Monday, December 21, 2009

Chancey Smith’s Steak and Seafood House at Covent Garden Market

Promoting The Recognition of Cuisine as a Manifestation of Culture.

Hats off to Chancey!

Chancey Smith’s Steak and Seafood House at Covent Garden Market

I still love a great hamburger or a big, juicy steak, even though I’ve been trying to cut down on my red meat consumption. trü on King Street used to make a superb mini-hamburger with foie gras that melted in your mouth, and you could order it at the bar until midnight. Waldo’s on King makes a truly outstanding burger with organic beef from Field Gate Organics, which is served with generous garnishes and condiments. I swear it is the best hamburger in the city, hands down. Chancey Smith’s Steak and Seafood House has always been a carnivore’s dream because of its great steaks.
Chancey Smith’s also has its own delicious ½-lb beef burger, and the twist here is it comes with a suggested beer pairing: Cameron’s Auburn Ale, Paulaner, #9 IPA or India Pale Ale. Chancey’s also has a more upscale ½-lb. buffalo (read American bison) burger, stuffed with short rib meat and served with mushrooms, smoked provolone, bacon, roasted onions and tomato relish, for $17.99. Suggested beer pairing: Aventinus Doppel Bock, IPA or Belgian Dubbel. For an appetizer, the grilled sirloin steak with roasted bacon-wrapped goat cheese, greens and mustard vinaigrette for $10.99 is a standout.
Recently, while researching London’s culinary history, I came across a photograph of fruit vendor Chancey Smith posed in front of his market operation on Market Square at Market Lane. The photograph taken in 1915 (which you can also see in the dining room) is just a few feet from the eponymous restaurant of today, owned by his great-grandson, the local restaurant/bar entrepreneur and raconteur Mike Smith.
Chancey Smith’s is a destination steakhouse, just one part of the Mike Smith empire, where you know for certain you can get a damn good steak and a perfect martini with good quality olives, or a decent glass of wine. Mike Smith is tongue-in-cheek on the surface (his corporate umbrella motto: “Is this any way to run a restaurant?”), but he is seriously committed to the local hospitality scene and to London in general. Smith is also the owner of Joe Kool’s, the irreverent, popular restaurant and bar that has been a landmark on Richmond Row for over a quarter of a century, as well as Fellini Koolini’s, Jim Bob Ray’s, the Runt Club, and more recently, P Za Pie.
. Smith was one of the early members of the MainStreet London board of directors. He is a fan of creative cities and always brings back interesting ideas and insights from his travels. Smith has been a relentless proponent of both Tourism London and the revitalization of downtown London. So much so that two years ago, MainStreet London honoured Smith with its Downtown Champion award, highlighting his significant contributions to making downtown better, through not only Chancey Smith’s, but also his support and networking on behalf of the downtown. Smith’s commitment to this city extends to the Clean and Green event, an annual spring cleanup he and Joe Kool’s Manager, Ron Scarfone, started in 1995. Over the years, it evolved into a downtown initiative and has built a lot of momentum since then, catching on across London and attracting a broad base of both public and private support.
Milos Kral (former longtime Marienbad/Chaucer’s manager) is at the helm of Chancey Smith’s and it shows. Vivacious Assistant Manager Michelle Novackas is also an asset: professional, knowledgeable and gracious. Longtime staff members Nick Farmer and Deb Denton add a certain je ne sais quoi, good humour and comfortable familiarity to the proceedings.
Chancey Smith’s still offers diners that “big city feeling,” while maintaining all the romanticized charm of a Chicago-style chophouse. The attention to detail of the modern interior marks a departure from the ubiquitous, corporate, cookie-cutter steakhouse décor seen elsewhere. The feeling is not standoffish or overly ingratiating. Chancey’s bar reflects the flair and refined style of its classic dining room, but with a more relaxed, down-to-earth ambience. A large mural made of ten separate panels designed by local artist Ronald Stanley Milton adds vibrant colour and a fantastic sequence of pleasing farmers’ market imagery over the bar. Patrons also find themselves surrounded by dozens of framed photographs of historic London architecture, businesses and personalities of former local prominence that include fruit vendor Chancey Smith. The bar area is bright and welcoming, with a bank of spotless windows, comfortable tables and chairs, bar stools and yet more cheerful, well-groomed staff who contribute to your sense of comfort.
