london 1720

Origin City

Smithfield, EC1A

Before going to West Smithfield’s Origin City there are perhaps two things you need to do to prepare. First, you may need to bring people; despite the potential for footfall and a number of hostelries in the area (including its own wine bar opposite), on this visit it was eerily quiet. Secondly, you probably need to have a salad before any meal here; unless you count beef dripping chips as one of your five a day, you’re not really going to eat any vegetables. (Though, faites comme vous voulez; I’m not your mother.)

Owned by the Landsberg family with food supplied by their own farm and lakes in Scotland, the Highland influences are mostly subtle, though their signature cocktails include such hilarious concoctions as the “Tuxedo Kilt” and “Caledonian Blood.” But, as always, the true test is a classic martini – especially one made with Isle of Harris gin (my saviour in lockdown). This one was expertly made: ice-cold, a twist, dry as the planet Arrakis. I returned to the bar afterwards for a Martinez just to confirm the bartender’s skills were not a fluke.

But this is essentially a restaurant and one where the website promises “great taste, no waste.” In that respect it delivers in well-seasoned spades. Serving ‘nduja butter with your bread is as bold as entrées get, but Origin City’s generosity and flair became clear with its mussel chowder amuse bouche: this petit potage in an espresso cup packed far more of a punch than the insipid watercress velouté I had at Claridge’s recently (and not only that, Origin’s little soup was free).

It really is very good

This whole-beast-and-nothing-but-the-beast restaurant is straightforward yet delightful. Slices of Morteau sausage on a bed of puy lentils and a sharp mustard vinaigrette zig-zagged on top might have seemed small but size isn’t everything (given the hefty mains this was more than sufficient). And like all the best sausages, these are actually made on site, out of sight. (Laws and sausages are the only two things in life you shouldn’t see being made, as Otto von Bismarck once quipped, but here you can trust whatever entrails they’ve used.)

Onto a 40 day dry-aged Black Angus steak, served simply with hispi cabbage on the side, this was cooked absolutely perfectly, and juicy enough to be served without any other accompaniments; it was as self-saucing as a Tory, only far more pleasant.

With great meat there must be good wine and here Origin City delivers too. The list is Old World in focus, small but perfectly formed, with full-bodied tannic beauties from Tuscany and Douro, and many from their own vineyard in Provence. Combined with their own livestock and in-house butchering, this effectively cuts out costly middlemen and the customer feels the benefit. Indeed, the prices at Origin City are very reasonable for central London (the most expensive bottle is £58, which is insanely good value).

It took just one course for me to earmark this as a ‘go-back-to’ restaurant, the Sunday roast looking particularly appealing for a return visit (roasts are at a gastropub price point of £22-25). But the lack of fellow diners was a concern. On this visit, the large dimly-lit space was only at 20% capacity. The affable staff assured me the bar at the front gets a lot of passing trade and Burns Night was very popular but I feared they were just telling me what I wanted to hear.

Somewhat selfishly, I wanted to keep Origin City in my black book of mellow gems (like The Bull on Red Lion Street) but equally this place doesn’t deserve to wither on the vine. If it’s always this quiet then it’s both mysterious and worrying. There are no discernible kinks to iron out and it can’t be the service, which is excellent. It can’t be the raw whiff of Smithfield market putting people off (that’s due to close down soon anyway), nor can it be the lack of vegetation on the menu (considering the current retraction of plant-based offerings with Veggie Pret closing down and even Berlin’s Nobelhart and Schmutzig abandoning their vegan menu because, according to their recent Instagram announcement, they “find the production and consumption of animal-based food ethically justifiable under certain conditions”).

Perhaps opening a meat-oriented restaurant so close to St John – the pioneer of the “nose-to-tail” concept in the 90s – is an ambitious move. Competition comes with risks: a Superdrug wouldn’t open so close to a Boots unless it was sure it could siphon off enough customers to sell combs to. Or perhaps it’s the very name ‘Origin City’; despite the connotations of provenance and the Square Mile location, it sounds like a forgotten dystopian sci-fi series relegated to the graveyard shift on Channel 5.

There’s no silver ballot when people vote with their feet. I’m no marketing expert and not quite sure what Origin City needs for a boost beyond spikes like Burns Night and Valentine’s Day: a rent-a-crowd, a re-brand, maybe a design re-think, but the food is just as good as those coveted places benefitting from PR, or those that hit the ground running just because of reputations preceding them (though many of those deserve such reputations). So bear this in mind: if you’re of a meaty inclination and you’re losing patience with the military operation required to book a table at Bouchon Racine or The Devonshire, you’d be mad to overlook Origin City. A table is almost guaranteed and it really is very good.

Origin City
Food & Drink5.56
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12 West Smithfield

March 2024


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