Smith's Restaurant Review, Wapping, East London

December 11, 2015

Smith's Restaurant, Wapping
Sunset over Wapping

Since around 6,100BC, when the Storegga landslides in what is now Norway caused an almighty tsunami, Britain has been an island.  Yet, while such (literal) insularity has bred a nation of seafarers, explorers, merchants and conquerors, the Bear’s humble opinion has been that this maritime tradition is not adequately reflected in the classic British repertoire of seafood dishes.  Sure, we eat a lot of fish, but it is not central to our food culture.  Barring a few honourable exceptions, and outside of such outposts as the Hebrides, our food culture views fish as a starter (smoked salmon; oysters), a snack (seafood sticks; whelks) or a takeaway option (fish and chips).  While the Bear obviously loves all of these, there’s something a bit strange about an island nation – and a small one, at that – which sees fish as somehow ancillary or subordinate.  Compare this with, for example, Portugal – another great European seafaring nation – where fish really is king.

So a great seafood restaurant in London is always something to be celebrated and cherished, not only because it is nice to eat fish and nice to go to restaurants, but because the sea is so much a part of who we are.  And Smith’s does some excellent fish.  There’s meat on the menu too, but the emphasis really is on surf rather than turf.

The Bear’s starters were nothing to write home about.  A duck and chicory salad came, and was duly despatched, but to little fanfare.  Prawn cocktail was fine and there was plenty of it – but it wasn’t an awful lot better than what was probably on offer to the Bear’s parents the first time they went to a Berni Inn.

But the mains really, really were top drawer.  Guernsey skate with brown butter and capers was creamy, rich, meaty, just the right amount of salty, and fell off the bone.  And there was loads of it.  The Bear, despite being in a nice restaurant, thought nothing of picking up the carcass and licking the bones dry.  A plaice fillet with seafood butter was crispy, meaty, and quite supremely oleaginous.  Again, loads of the stuff.  Great fish, and no reason to believe that the other options on the menu – salmon, gurnard and seabass – wouldn’t have tickled the Bear’s tastebuds in a similar fashion.

A two-course set menu of such choice, generosity, and evident quality, for £29, right on the river, is something that is obviously worth doing more than once.  Perhaps the Bear just chose the wrong starters, which isn’t really Smith’s fault.  And Smith’s quite clearly has its regulars.  When the Bear went, there was a healthy contingent of families and older couples in the place, who were clearly not at their first rodeo.  Sure, the service could have been better – dishes were plonked down on the table without so much as a smile or an explanation as to what they were, and the cloakroom attendant did not deem it appropriate to say either hello or goodbye.  The restaurant also called earlier in the day and the Bear had to confirm it was going to turn up, and called again when the Bear was ten minutes late for its reservation.  No.  Just no.  But perhaps they were just having a bad day, and the experiences of other reviewers (and the fact that people keep going back to Smith’s) would suggest the Bear’s experience was not a typical one.  In any case, it would be peevish for the Bear to regard such tribulations as anything more than mere trifles, when it ate such good fish, at such a reasonable price.

Smith's Restaurant, Wapping
Our duck starter
Smith's Restaurant, Wapping
Prawn cocktail hour

Smith's Restaurant, Wapping
Smell the butter

22 Wapping High Street, London E1W 1NJ – (020) 7488 3456

[Also at Fyfield Road, Ongar, Essex CM5 0AL – (01277) 365578]

Square Meal

Smith's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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