt.
Chicken poutine, Hawksmoor Spitalfields, E1
The original Commercial St branch of Hawksmoor has, for a decade now, been serving British steaks so juicy, flavourful and pink that it could make even the most avowed Texan carnivore rip off his Stetson and spurs and replace it with a flat cap and tweed combo. The basement bar has enough brown leather booths, marble tiles and battered copper surfaces to make Don Draper feel at home after a hard day’s drinking at Sterling Cooper.
The bar snack menu is short but perfectly formed, the highlight being a take on the Canadian drunk food classic of poutine. Usually made with cheese curds, gravy and fries, here, tender strips of chicken breast are slathered all over what is, hands down, the messiest, and most more-ish, cocktail accompaniment in the Square Mile.
Grilled sourdough and bone marrow, Pitt Cue, Devonshire Square, EC2
London may have reached ‘peak BBQ’ mania a few years back, but Pitt Cue’s Devonshire Square branch still packs in the crowds, chiefly due to Tom Adam’s and Jamie Berger’s continued adherence to the ‘slow and low’ cooking techniques learned the hard way via their humble beginnings in a food truck.
Bar snacks here are brief and to the point, so there’s no threat of appetite wrecking with the bone marrow and grilled sourdough; a pared down offal classic in the St. John mould with a blistered crust and marrow that is at once light and yet bursting with unapologetic blowsy richness. Dude food has seldom grown up as well as this.
Kimchi pancakes, Threadneedle bar, EC3
Blur your eyes a little from the vantage point of the Threadneedle Bar, perched on the upper level of the Royal Exchange building overlooking the Grand Café, and you could almost be in New York’s Grand Central station. It’s a little less frenetic here, though, with butterscotch-coloured leather seats and stools, amber coloured reading lamps and some seriously gentrified bar snacks.
Kimchi pancakes may sound prosaic, but this Korean staple comes in tight, beautifully coarse, spicy discs, the pickled cabbage giving off just the right umami tingle to the taste buds. An honourable mention to its pulled pork tacos too, bursting at the seams of the perfectly brittle tortilla with velvety piggy goodness.
Clonakilty black pudding scotched quail eggs, Silk & Grain, EC3
The gap between bar snacks and a full meal in terms of portion sizes is becoming hard to deduce, nowhere more so than at Silk & Grain where, frankly, ordering more than three bar snacks renders dinner impossible for most appetites. The rams’ heads on the wall and the retro booths give clues to the meaty, masculine direction Silk & Grain takes to the Bank crowd and its bar snacks are as delicious as they are uncompromising.
Vegetarians really do need to run for cover when the ‘sausage pan’ of free range bangers with sourdough and mustard hits the table. Yet it’s the scotched quail eggs, served with dollops of plum and apple chutney that really hit home, gamey, sinewy and utterly oblivious to health and restraint. Glorious.