These men are greeat butchers, they sell magnicent meat, they are “my butchers”. Let me tell you why.
So I do not write about food often enough, even though I am a damn good cook.
But I want the best of everything, so I do food with style. There are several places in central London that I rely on for good food. One of them is McKannas. I have wanted to write about McKanna Butchers for a while now, so here it is. This is a proper article, not an events mag review, so please read to the end, I promise you it is worth it.
McKanna Butchers are on a stretch of the Theobalds Road, near Clerkenwell. They are directly opposite Lamb’s Conduit Street, one of the hippest streets in London, beloved by the rather stylish Monocle magazine. I am guessing that the original Mr McKanna is long gone, but his legacy lives on.
Back before gentrification, this little area was an anglo-Italian community. So the shops here were the shops a community needed. A few of them remain. There is an old-school fish and chip shop that sells proper fish and chips at reasonable prices. There is a hardware store that sells everything from solvents to Leatherman tools. And there is McKanna.
McKanna are traditional butchers but with a European sensibility. The shop is stuffed with every kind of meat, all of it of the finest quality. Yet their prices are extremely competitive. Here is a picture.
If McKanna’s looks small to you, you’re right, it is. Somehow there are always three butcher’s fitting themselves into this tiny space, cutting and serving. There is an equally small outback, with the freezers and stuff.
Who goes there
Here’s how you do it. You join the queue, which at busy times snakes out the door of the shop. There is something about McKanna’s, people talk to each other in the queue. I almost got a date here with a very stylish woman, simply by telling her my recipe for a bacon and Reblochon sandwich (they sell deli cheeses too). A lot of good restaurants buy from McKanna, so you are often queuing with sous-chefs and catering staff. Other customers include the afore-mentioned stylish gals from the jewellery/interior design/clothes shops nearby, in-the-know big men like me, who really want that steak, urban hipsters nervously buying real (not shrinkwrapped) meat, for the first time.
Elderly local women shop here a lot. I think because this is the type of butcher they know from the old days and who they trust. And let me tell you, these butchers, tough as they might look, are suckers for old ladies. If you want to see elderly people treated with respect and affection this is the place. These are real men who know how to treat older folks.
Though most of the Italian community have moved out, some of them still make a pilgrimage to McKanna’s because of the quality of the produce here. I had a great experience here. I was in the queue behind two Italian ladies in their seventies, both immaculately groomed and well-dressed. They were buying, amongst other things, a pig’s head. They were telling Marek, one of the butchers,how they wanted the head cut. It was a truly illuminating experience. I learnt something about Italian butchery and the immense care with which Italians
prepare their food.
Go here. These are real butchers and they will give you all the advice you need. In the time it takes to get to the front of the queue (which runs alongside the meat counter-display) you will have been able to look over the fine meats on offer and have some choices in mind.
Here are some of the things I have recently bought from McKanna.
Only last week I bought some superb aged rib-eyes from McKanna. Tender, juicy, just the right amount of fat. Cooking a steak right is not easy, but with these it is a walk in the park. If God has a beef farm and cuts steaks, he is selling them to McKanna.
I am a real connoisseur of these French spicy lamb sausages. My affection for Merguez datesfrom my teenage years when I was bumming around France and a plate of Merguez and cous-cous was the cheapest meal available, in some run-down Algerian cafe.
Most English Merguez have too much fat and contain too much cereal, so when you cook them they are soggy and lack bite. McKanna’s are the best I have tasted in England, meaty, spicy and satisfyingly firm when you bite into them. They need so little cooking, two minutes under a high grill heat and they are done.
Gloucester Old Spot Belly Pork
McKanna is one of the few places that regularly have Gloucester Old Spot belly pork in stock. It is the prince of porks, with a sweet, unctuous flavour that no other pork can match. McKanna also sell magnificent Gloucester Old Spot sausages, which are very tasty.
Beef Short Ribs
A friend gave me a recipe for Beef Short Ribs, basically a variation on a Provencal Daube (beef casserole). But where to get the Beef Short Ribs? Of course McKanna have them, in the very front of their display.
French Guinea Fowl
It’s hard enough to get a good Guinea Fowl, which makes a classy (and economical) dinner party dish. McKanna’s stock a range of French Guinea Fowls that are very tasty and remarkably cheap, for what they are. They roast up beautifully.
I love offal of all kinds. Again, probably a legacy of bumming around France. I particularly like McKanna’s Spanish Black Pudding, which is made with paprika and rice. As far as I know, no-one else sells this. It is a superb slightly spicy black pudding
to serve with a classic English breakfast.
Bacon and Pancetta
I buy bacon only from McKanna. It’s that good. Also, their Pancetta is excellent, smoky and well-larded, always available, and they will cut you a piece of any size.
McKanna’s is a Tardis of a Butchers shop. Tiny, yet it contains everything from Duck Confit to Italian Salami to jars of cassoulet. Their range of sausages spans Italian, French (Toulouse plus the aforementioned Merguez) and English, all made solely for them. Their meat is of the highest quality and for all that their prices are amazingly competitive.
The butchers here are friendly, helpful and really know their stuff. It is a tribute to them that I think of them as “my” butcher when I live ands work a long way away from them. McKanna are a community butcher that everyone can call their own.
Go buy from them.
Avoid Friday lunchtime between 13.00 and 14.00 when they are busier than hell. But go any other time and add meat connoisseur to your other style attributes. You will be doing yourself a huge favour.
I present to you one of the secret special stores of London, McKanna Butchers. They are a real experience, one you will savour.
21 Theobalds Road,
Tel: 0207 242 7740
Open early till 17.00, Monday to Friday. Saturday open till 14.00
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