I remember reading about the beautiful rooms at the Fox & Anchor when they first opened, a few years ago. I no longer recall which travel magazine or supplement featured them, perhaps more than one, but I do remember being drawn by the modern styling and funky bath tubs. I've tried twice in the last few years to book a room, but I left it to the last-minute and they were fully booked both times.
There's something wonderfully decadent about booking a nice hotel stay in your own town, and being a tourist for a day (or few) and it's something Pete and I try to do on a semi-regular basis. We haven't spent much time in this corner of East London, just by the famous Smithfield meat market.
During a recent Monday evening stay, we checked out the Fox & Anchor pub restaurant and rooms.
The first thing to note is that these rooms are not suitable for disabled visitors. There is no lift and several stretches of the narrow stair well have no hand rail at all. I found the stairs difficult, but managed, slowly, with Pete carrying all the luggage and my walking stick.
Arriving early afternoon, we were initially assigned Smithfield (on the third floor) but were swapped into The Market Suite after dinner, when we discovered our TV didn't work and the helpful duty manager was not able to fix it.
Smithfield is not a large room but the space is used cleverly. Having the tub in the main room, and a walk-in shower in the bathroom, helps with this, and also allows for a small desk and chair to be tucked around the corner.
We liked the styling of the room a lot.
The large expanse of windows lets in lots of light, though we had to keep the blinds down during the afternoon, as there's an office block opposite which looks straight across.
The website describes the room as having a king size bed, but it seemed smaller to us, and definitely smaller than the bed in The Market Suite, also listed as king size.
Negatives included a a towel rail which we could not switch on. Apparently, it's on the main central heating circuit, and individual rooms do not have any control over this. This was disappointing – even a cheap and basic seventies time warp bed and breakfast I stayed in recently had a towel rail that could be switched on independently of the central heating.
The lack of internet or wifi in the rooms was also a shame; it's something I'd expect as standard in accommodation of this level, modern design and price point.
The Market Suite is the largest room at the Fox & Anchor. Entry is straight into the long, long bathroom with walk-in shower and feature copper bath tub and sinks. From here one moves into the lounge area with comfortable sofa, TV and desk area and access to a private outdoor terrace area with table and chairs. Lastly, there is the bedroom, with king size bed and another TV.
It's a very attractive room, but again we had a number of niggles which were frustrating.
There are no doors between the bedroom, lounge and bathroom. The only door is for the small toilet room. Lighting for the main bathroom and the toilet is on a single switch; we wanted to leave a light on in the toilet, should we need to find our way there during the night; this meant leaving the entire bathroom lit up like a carnival – not conducive to sleep. Separate control over lights, or perhaps a night light in the toilet, would resolve this.
Another no-no for sleepers who prefer a dark room were the two large sky lights, one in the bedroom and one in the lounge; these had no blinds so we were woken up pretty early when the room was flooded with sunlight.
Probably the single most incomprehensible aspect of the room for us was the bed linen. The sheets were far too small for the mattress so instead, two smaller sheets were used together. More irritating still, the sheet towards the foot of the bed was on top, which meant that, as you got into bed, your feet caught and pushed this sheet out of place. In the end, we stripped and remade the bed, putting the lower sheet underneath. Additionally, the width of the sheets meant there wasn't sufficient to tuck in beneath the sides of the mattress, so the sheets came loose during the night.
At this price point, there's simply no excuse for not having bed linen that fits the mattress, including enough spare sets to cover laundry delays.
Back to the positives, the coffee and tea facilities in the room were decent. Coffee came in a clever filter coffee bag – much nicer than the usual sachets of instant.
And Miller Harris toiletries were nice too.
The space within the room was lovely, and we'd definitely use the little terrace during a longer stay.
Also, a slightly later check-in time (of 3pm) means the Fox & Anchor are able to offer later check-out. Breakfast runs to a leisurely 11 am (and that's the time by which you need to place your order, not finish eating) and rooms don't need to be vacated until noon. We thoroughly approve, as late check-out is far more appealing than a slightly earlier check-in.
The Smithfield room costs £205 a night Mondays through Thursdays and £135 a night Fridays through Sundays.
The Market Suite costs £270 a night Mondays through Thursdays and £195 a night Fridays through Sundays.
These rates are room only, and do not include breakfast.
We've eaten in the Fox and Anchor before and like it's simple menu of classic, traditional British dishes with occasional international influences.
On booking, we ask for a table in one of the little semi-private roomlets – I do like these, though there are many nooks and crannies in the main seating areas too.
Throughout the evening, we particularly enjoyed the very mellow live music, though we couldn't see the musicians from our little corner. We liked their playlist of mostly '70s and '80s pop and rock classics.
