I love the idea of a smokehouse. It’s like a barbecue on steroids and, like barbecues, I’ve had some good and bad experiences. I’ve had some fabulous juicy and sticky ribs but also some horribly dry brisket which should have stayed in the expensive smoker and never seen the light of day.
I was really looking forward to a visit to Smokestak. Apparently the restaurant began as a streetfood provider and has now upscaled. There is a lovely progression from home cook to streetfood to restaurant in the same way that online retailer, to market trader to independent retailer works for me. I love seeing food entrepreneurship and talent being successful.
From the outside, during the daytime, Smokestak is very imposing. Imagine an armoured plate restaurant and you won’t be far wrong. There are glass windows but even they show a smokiness and are framed with steel. At night you need to work out to swing open the heavy metal door before entering a foundry. It’s industrial with an enormous black smoker at the back, an open kitchen with steam and flames, and black walls, pipes, gauges and switches around. The accompanying black cutlery is a great touch Its magnificent theatre.
We had a table for four which was a simple wooden surface with benches either side. There are some nice larger tables for larger family evenings – noisy and brash with little points of light over each table.
The menu is simple and short. The idea is to order a few plates and share them around. Although I mentioned family dining, on reflection, this is a grown up place. The cocktails are distinctively adult – not a cherry or umbrella in sight – tumblers and whiskey to the fore. Its also understandably all about meat. I wouldn’t recommend it for vegetarians unless you want to eat side dishes.
The sea bream starter was an interesting plate which seemed slightly out of kilter with everything else we ate. The raw sea bream was served in a vinaigrette pickle with chilli slices and pieces of grapefruit. The combination was lovely and cleansing.
The mushroom on toast was something else entirely. The mushrooms were well cooked and had been steeped in beef dripping sauce – very earthy and unctuous on top of some decent bread.
The pastrami was nicely peppered and very tender. It was served with some pickled cabbage and some balsamic onion.
The highlight of the meal, unanimously, was the brisket. It was so juicy and so tender. The barbecue sauce and red chilli slices went beautifully with it but it could easily have been fine just on its own. The slices were very thin and held their texture well. I suspect I may have spoilt myself for brisket going forward.
The ribs were also very tender and pulled away from the bone easily and into shreds from itself with just a fork. The accompanying lightly pickled cucumber was also a really nice refreshing side.
We had a couple of sides. The jacket potato with rarebit was a game of two halves. The skins had been fried to crisp them up but we felt that they made them hard to cut and inedible. The filling though was beautifully light, well seasoned and yummy. The charred greens with tahini and pomegranate were perfect alongside all the meat. The sharpness of the pomegranate was somehow cleansing.
We had a pause and then went for a grand finale of three puddings between us. The salted caramel ice cream with praline was excellent. Dipping a spoon down the side of the glass to get a bit of each was well worth doing. The warm salty praline against the ice cream was yummy. The plum in the crumble was nicely tart but the crumble could have been crumblier and there could have been more of it. The sticky toffee pudding was very good.
There is a lot to admire about Smokestak. I include the £1 donation to War Child added to each bill and the accompanying explanation card. A street food business being successful is also heartening in this day and age. The design of the place is brave and visually stunning.
And the brisket was to die for.