The dining room is nicely appointed with dark stained wood surfaces, elegant cove ceilings, black checkered tablecloths covered with butcher paper, natural sunlight in the day and the glow of a series of contemporary arts and crafts styled light fixtures at night. Off to the side of the dining room, the open kitchen sports a copper hood. A spacious outdoor patio/terrace with classic black and white striped awning wraps around the restaurant and overlooks London’s King Street restaurant row and the market square. The popular destination bar and patio in season is a relaxing place to lounge after work or before dinner. Its close proximity to the John Labatt Centre makes it a popular choice on event nights, both before and after — as is Waldo’s on King, its symbiotic but uniquely idiosyncratic counterpart next door, with which Chancey’s shares a large clientele of regulars.
One of the strongest tenets of North American etiquette is that it is inappropriate to tell others they are not following proper etiquette. However, etiquette considers it even more impolite for men to wear baseball caps (whether backward or forward), while dining indoors. Despite the casual conviviality of Chancey’s and its relaxed management style, unless you are suffering from an illness that would cause embarrassment, ill-mannered patrons should be encouraged to remove their baseball caps in the dining room.
Chancey’s delivers with a well-chosen wine range and offers the most comprehensive and impressive selection of beer in London. As of this writing, there are 120 beers on offer and there will soon be a total of 17 draft lines. Kral, who started in the hospitality business in Czechoslovakia at fifteen, has built a reputation as a “beer sommelier.” He has a history of assembling solid beer lists showcasing some of the finest Canadian craft beers, and a strong repertoire of Belgians and other difficult-to-find European beers. Working alongside Chef Larry Cvetic and the kitchen and floor staff, Kral pairs beers that complement each entree item by listing them on the menu. This entails the necessity for a thorough knowledge of the complexities of different beers and how they work in harmony with food pairings as a distinct and worthy alternative to wine. While wine and food pairing has been a common practice for years, many people are realizing that beer, with its diversity of unique flavours and aromatic characteristics, can rival wine in its ability to harmonize with food. With the growing stylistic diversity in today’s beer scene, people are discovering new ways that unique beer styles enhance their culinary experience.
“A Trappist beer is brewed by or under the control of Trappist monks. Of the world’s 171 Trappist monasteries, seven produce beer (six in Belgium and one in Holland). Only these seven authorized breweries are allowed to label their beers with the Authentic Trappist Product logo that indicates compliance to the criteria set by the International Trappist Association,” explains Kral.
The dinner menu sports some interesting items, but Chancey’s is primarily known for its comfort food: excellent steaks, lobster tails, and especially its fresh oysters on the half shell. Roasted lamb shanks braised in Belgian Abbey Ale are a new and welcome addition to the menu, and on this occasion were served with barely al dente root vegetables and truffle mashed potatoes. Suggested beer pairing: Trois Pistoles, Rochefort Trappist Ale (yummy), Leffe Brun and Belgian Abbey Ale.
Chancey Smith’s is a convenient downtown choice for lunch, which they serve until 4 p.m. The menu offers a variety of sandwiches, salads, appetizers and daily specials. I recently had a commendable roasted chicken quesadilla with onions, pepper, tomato, Monterey Jack cheese and pico de gallo.
This past October, the Covent Garden Market celebrated 10 years in their new premises. This, the third incarnation of the Covent Garden Market, opened its doors on October 21, 1999. Designed by London architect Russ Scorgie, the building’s architecture in many ways pays tribute to the original Covent Garden Market of 1853.
Chancey Smith’s keeps the spirit of the old market alive and brings it forward for a modern audience while honouring its traditions and history — and faithful Londoners love that nod to nostalgia.

Chancey Smith’s Steak and Seafood House
130 King Street

Hours of Operation:

Sunday to Wednesday: 11 a.m. to midnight
Thursday, Friday and Saturday

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