It was a sunny bank holiday weekend & I was visiting my boyfriend’s recently opened barbershop Strap and Scraper London in Shoreditch. His time-honoured, Victorian themed barbers truly defines the meaning of man cave – dark, rustic & full of memorabilia. After hours of watching him sharply shave a number of beards off in these manly surroundings, it was time for us to head out into the sunshine & to dinner. Somewhere pristine & elegant to make me feel like a girl again I thought.
As we locked up & walked out onto Brick Lane, I suggested that we head towards Liverpool Street in the hope of finding a rooftop restaurant on this beautiful day. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing better than the street food or famous Brick Lane bagels, but as it was bank holiday & unusually warm, everyone was out & I just couldn’t hack the hustle & bustle. All was going well; Brick Lane was slowly but surely disappearing behind me, but not for long. He lead me to a corner just off the busy street to a building that I can only describe as a wooden shed with massive metal doors & benches outside of it. It almost reminded me of an abandoned factory.
Yes it was buzzing & people were literally spilling out of the door, but at first I was not impressed. It certainly wasn’t the luxury afternoon I had in mind – one man cave to another! The look on my face only worsened when I saw pigtails & ox cheek on the menu! However once I looked beyond that & the menu was explained to me, I started to relax & was actually very intrigued.
Designed for sharing, the dishes at SMOKESTAK are served as they are ready regardless of whether it’s a starter or not – similar to Wagamamas. On first sight, I just assumed it was a super cheap restaurant with dishes as low priced as £6, however it soon occurred to me that the prices indicated a street food/mini plate type place.
After seeing some wacky ingredients on the menu, I was praying I’d find something relatively normal & reminiscent of what I expect of a so called “smoke stack” – meaty & barbecued. That was when I scouted out the
Excuse the poor quality image; there were too many dishes coming out at once that I didn’t get time to get good pictures of everything! As you might be able to see, this beastly burger was stacked quite high & once I had strategically figured out how I could break it down & devour it, my mouth instantly filled with meaty moisture. I have always been a bit cautious of brisket
- because I don’t actually know what it is
- because it reminds me of Howard Wolowitz from the Big Bang Theory
- it suddenly became a big craze just as pulled pork did which I sadly have to admit I am not a fan of – it is just too mushy & fatty for me, so I assumed that brisket would be similar.
To my pleasure, brisket & pulled pork do not even compare & I was hit in the face with the harsh reality that I had been missing out on such delicious food for all of these years. It is more of a succulent slice of meat as opposed to a stringy topping like pulled pork. I’m glad we ordered two of these brisket buns!
Pastrami, sour cabbage, pickles
On first sight, I thought these were really thin slices of steak but as the meat touched my lips, I was taken aback to discover that it was cold! As I began to chew, strong tastes of spices & herbs filled my mouth which is when I realised that this was actually pastrami. It was perfectly tender & reminded me of being back at the famous pastrami joint Katz Deli in New York.
Although this dish was very tasty, it could have been better if it was served the same way as the brisket – with some sort of bread. After all, pastrami is a typical delicatessen meat so whilst I appreciate that SMOKESTAK tried to be different (which we all know I love), sometimes you just can’t gentrify a traditional.
Salt baked beetroot, goat cheese, hazelnuts
I once tried this dish at Beach Blanket Babylon in Shoreditch as I was getting a healthy main meal so thought I would keep up this healthy streak for my starter also. I really wanted to love it because it looks so posh & healthy, but my tastebuds were just not feeling it. I thought I would give it another go here because at least if I didn’t like it, it’s a sharing plate so someone else will finish it!
However I am glad to say that it was such a contrast to my first experience. The goats cheese wasn’t too strong & there was a lot of it which was great for a lover of any type of cheese like myself. What also made it much nicer was the fact that the nuts were cut into small, soft chunks so there wasn’t too many textures going on to overcomplicate it which I think is what ruined it at BBB. I mean it was so good here that there was even a heavenly ray of light shining over the plate! Can you see?!
Wild mushrooms, beef dripping toast
All I need to say is WOW! I mean I know you will probably think I’m a freak, well actually yes I guess it’s a bit weird now that I am saying it aloud because who goes to a meat restaurant & enjoys the vegetables the most, but this was by FAR my favourite dish. The mushrooms were floating in a beautifully thick, vinegary sauce which perfectly softened the crispy sourdough bread beneath it.
This bread can normally be quite hard to eat & tends to cut the roof of my mouth but that wasn’t an issue at SMOKESTAK. I would happily have this as my main meal & perhaps even add some steak to it. In fact this should become a standard accompaniment to steak in all restaurants – the new but less spicy & more filling peppercorn sauce…Take my money!
Thick-cut pork ribs, pickled cucumber
Now I’m not normally one for ribs because they are too messy and quite frankly, I don’t see the point in them because they hardly have any meat on them! Nevertheless as we were at a BBQ smokehouse, it would be rude not to experience some type of rib. I was very pleasantly surprised – look at the size of those bad boys! If ribs were like that everywhere then I would definitely be a bigger fan.
Cooked to perfection, they had just the right amount of crunch around the edges yet were soft enough on the inside to fulfil their quota of falling off the bone. They also weren’t drowned in BBQ sauce which helped to make them feel more meaty. Probably the best ribs I’ve ever had & I’m happy for you to quote me on that! Fix up TGIs.
Beef brisket, barbecue
Although we already had a brisket dish, it was a twist on the traditional serving so we thought we would strip it back to it’s roots & eat it how it’s supposed to be. Like I said earlier, I love a bit of quirkiness & creativeness with food but sometimes you just can’t play with certain dishes so I wanted to see how they both compared. Unfortunately, it was 2-nil to the originals. The brisket alone was phenomenal. It was also good to mix the smokey flavour of the meat with the sweet sauce & peppers that it came with – not too much to distract or interfere with the taste of the brisket.
If I didn’t try this, I would have naively assumed that a burger would be better than a bit of plain meat. Looking back, I actually think that the big burger bun got in the way of the beauty & softness of this delicious sliced meat. After my new found love for Brisket, I will certainly be on the hunt to #discoverdifference in it somewhere else too!
Jacket potato, smoked rarebit
Last but not least was the jacket potato. I’m sure most would say that this is an atypical dish to choose for eating out but it was the most similar thing they had to chips which unfortunately, they do not provide! Strange for a BBQ restaurant I know – it even put me off slightly. However once I thought about it, it made me like SMOKESTAK even more because it added a uniqueness to the place.
This positive feeling was cemented when the enormous jacket potatoes arrived with smoked rarebit cheese dripping from them. The skin underneath looked cremated but it surprisingly wasn’t burnt & was still fine to cut; it just added a lovely crispiness to the soft, cheesy potato.
Overall, I would definitely recommend SMOKESTAK. If not for the food, then even just for the cocktails. Again, they do not sound very appetising & even quite manly as they have ingredients like bourbon & whisky but they were so refreshing & tasty. Perfect for a summers day sitting on the benches outside overlooking Brick Lane. It isn’t the poshest of places if that is the vibe you are after, but it is just what you would expect for a BBQ – chilled & rustic.
Book via the link here to #DiscoverDifference with SMOKESTAK.