Review by Fiona Duncan, published 13th April 2008.
Need a night in London and fancy spending it down the Dog & Duck? Or the Bull & Butcher? Actually, this Smithfield beauty is called the Fox & Anchor, but it comes to the same thing: a Great British Pub with one of those wonderfully quirky names (fox… anchor...Can anyone explain?) and a Great British Menu, from potted pig's head to spotted dick.
I'm not normally found in the pub, but I made a date to stay as soon as I heard it had been restored to its former late-Victorian glory and had added six luxury bedrooms.
You don't check in at the Fox. Instead, I was directed to another nearby entrance – that of the Malmaison Hotel. Strange indeed to enter one of Malmaison's typically spooky foyers, all purple and black, in order to pick up the key to one's berth above a pub, but, you see, the Fox & Anchor – and here's the rub – belongs to that chain of slick city hotels. Having closed in 2006, it was rescued from developers by Richard Balfour-Lynn, whose company owns the Malmaison group. So it's a hybrid: part Great British Pub and part chain hotel, and that is how it feels.
The façade is a treat: pavement-to-roof terracotta tiling, with Art Nouveau flourishes and jutting gargoyles. The Edwardian interior is dark and handsome, with a gleaming zinc bar and three cosy snugs at the back. A silver trolley for the daily roast; big Kilner jars of pickled onions on the bar; Old Growler and Spitfire on tap… very traditional. But a plasma-screen on the wall; a pile of modish cushions on my banquette; beer served from twee pewter mugs; a mission statement: "Hops & Chops, Cuvets & Duvets" – very Malmaison.
As for the five bedrooms and one suite (with terrace), they are Malmaison, too, but at its very best, and I mean that as a compliment. With their burnished copper baths and black and white images of Smithfield Market on the walls and fabric headboards, they make proper reference to their historic location and Victorian roots but are otherwise unashamedly contemporary.
Back to the grub. I needed a dinner companion, but not a lily-livered one. Someone who would do justice to a meat-frenzy of a menu and be able try the real ales alongside the wine and champagne. My friend Marcus, starving in a garret while he works on his great oeuvre, was the answer, and together we demolished beef and oyster pie, steak tartare and cones of massive, crispy chips cooked in goose fat (all superb), though we were less impressed by the limp pork scratchings, mussels all but drowned in their bland cooking liquid and a pale imitation of a knock-out knickerbocker glory.
My breakfast (real troupers knock back a pint of porter with the fry-up, thanks to the special licence) was superb. Service no longer begins at 7am because the porters don't come any more. "But senior management do," the twinkly Irish manager told me. That figures: the Fox & Anchor has gone upmarket: sanitised, safe and part of a corporate machine. But at least it's been saved.
15 Charterhouse Street, EC1 (020 7012 3700; www.foxandanchor.com). Doubles from £95 to £225 per night, excluding breakfast.