A big bricks-n-mortar smokehouse from the cult street food vendors.
About time, too. Having built a cult following for its smokehouse meats, street food supremo Smokestak has done the decent thing, opening up a restaurant proper. And a proper restaurant it is: 75 seats inside, 30 more outside. A stygian, semi-industrial space with a hum of throbbing beats, it’s like eating in a medieval nightclub.
Keeping with the medieval theme, it was – on the night of my visit at least – dominated by men. Not in a lads-lads-lads kind of way, calling us wenches and slapping our bottoms, but more of a bring-the-boys-for-a-night-of-bromance kind of shizzle. Tables and booths were taken up with bearded thirtysomething blokes, supping on craft beers and cocktails: all part of the man-tastic, meat-lovin’ vibe. At one stage, I saw two fellas do a tiny fist pump (too cute!). Turns out, they’d just found the beef brisket on the menu.
This is a signature dish and rightly so. It comes two ways: a single hunk of flesh, or shredded, in a bun. I prefer the latter, which I first ate at Meatopia (a three-day festival of meat), where it was one of the ‘must-try’ dishes, with a perpetual queue. It’s equally the sine qua non of eating here. Moist, smoky, sweet and salty meat (the brisket is smoked overnight, for 12-14 hours, over English oak) comes snuggled inside a pillowy, slightly sweet bun, brushed with a lick of barbecue sauce and bone marrow butter. It also has a scatter of pickled fresh red chilli, with just the right amount of both tang and heat. Price? A fiver. That’s scandalously good value.
I also approved of the simplicity and restraint of the pastrami: just four slices carved from a brine-cured, hand-rubbed, house-smoked slab of brisket. Here, the smoke is more subtle, as is the sweet-salt balance; there’s a deliciously fatty rind you should definitely eat. Plus slices of classic sweet gherkins and a fresh, crunchy ‘sauerkraut’ of lightly pickled, still-crunchy cabbage and fennel, spiked with caraway seeds.
Garlicky wild mushrooms are cooked in bone marrow: the sticky, unctuous pile is served over beef dripping toast. Don’t take a vegetarian, basically. Or, in fact, a pescatarian. You could technically order fish, but as the two guys next to me scoffed (when I innocently asked if they’d consider it), ‘Why would you?’ Indeed, the biggest thumbs-down of the night was an unpleasantly strong-tasting mackerel (I sent it back; it was instantly struck from the bill – a big tick for service, at least).
But a bigger issue is this: every dish comes laden with ‘smoke’, or calories, or both. Choose carelessly, and you’ll end up with an exhausting, ‘one-note’ meal. A baby gem ‘salad’ arrived under a blanket of grated cheese and sour cream. An ice cream arrived unpalatably smoky (enough already! You have your own smoker. We get it). The sticky toffee pud is insanely good, but may just push you over the edge.
So go hungry – and I mean, caveman hungry – and order plenty of the citrussy fennel and celery slaw. A palate-cleansing yin to all that meaty yang, it’ll allow you to appreciate what Smokestak does best.
35 Sclater St
|Opening hours:||Mon-Sat midday-3pm, 5.30pm-11pm; Sun 5.30pm-11pm.|
|Transport:||Tube: Liverpool St|
|Price:||Dinner for two with drinks and service: around £80.|
|Do you own this business?|