Monday, 24 March 2008

Morning Gory

It's 6.30 in the morning and I'm standing in a cold, windowless room in a river of blood. Pushed up against the walls are grey, industrial wheelie bins, filled with body parts. A tall man with a cockney accent and a scar from the side of his mouth to his left ear plunges his arm into one of the wheelie bins and pulls out a bunch of organs. He holds them aloft, grinning manically like a pantomime villain, hoping we'll be revolted. Disappointed by the reaction, he drops them back into the bin.

"Know what these are?", he asks as he holds out his hand hopefully. "They're sheep's bollocks. The Egyptians? They bloody love 'em."

It's not everybody's idea of the best way to begin the day but strangely this is something I've wanted to do for a long time. Not necessarily come face to face with a pair of dismembered gonads, but, you know, visit the meat market during trading hours. Now I'm finally here, called to worship at the temple of meat, the Central Markets at Smithfields.

As much as I've come along to learn about the history of the market and see the meat trade in action, I'm really here for breakfast. The Cock Tavern has held an almost mythical status in my brain ever since I worked in Clerkenwell. Prior to the change in licensing laws, The Cock was one of a few establishments allowed to serve alcohol in the early morning and the mere idea of porters, traders and butchers ending their shifts with a fry up and a pint seemed such a great example of a London subculture that I wanted to see it for myself.

Unfortunately when we finally made our way down into the basement it was nearly empty but I was still determined to have the Butcher's Breakfast which consisted of Devilled Kidneys, Liver, Rump Steak, Bacon, Sausage, Beans and Egg. In my mind this was going to be the best breakfast of my life, a tower of meat, an ornament of offal. Unfortunately it was not to be. Leathery liver, rubbery kidneys, and chewy rump steak was proof that such ingredients need to be cooked with care and to be honest I've seen Pete Doherty give more care to his appearance than the Cock's chef gave to that breakfast. Still, we were there for the experience and the Guinness went down surprisingly well before we sped back to posh West London to cook some more fancy French dishes with vaguely pronouncable names.


ros said...

Thanks for this post. I moved to the East End last autumn and completely forgot that Spitalfields was so close by. In fact, the supermarkets around here don't seem to stock offal so I was feeling rather deprived. I shall head over this Sunday!

Pete said...

Hey Ros,

The meat market is at Smithfield not Spitalfield. Those 'S' fields are so confusing. Unfortunately it's not open on a Sunday either but I recommend a visit during the week if you have the time.

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