We ordered a scotch egg with curried mayonnaise (£6.50) to share with our first drinks, while we thought about what to order next. We were also brought a board of fresh bread, butter and salt crystals.
The scotch egg was delicious, with a really well flavoured and seasoned sausage meat and cooked beautifully. The curried mayonnaise gave just the right hint of curry without overwhelming the egg and sausage. A great start!
Beer was, I'm afraid, a let down.
Planning to work his way through the 6 beers on draft, Pete started happily enough with a pint of the Fox & Anchor own-brand ale, brewed by Nethergate; a pleasant session beer.
This was followed by the Harveston Mild which was very clearly off with a really strong yeasty smell (and we're not talking the normal beery yeast here) and vinegary flavour. We reported it to staff, and the duty manager immediately offered to replace it. We noticed later that it was taken off sale, so clearly something wrong there.
The replacement pint was Adnams Mild which, to Pete's surprise, was also not right. Whilst not as robustly smelly as the Harveston, it had clearly seen much better days. According to the Adnams website, their mild is available during March into May only (we visited in mid-June), so it was probably kept on tap too long.
Again, the duty manager responded helpfully, and Pete switched again, this time to Sambrooks Junction. Much better, this tasted just as it should.
Lastly, he had a pint of Somerset & Dorset Ale. He noted that it was alright, but still had a touch of the stale about it.
For a pub that prides itself on its draft beer selection, the hit and miss nature of the 5 we tried doesn't speak well of the storage and care of the beers. Maybe they don't sell in sufficient quantities, and beers are kept too long… we don't know.
The food, I'm happy to say, went down much better!
Pete started with the maldon smoked salmon, pumpernickel and cream fraiche [sic] (£6.95). Rich, soft salmon with a robust smoked flavour, sweet and malty bread which complemented the fish well and a dollop of crème fraiche which cut through the oiliness and lifted the whole dish.
I had the razor clam, chorizo and broad beans (£7.25) which was a generous plate indeed. The clams were extremely sweet and fresh, though I accidentally released a flood of grit onto my plate and into the sauce, when I twice cut into the stomachs, which had not been cut open and cleaned out. The chorizo was mild, which was nice, as it didn't overwhelm the clams. The broad beans, oddly, tasted of nothing.
For his main, Pete chose the Camden town beer battered cod, chips and mushy peas (£14.50). The fish and chips was served in a fryer basket, which looks great but isn't very practical. Pete turned the contents out onto his plate, and then had to cast around finding space on the table for the discarded basket. The chips were big, crispy and well cooked. Batter was good and heavy. The fish inside was moist and tasty.
My hickory smoked ribs, chips, corn on the cob and coleslaw (£13.95) were served on a large wooden board. I had to ask for a side plate for the discarded bones. The ribs were tasty, with lots of well-marinaded meat (good and meaty, not pappy soft). Chips, as Pete's, were decent and cob of corn fine. The coleslaw was bland though, and let the rest down a little.
Pete's rhubarb crumble (£5.50)served with vanilla ice-cream, was given a big thumb's up. It had a decent rhubarb hit and a tasty crumble; the right ratio of topping to fruit too.
My Eton mess (£5.50), made with English strawberries, of course, was delicious. Sometimes the simplest dishes, such as this, are the ones that many places get wrong, but for me the balance between meringue, cream and strawberries was spot on. I also liked that some strawberry puree or juice had mixed into the cream to give more fruit flavour.
Overall, we enjoyed our meal very much and service was friendly, helpful, attentive and relaxed.
To my surprise, by the time we made it down for breakfast, late morning, we had an appetite once again!
My city boy breakfast (£16.50), available all day, really hit the spot. A pork and leek sausage, sweet cured bacon, 2 eggs any style, a minute steak, lambs kidney, chicken liver, white and black pudding, hash browns, fried bread, mushrooms and baked beans plus a pint of stout, which I declined! All the meat was full of flavour and well cooked, as were the eggs, which I requested poached. The fried bread was over cooked through, to that brittle point which made it shatter as I tried to cut it.
Pete's large, circular bacon and cheese omelette was old-school, not overly fluffy, full of cheese and bacon. To me, it looked a bit odd, just plopped onto the huge plate like that, but it hit the spot, which is what counts.
As we headed back up to our room after breakfast, we, like the other guests, were encouraged to take our time and reminded that we didn't need to check out till noon.
Overall we liked our stay. There are a number of small changes that could improve the accommodation experience significantly, though the rooms are, on the whole, attractive and making good use of space.
Food and service in the pub are great; just what we look for from a laid back pub restaurant and a great place to catch up with friends. We do hope they review and resolve their draft beer issues as this was the main let down during our evening there.
Kavey Eats was a guest of the Fox & Anchor.