The Cocktail Trading Company in Smithfields
There are no signs, no outward indication anything of note is even there. Yet hidden in the corner of this packed restaurant, there lies a narrow staircase so inconspicuous it’s almost missable. And this isn’t 1920s Chicago – it’s a stone’s throw from Smithfields meat market, in the heart of London.
The second branch of the highly successful Cocktail Trading Company, this remarkable little bar somehow manages to be even better than its predecessor, combining old-fashioned charms with an incredibly intimate space. Its deep, muted palette speaks of members only clubs, all dark wood and sophistication. The bare concrete and sloppily painted walls tell a different tale, hinting at something a little more rough and ready, cobbled together to serve those escaping the tyrannies of prohibition. It actually feels like a speakeasy, albeit one with some curiously framed photos of old Daily Mails, and of Churchill.
It’s a place where tradition meets creativity, as is soon evident from the cocktail list. We start safe, opting for a Ford Cocktail. With a fair amount of innovative and, in some cases, downright wacky drinks on offer, a relatively tame offering like this is often a good indication of the staff’s skill. Made from Ford’s gin, dry Vermouth, Bénédictine and bitters, it is, strictly speaking, a Cabaret. There is something different about this though, something about the measurements that’s more like a dry martini with a twist. Elegant, simple and refreshing, it’s one of those drinks that doesn’t needlessly stray too far from tradition.
Which is more than can be said for many of the other offerings, the amusingly named Citizen Kane being one of the one chief examples. A cheeky nod to the iconic scene from Welles’ classic, it consists of an upturned globe, filled with cocktail, a flurry of coconut “snow” and a small model of Big Ben in the centre. It’s visually breathtaking, a brief whirl of liquid and coconut that’s soon upturned to reveal a cocktail of Cachaça, cardamom and vanilla infusion, lime juice and sauvignon blanc. It tastes as good as it looks, a sweet affair where coconut and vanilla dominate, their sweetness prevented from being cloying by the citrus and white wine. Our only criticism is that the cardamom, a delightful if difficult ingredient, seems only to lend mild citrusy notes and little else. If it were only a little stronger, this could be a truly excellent drink.
Snapper’s Delight finishes us up, and it’s a delightfully weird conclusion. Served in a squeezy ketchup bottle, with “fries” and a gherkin, it really does look like something that has been plucked from an American diner. A fusion of bourbon, chili and peach jam, lemon juice and ginger, it is a punchy yet surprisingly deep cocktail made all the better by its accompaniments. Solo, it would have been good, but a bout of odd genius sees it paired with salt and vinegar chipsticks. The punchy cocktail and sour crisps bounce off each other perfectly, elevating this from a great drink to an absolute must-try.
Special mention must go to the staff. Table service is in effect here, which is essential for such an intimate venue. Staff diligently monitor tables needing their next order without hovering incessantly, as is so often the downfall of such a method. The bar staff themselves are informative, charming and enthusiastic, their obvious love for the job and for their drinks coming through at every turn.
Creating a speakeasy in a grey street outside Smithfields market is not an easy task, yet here it feels effortless. From the brilliant drinks to the intimate venue to the excellent staff, everything just works. It’s the kind of place where you can genuinely leave all your troubles at the door and be lost in the fantasy of it all. In a city as hectic and demanding as London, bars like that are few and far between.
★★★★★Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
To book a table at The Cocktail Trading Company, 50-52 Long Lane Smithfields London EC1A 9EJ, call 0207 427 6097 or enquire here.