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Beer and breakfast in Smithfield, The FT Magazine

‘…burly, shaven-headed and looking, in his shorts and knee-length smock, like a Bruegel yeoman.’

It was 6.45am on a cool, blue-skied morning in the City of London. As the financial markets woke up, Smithfield Market quietened down. Butchers tidied sausages, chops and football-sized jars of pickle on trestle tables. White-overalled porters in health-and-safety trilbies trundled meat to vans. It was time for the pub.

Opposite the market’s purple and green Gate 16 is the Cock Tavern, open to all from 6am. It is a comfortable, basement pub: low ceiling, wooden floor, long curving bar, cream walls hung with black and white market photographs and traders’ red and gold signs – M.L. Offals Ltd, G. & E. Meat Ltd.

Butchers talked loudly at the bar or slim tables, relaxing after a hard day’s night. One strode in, burly, shaven-headed and looking, in his shorts and knee-length smock, like a Bruegel yeoman. Quieter City types sat over alcohol-free breakfasts.

With worrying ease, I drank a 7.00 am pint of Wells Bombardier bitter and read the lengthy menu. The breakfasts, and many and varied lunchtime steaks, are the work of Carmen Leslie, the tavern’s chef for 38 years.

How about grilled kippers, or smoked haddock and a poached egg? Why not compile your own breakfast: Welsh rarebit, bubble and squeak, and a liver and bacon sandwich? Or go traditional, with the Smithfield or Old English?

Steering clear of the Cowboy (beans, more beans and bacon) I chose the Cock Tavern, the priciest at £6.95: liver, kidneys, sausage, bacon, black pudding, tomato, beans and a fried egg.

It arrived crammed on an oval plate like a small range of hills. All the meat had made the short journey from the market and was delicious: thick, tangy bacon; smoothly peppery liver; smoky black pudding and, best of all, tongue-itchingly spicy kidneys.

The fruity Bombardier suited the food well. It took more beer and a cup of coffee before my breakfast was all gone. Outside, the streets were busy with wide-eyed commuters. I headed against them, ready for bed.

22 October 2005

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