A Trip to Smithfields Meat Market
I joined the team at The Hampstead Butcher & Providore as a trainee butcher just under a year ago. I’ve been learning the ropes and working with the experienced butchers to develop my skills and have been looking forward to my first trip to Smithfield Meat Market to see where much of our meat comes from. It was an early start on Monday this week with the alarm waking me at 2am so I’d be up in time to meet up with Antonio, our long-time buyer and expert on all-things-market. Before we start out we enjoy a couple of strong black coffees………ready to go!
When the alarm went at 2am this morning an inch of snow had covered the street and it was still falling when I meet up with Antonio, our long-time buyer and expert on all-things-market.
As we approach the market, there’s a sea of white vans parked up, 2-deep, on all four sides of the market, waiting to get into the already buzzing market building. Thankfully, the vastly experienced Antonio knows exactly how to get around the market quickly without queuing. After a very strong espresso at one of the cafes that opens all night to cater for the army of men (and ladies) in white overalls we hit the stalls. This part of London has become one of our great city’s most diverse areas; traditional pubs, late-night bars, some truly outstanding restaurants and one of Europe’s most iconic dance clubs all around the perimeter of the market that is at once a seriously important centre of commerce and also a massive tourist attraction (anyone can shop here and at any hour until the last stall closes for the day midmorning - put it on your list of things to do when you just cant sleep).
We have about half of our meat brought in daily from the market and we like to go and press some flesh (human and prime animal) from time to time and to say hello to the guys on the shop floor. This morning we spent time catching up with butchers and salesmen from half a dozen of the companies that our meat comes in from. They in turn receive carcasses from all over Europe and further afield. You can also pick up some quite excellent Australian beef and some of the best poultry, game, pates, oils, olives and charcuterie available from the other side of the Channel.
Of course, we were most interested in seeing our English beef and lamb and we came away delighted with the quality of the carcasses that we saw. The enthusiasm is quite tangible amongst all of the purveyors for the real deal; free range, ethically reared livestock less than a day since slaughter and in prime condition to go out to ours and other butchers (as well as most London restaurants and hotels).
After visiting the rest of our suppliers, collecting our purchases for the day, I was invited to see the whole carcasses brought into the market. It’s an education to watch the speed with which these wholesale butchers break down each carcass, with great skill and care, ensuring the quality of the meat is preserved in the process.
The last place to visit within the market is the main shopping area, to pick out the special orders that our own customers have placed. This area is open to the general public from early morning until 7am, offering a wide selection of meat, game, pates, sausages and cheeses. It’s a lesser known valuable benefit of making the effort to get to market. After a final coffee and bacon bap in one of the local cafes which caters to the mass army of white coat workers, we head back to our three shops to put away our stock ready to sell over the next day.
We got back to Hampstead just before 7am armed with a load of new business cards (it’s a very competitive market place, which is great for competitive pricing that we pass on to you and also fantastic for quality maintenance). I grabbed a few rashers of our Blythburgh free range bacon and headed home for a hot bacon sandwich and cup of tea.
Smithfield Meat Market should be on every Londoner’s and visitor’s to-do list. A genuine and marvellous marketplace, it is definitely well worth the early start!