Just down the road from the hustle and bustle of parliament, this concert hall bar and restaurant in Smith’s Square could be a million miles away from Westminster.
In the crypt of St. John’s classical concert hall is what staff describe as a ‘hidden gem’. This is understandable given that Smith Square Bar and Restaurant is tucked away from the hive of activity of nearby Millbank, offering peace and calm for its diners. The low ceilings and exposed brick walls add to this intimacy, with tables and chairs tucked neatly into the nooks and crannies of the Baroque archways.
Smith Square Bar and Restaurant is a safe haven for high-powered businessmen, politicians and civil service workers. A predominantly male crowd of diners come suited-and-booted in the lunchtime hour to sample the a la carte or buffet menus. The restaurant also offers a pre-concert supper menu, and so reels in classical music buffs in the evenings. Smith Square is cosy and low-lit, and its subterranean setting makes the outside world seem far away. Staff are busy yet friendly, and service is speedy.
Monthly a la carte menus bring the best seasonal foods to the table. The menus comprise British and European influences, although options for lunchtime diners are relatively limited. The roast parsnip and thyme soup (£5.25) is served in a miniature saucepan with a chunk of crisp, home-made bread on the side. The flavour of parsnip dominates the thyme, making the soup slightly too earthy, but hearty all the same. Also on the starter menu is a smoked duck, roast fennel and green bean salad (£6.95). The duck is served pink and cold, and its smokiness makes it hard to identify. Nevertheless, it is a light dish that is refreshing on the palate.
A popular choice among lunchtime diners is the salmon and fat prawn fish cakes, with tartar sauce and a pea and mint puree (£12.95). Two delicious and meaty patties are served alongside a pot of coarse and creamy tartar. The puree is light and refreshing with mint, but served in epic proportions. The calves liver with smoked bacon, bubble and squeak, and sage gravy (£13.95) is a meaty option that would satisfy the most ravenous of carnivores. Disappointingly, the liver comes slightly overcooked and served with a small portion of bubble and squeak, making the meal feel imbalanced.
However, dessert does not disappoint. The almond and pear tart with pouring cream (£5) is sticky and moist in the middle, with a crisp base underneath. The tart soaks up the cream, making it even more of a treat. Jude’s ice cream (£5) comes with three scoops of strawberry tease, very vanilla and double chocolate flavours, which are creamy, smooth and full of sweet flavour.
The bar in the concert hall’s crypt is stocked full of fine wines that range from around £15 per bottle up to the £40 mark. The Podere Vagile Sollazzo house white is a trebbiano/grechetto grape blend from the Umbrian region of Italy (£13.95), and is fruity on the nose and sharp to taste. Herb infused teas and coffees are available in the lunchtime rush, and the bar is a popular venue for interval drinks on concert nights.
The Last Word
It’s undeniable that Smith Square Restaurant and Bar is a hidden treat for lunchtime revellers. The seasonal monthly menus promise some exciting and sophisticated flavour combinations, which are unfortunately not always executed with the same degree of elegance. Luckily, the reprieve from the stresses of the outside world makes up for a few minor culinary errors.