Indoor braai in Farringdon

Indoor braai in Farringdon

Hammer & Tongs is a casual, and relatively low cost restaurant specialising in South African-style barbecue. Called a Braai, it is the most primal way of cooking and, in the restaurant’s opinion, the tastiest. Head Chef Richard Lloyd reckons to source only the highest quality meat, seafood & seasonal greens. The menu features traditional Braai dishes such as Sosaties  and Potjies and some originals such as sharing Lamb Ribs & Beer Can Onion.

The restaurant  is a short walk up Farringdon Road from Farringdon Station and close to Exmouth Market and across the road from the Quality Chop House.

As both the reviewer and her companion had lived in South Africa we were looking forward to the Hammer & Tongs eating experience very much and we were not disappointed.

The rich aromas from the grill welcomed us into the clean, fresh interior with old school chairs and upholstered bench seating along one wall.

The back of the restaurant upstairs has an open kitchen with a massive barbeque grill.

The small number of tables upstairs makes it feel more like a bistro or a friend’s kitchen.  The double tables are singles pushed together so the layout is very flexible.

Stretch your legs to the spacious “powder your nose” facilities down the stairs and there is a large bar and much more seating.  Downstairs, too, there is a partially-separated zone which looks like it would make a good get-together zone (with a stunning giant live edge table).

Hammer & Tongs is a sharing-style restaurant.  There is no rigid structure of starter / main / dessert but instead, the restaurant is inspired by the idea of sharing a barbeque with family and friends.  “The braai is a social occasion in South Africa where friends come together to enjoy good food and wine”, he explains.

The part-owner is enthusiastic in his love of South African wines and braais as he takes us through the menu.

There are different sizes of dishes.  The big hearty meals like the 2kg of 6-Hour Braai’d Lamb Ribs, the Steaks and Potjies (traditional stews dish cooked in a cast iron pot) are far too big not to share.  Another way of doing things is by picking and mixing a number of the (not so) smaller dishes which can be shared or hogged!

There are a range of Sosaties (skewers) with DELICIOUS (note capitals) sauces and accompaniments, and more of the smaller dishes like the Lamb Chops, the mild Cape Malay Curry and Boerewors (beef sausage).  Each of the skewers and smaller dishes is about the size of a small main course, and they are all designed and delivered for sharing, which is very convenient and practical.

There is a decent wine list and some (identified by double pricing on the menu) sold by the glass.  The house white was very light and easy drinking as was the red which was very smooth.  Both the house wines were Portuguese and while we expected most of the wines on the list to be South African there was a good variation of both New World and Old World wines available.  The house wines were priced at £22 a bottle or £5.50 a glass while the rest were mostly in the mid-price range – £30-£50 a bottle with a few slightly higher priced options.

What I really appreciated was the water, without having to ask, without having to debate bottled or tap, sparkling or still, IMF loan or free.  The water was delivered without a word.

We ordered the Blackened Welsh Lamb, Spiced Dingley Dell Pork Belly, and Glazed Tiger Prawns skewers to start, with a deliciously dressed Tomato Salad.

 Blackened Welsh Lamb Sosatie £7

The lamb was tender and moist, as you would expect and we enjoyed this dish, lapping up the tasty sauce combination of creamy yoghurt & peppery cumin

Glazed Tiger Prawns £12

The prawns were mouth-watering and lost none of their succulence on the braai;  you could still enjoy the firm meaty texture.  They had been conveniently partially shelled and I couldn’t avoid the sharing, unfortunately.  I wasn’t a massive fan of the Black Olive Tapenade (but then I’m not a lover of black olives) but let me not forget the delicious dressing on the rocket side-salad; I could have eaten a whole plate of that.

Spiced Dingley Dell Pork Belly Sosatie £6

Typically, I am not fond of fatty meat, but one taste of the scrumptious Smoked Apple-Cider Sauce and the combination with the salty pork was unavoidable.  I know that the photo looks like fried onions, but the taste…!

SOSATIES (South African Skewers) include:

Salted Monkfish £9.75
Fennel, Aji Panca Pepper, Grapes & Lemongrass

Blackened Welsh Lamb £7
Plum Glaze, Red Bell Pepper, Shallot, Wild Mint, Yoghurt & Cumin

Free-Range Chicken £6
Courgette, Red Onion, Spiced Honey, Heritage Tomato & Chermula Dip

Glazed Tiger Prawns £12
Fermented Garlic, Chili and Burnt Lemon & Black Olive Tapenade

Herb-Rubbed Vegetables (v) £5.50
Mealies, Green Figs, Aubergine, Vine Tomato, Capsicum & Pesto Verdi

Spiced Dingley Dell Pork Belly Sosatie £6
Chili, Anise, Coriander, Rosemary & Smoked Apple-Cider Sauce

Other small sharing dishes include:

Free-Range Chicken Wings £7.50
Hammer & Tongs Smoked Dry-Spice Rub

Boerewors (Beef Sausage) £9.50
Blatjang Relish

Swordfish £11
Blackened Leeks, Yellow Pepper, Lemon Thyme & Chardonnay Vinegar

Sweet Potato Curry (v) £5
Sweet Potato, Coriander, Burnt Onion, Curry Leaves, Cumin & Bread

Welsh Lamb Chops £15.50
Thyme, Rosemary, Mint, Coriander, Garlic & Fermented Milk

The larger sharing dishes include:

6-Hour Braai’d Lamb Ribs 2kg
Rosemary, Garlic, Cumin, Molasses & Beer Can Onion (for 2-4 people) £32
Welsh Lamb is used for this dish which is cut especially for the restaurant.

STEAKS
For 2 – 3 to share | From Dedham Vale

Aged Bone-in Rib-Eye Steak 600g £42
Mixed Herb & Garlic Oil, Monkey Gland Sauce

T-Bone Steak 700g £48
Black Pepper & Thyme Oil, Monkey Gland Sauce

POTJIES
Traditional dish cooked in a cast iron pot

Potjie (English pronunciation “poy-key”) Pot: descended from the Dutch oven brought from the Netherlands to South Africa in the 17th century and found in the homes and villages of people throughout southern Africa.

Mussels £12
Buttermilk, Marjoram & Garlic

Oxtail £12
Red Wine, Garlic, Onion & Root Vegetables

Tomato Salad  £4

We were recommended the Tomato Salad and it was perfectly piquant to accompany all our other dishes.

SIDES & SALADS include:

Braai Baked Ratte Potatoes (v) £4
Rosemary, Thyme & Pedro Ximenez Vinaigrette

Seasonal Greens (v) £4.75
Chef’s Selection of Seasonal Greens

Pot Bread £3
with Olive Oil

Tomato Salad (v) £4
Mixed Heirloom Tomatoes, Cumin, Thyme & Lime

Couscous Salad (v) £6
Couscous, Roast Butternut, Pine Nuts, Angostura Bitters, Sultanas, Lemon Zest & Goats Curd

Cucumber Pickle Salad (v) £5
Blackened Cucumber, Marjoram, Basil & Muscovado Sugar Pickle

There is no ceremony over courses; the food is served when it is ready and there is a range of different salads and sides to accompany the sharing platters.

We chatted and mulled and the ambiance was very relaxed and casual.  Some tables were choosing to only nibble a couple of dishes between them like tapas, and other tables were going at it “Hammer & Tongs” style.  I suspect that if you have anything more than a couple of dishes, if you are a couple you will need seating for 4; we did!

We were certainly not hungry by this time, but you can’t go to a South African restaurant where they serve Boerewors and Biltong and not have some.

Boerewors (Beef Sausage) £9.50

The Boerewors took me back to Africa; it was just as I used to enjoy it there.  I had read reviews of the Boerewors here being dry, but mine was perfect: well-seasoned, moist but firm and resting on another Hammer & Tongs flavourful accompaniment: the tasty and tangy Blatjang Relish.

Small Bites – Biltong £4

The Biltong was not as richly flavoured as I was used to from Johannesburg, but I so wonder if this milder taste might be more suited to the English palate.  Certainly, though, the texture and quality of the meat were top-notch.

Small Bites include- Biltong £4, Smoked Salmon £4, Pot Bread £3

Your meal at Hammer & Tongs will depend completely on how hungry you are and what you fancy doing.  You could, for instance, start with something smaller and then order something else later and keep going as and when the fancy takes you, making the evening as long a night as you wish with your varied dishes running as a tab like drinks.

The larger Lamb and Steak dishes can often take a little more time but most things on the menu are pretty quick to make.

For dessert, we continued with the sharing motto of the house and divvied up a pudding.

Malva Pudding £6

I must admit that the only other Malva Puddings I have to compare this to were shop-bought or chain-restaurant in South Africa and usually came drenched in syrup.  Hammer & Tongs’ Malva is still an aromatic and substantial spongy dish, but is much less sickly sweet and the Amarula Cream is yet another sauce love story for me.

DESSERTS include:

Malva Pudding £6
Apricot & Caramel & Amarula Cream

Dark Chocolate Mousse £6
Blackberry Compote, Yogurt & Pumpkin Seed Crumble

Cheese Selection £10
Crackers, Chutney, Grapes

I lived in South Africa for many years and our braais there were definitely not up to this standard.  With his Boerewors and Potjies and home-made Biltong, Head Chef Richard Lloyd certainly recaptured and upgraded the delight.

Note: Hammer & Tongs is currently offering a discount of 20% off the total bill to Barbican Association members.

Given even the small dishes and sosatjes are generous, one can eat at Hammer & Tongs at relatively low cost.  If one tots up the costs of what we had it came to under £60 for two including wine which is very competitive for the area. If one applied the 20% discount available to BA members that would come to around £48 for two! The meal was more than adequate in size – and the taste certainly lived up to our best expectations.  Definitely one to go back to.

Hammer & Tongs, 171 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3AL, +44 (0)20 3302 6645,  info@hammertongs.co.uk

Opening times:  Monday – Saturday Midday – Midnight