Anyone who frequents Angel will already be well aware of the seemingly endless swarm of gastropubs, bars and restaurants all clawing for your attention. It’s a balanced equation that seems to work: lots of punters, lots of choice. However, it does mean that if you want to open a new watering hole, you’ve got to get it right.
Hoping to do just that are Yorkshiremen Marc Dalla Riva and Matt Rix – two first-time landlords who have launched The Blacksmith and the Toffeemaker just down the road in Clerkenwell. Named after a song by the late, great Jake Thackray, inside it’s awash with head-level lighting, sanded wooden furniture and a prominent deli counter.
The venue prides itself as a good old British pub – albeit with a modern dressing – and this is reflected in the deli menu. Pork pies (£4.00), black pudding and quail scotch eggs (£2.00), potted salmon (£5.50) and rabbit pie (£6.50) are but the tip of the iceberg within this veritable counter-based feast. Also, as a Sheffield lad, I have to salute the use of the city’s best kept culinary secret: Henderson’s relish. If you know of what I speak, I could kiss you.
I have to say I only tried a few little samplers of various niblets, but everything was good enough – although nothing to shout about. I probably wouldn’t go there just for the food, but I don’t think that’s their intention anyway, as drink is really this venue’s strong suite. Gins make a notable appearance, both neat or cocktail-based, and whiskies also make a good show. Of course, real ales, beers and wines are there to cover most tastes.
But forget them all. The real star of the show at The Blacksmith and the Toffeemaker is Kamm and Sons – a remarkably strange ginseng liquor I had previously never come across. Apparently, it can only be described via a Venn diagram populated with a triumvirate of liqueurs, gins and bitters. Think gin, grapefruit, goji berries and… (reads label again) … manuka honey, and you’ll still be nowhere near imagining it, so you’d be best to try it yourself.
Created in Clapham by ex-bartender Alex Kammerling, it’s hand-made, hand-bottled and pretty handy on the taste buds too. In-house they serve it progressively more fancied, starting simply with ice, moving on to add some bitter lemon and then ending with the delicious Adam and Eve (Kamm and Sons, lychee juice, grapefruit juice), which is an extremely moreish and refreshing creation fitting of the summer months.
Given the spirit’s rather limited availability at the moment (usually, only more swanky venues are likely to stock it), personally I think the addition of Kamm and Sons to the Blacksmith gives it a trump card to play. Coupled to the solid wood and easy-going grub, this new gastropub makes a worthy, if not remarkable, addition to an already very competitive area of London.
The Blacksmith and the Toffeemaker
292-294 St. John Street