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PI's Hands-on Approach to Buying Fresh British Meat from Smithfield Market for your Events

Two or three times a week our Director of Cooking will drive a PI van to Smithfield Market to pick up, in person, our meat, poultry and game orders for upcoming events. This hands-on approach to food collection is an addiction we acquired at our 9 Elms premises where we conveniently had a market opposite us. The habit has helped us to establish loyal connections with the individuals who personally source, cut and package our meat for catering events of any size.  Having a trusting relationship with a supplier is a quality and advantage that you often find at a village butchers shop but rarely in this competitive London catering industry.

One of our suppliers is James Burden Ltd which has expanded so much in the last 30 years that they now use a couple of outlets in Smithfield for different produce. Their meat carving room, which is kept at 7°C, is near the entrance of the market by the clock tower. Large windows reveal the hanging carcasses (cows, pigs, lambs etc) and the carving operation while shop counters have cuts on display for quick purchases. 

At 10pm they unload deliveries of fresh meat from the farms in Norfolk, amongst others, and hang them upon the mechanical hooks that reposition the meat within the room as required. The turnover of meat is fast thankfully since it only takes a few days before a pig, for example, becomes sticky. If the carcasses don’t need to be carved into particular cuts then James Burden prepares the animal for wholesale. Similar to the squid cleaner or filleter at Southbank Fresh Fish, each blocksman has a particular cut he specialises in and they will have been making cuts since midnight in anticipation of the orders. They finally put their knives down at 6.30am. 

Kenny, James Burden’s meat arm salesmen, works in the office with his father, which is a common collaboration at many markets. On an average day they open up the office at 1am to clear the voicemail of all orders. Finalising the orders, talking to existing and prospective clients, taking tickets down to the shop(s) and wrapping up bookings at the end of the shift takes them to about 8.30am when they will head home. However Kenny says he will be taking orders on his mobile throughout the day and evening until his wife tells him to go to sleep.

Andy, the game and poultry arm shop manager and purchaser, has a good relationship with the British farmers from whom he buys produce and has been to many of the farms in person. One special day Andy took his young son to Telmara Farm in Essex to see the ducks. His son happily played in the duck yard where birds stick together as they roam and run about, taking up only a quarter of the available space. The pheasants, partridge, quails are also bred in Britain and delivered to Smithfield, pre-packaged, within a couple days of leaving the farm. 

The market is wide awake when most of London is sleeping (2.30am – 7am), i.e. when the tubes aren’t running. It is busily full of vans and trolleys on Mondays and Fridays so Wednesday is usually a bit quieter. By 6.30am it becomes easier to find parking spaces but many of the counters are bare by then; you’ll see more early-rising City workers cycling through on their Boris bikes than shoppers - meaning bed time for the market.


You are more than welcome to wander around the market yourself during the week as you don’t need to be a business to shop here. Thereafter, you may be interested in doing an early morning pub crawl so check this route out (and we agree about the scotch eggs at The Fox & Anchor).