The Blacksmith & The Toffeemaker, 292-294 St John Street, London EC1

What happens when you turn up at a gastropub at the last minute – in every sense?

Anyone who has ever worked a shift anywhere knows the interminable agony of the Final Hour. You've been in since 9am, but these, the final 60 minutes, have a habit of dragging out. Much of that hour is spent plotting the conviviality to follow: a glass of Sancerre, a fag in the sunshine, an online catch-up with The Apprentice, perhaps. What you want least of all is some corpulent goon calling up 20 minutes before home time and asking if he can delay your exit. Today, that goon is me.

My girlfriend and I fancied an early dinner. We have been meaning to go to The Blacksmith & the Toffeemaker for some time, noting its attractive façade, intriguing name, and prime location. So I rang up at 5.40pm and was told that on this day the kitchen would be shutting at 6pm. Fine, I said, we'll come immediately: we want an early night.

I wish we hadn't. The place is empty, save for a small bunch of families on a long table. The chef comes down to enquire as to whether the final order has been made, and is reminded of this late-arriving couple, who happen to be staring at him in the hope that he'll say that he's got some burgers left.

There's a definite fin de siècle vibe around. I should here acknowledge, in advance of the reportage below, that late on a stinking-wet Sunday in a moribund English spring, we have come at a time when this place does not appear to be at its finest.

But isn't that the point? Isn't it the mark of a good restaurant or pub that it can serve an excellent meal even when the place isn't on form and heaving? The prices don't change because it's nearly going-home time. They're still high in inflationary London. So serve a meal you're proud of.

The burger – the burger is OK. Served medium-rare in a brioche bun, with big slices of tomato and passable lettuce. The chips are proper, too, skins left on and not too greasy. But those, for me, are the highlights. The rest is dire.

The chalkboard on which the food is boasted reads, "Beets – £2", which seems pleasing, until you eat them. These are cold, wet, lifeless chunks of fuchsia beetroot in a little ramekin. Suddenly, £2 seems steep.

There's celeriac remoulade for the same price, which is also nothing to write to anyone about. Then there is red cabbage, or something like red cabbage, hideous lukewarm shreds of some vegetable that tastes like a victim of bullying.

There is a terribly bad rabbit pudding for £10. I think its surface is made of suet, because it looks exactly like suet, but it doesn't taste like suet. Given there aren't many things that bear such a striking resemblance to suet while in fact tasting altogether different, my best guess is that this is suet. That said, I'm not having a second bite, so I can't confirm it. Below what I believe to be suet is a festering mulch of coldness that, were it served in your child's school canteen, would warrant a stern word at the next parents' evening.

Finally, there are the desserts. Or rather, the dessert. It being past 6pm, the only sweet on offer is a carrot cake, which is dry and tough, though with a superb icing.

Did I mention that this is a pub whose main selling point is booze, not food? I should have done. Come here to have a drink, not to eat. It is styled as a gin and ale joint that does hearty English bar snacks and dishes on the side. The burgundy tiling of the main bar, in the manner of the old Tube stations, is pleasing; and the taupe-coloured walls and line drawings of workmen's tools in the eating area are inoffensive enough. Situated on an open corner opposite City University, it appears to be a lovely spot for a pint on a summer evening – far more than it can claim to be a dining destination.

The name of the place comes from a song by the late Yorkshire crooner Jake Thackray, itself adapted from a paragraph in Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie. Almost certainly for much of the time, before the end of a chef's shift, one might suggest, it's a solid London boozer with solid English food. But I have to write about what's put in front of me, and for all the caveats in Clerkenwell, this was one hell of a missable meal.

4/10

Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets

The Blacksmith & The Toffeemaker 292-294 St John Street, London EC1, tel: 020 7278 9990 Lunch and dinner daily. About £35 for two, including two pints of ale

Great alehouses

Victoria Hotel

85 Dovecote Lane, Beeston, Nottingham, tel: 0115 925 4049

An old-fashioned boozer which offers an interesting menu, great beers and an amazing selection of whiskies.

The Cartford Inn

Cartford Lane, Little Ecclestone, near Poulton-le-Fylde, Preston, tel: 01995 670 166

By the Cartford toll bridge, this boutique gastropub offers regional ales from its own microbrewery.

The Horse and Groom

Upper Oddington, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire tel: 01451 830 584

A stripped-down Cotswolds gastropub, with friendly staff and a fine selection of real ales; it serves a consistently good menu, too

Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2012' www.hardens.com

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable