Jonathan Schofield likes the food and ponders ubiquitous 'small plates'
The Smithfield Social sits as snug as a bug in a rug within its Northern Quarter location and context. It’s easy on the eye and delivers an easy-going experience. Service is coolly professional. It’s all very comfortable and confident.
Small plates are the Wikipedia of food, appetisers not real fillers
The exterior on Thomas Street is white-washed and plain. Inside there’s some decent sixties-inspired woodwork in an otherwise functional space. The simple wooden tables almost demand classroom chairs, instead the latter are leather and look bespoke. The back bar works as a feature wall, a rack of bottles and drink paraphernalia dividing the single room into two.
The menu is sandwiches, soups, salads, small plates, desserts. On Sunday the Smithfield Social goes expansive and offers roasts.
The direction of travel with the menu is all points of the compass all at once. This is often the case with so many food offerings in hip younger-audience orientated venues which seemingly place as much emphasis on the cocktails as the food. Thus The Smithfield Social’s food can’t be boxed-off into any style of cuisine, there are influences from across all seven continents and then the known universe.
The quality of the cooking is good, if uneven, and the food is attractive to look at and inevitably photograph. I sometimes wonder what my dad would have thought of the adjective "Instagrammable": he’d probably guess it was something you could weigh very quickly.
We had several of the small plates on a Wednesday afternoon. The chicken thighs (£8) were particularly vivid, red with chilli, orange with spicy gochujang mayo and forested with greens. The result was damn good with lots of flesh. These morsels are named KFG, Korean Fried Goosnargh chicken. Finger lickin’ indeed, although conflating Korea with a small village in Lancashire is twisting geography to within an inch of its life.
The crab cakes (£7.50) were again handsome and came with lots of tiny colourful accoutrements but failed because they weren’t crabby enough. The spiced tempura vegetables (£6.50) were very good with a lovely light batter and a good veg crunch of broccoli, courgette and cauliflower. The fries (£4) were, er, fries. Nothing to say there.
The Nonna snaps lasagne (£9) was menu described as "Grass-fed local beef and bone marrow, San Marzano tomatoes, topped with British buffalo mozzarella, nduja, fried basil leaves and ‘nonna snaps’". Very wordy, a bit Michelin-pretentious for a small plate.
Nonna is of course "grandma" in Italian. I’m pretty sure if you tried to describe to any Nonna her lasagne in that way she’d cuff you round the ear. “Grass-fed beef, what are you on about?” she’d exclaim. In Italian. (By the way, I tried to internet translate "grass-fed beef" - nothing, which proves my point).
Still, this was another good dish although I couldn’t trace the bone marrow. The way the fried basil leaves and snaps (crackers, in case you were wondering) were lanced into the dish was entertaining.
A dessert of limoncello and meringue semifreddo with oat crumble and lemon curd (£6) was all about the limoncello, a flavour that bashed the others into total submission.
We drank 175ml glasses of Pinot Grigio at £5.50 a go. Easy drinking and cunningly disguised. The wine comes in tumblers and as long as you keep the contents white it looks as if you're having a glass of water. A fine ruse for the hardened drinker.
I would prefer if The Smithfield Social included three or four big dishes, in other words traditional main courses. Small plates are fine as an addition to drinks but when they take equal or top billing don’t work so well and it all becomes competitive between two or three people as they greedily compete for more of the best dish. Or maybe that’s my bad manners.
Small plates are, in essence, the Wikipedia of food, appetisers not real fillers, not a square meal, not the full story, short attention span fodder.
That said, if you’re in the neighbourhood The Smithfield Social is a steady option. It’s not a destination place but if passing it’s as good or better than the majority of similar venues in this neck of the woods. The food tries maybe a little too hard and those dish descriptions are exhausting but there is quality here and, hey, you should be able to get a good photo.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Korean chicken 7, crab cakes 6, tempura veg 7, lasagne 6, fries 5, limocello dessert 5.5
Efficient and smooth service
Plenty of people chattering and all very comfortable