I recently went along to the grand launch of Smoke Barbecue. For those now scratching their heads, it’s a new place that’s opened up in St Paul’s Place- you know the bit out the back of the Winter Garden, just along from Piccolino and Pizza Express? Smoke is positioned under the Cheesegrater car park (officially the third coolest car park in the world), next to Genting Casino. Anyways, you’ll know when you’re near from the amazing wood chip/barbecue smell in the air… It’s great to see these units start filling up and hopefully St Paul’s Place will become a bit of a destination in the way that Leopold Square is. Just this week, Cosmo restaurant opened up across from Smoke.
This was actually my second visit to Smoke. I’d snuck in a preview visit with a friend a few days after Christmas, at the point where the thought of eating any more leftover gammon or turkey at home was making me feel just a little bit murderous. That night, we had a few cocktails, filled our bellies with awesome meat- beef brisket for me, pulled pork for my pal- and dished the dirt on Christmas before heading to The Showroom for a film (Cate Blanchett for best actress!). It was an ace night, enhanced by the great food and service at Smoke.
The official launch only improved on this. We had the same cheeky waiter as last time, Alex, who was great on banter but also knew when to leave us to it- a golden quality. We had an even better table than before, facing the open kitchen so we could spy on the chefs while they worked their magic.
The aesthetic at Smoke is urban/industrial chic. We had a chat with the lovely Duka, one of the owners; she told us that everything in the restaurant was reclaimed. That explained the tables made from pallets:
And the lights made from old washing machine drums:
Our chat with Duka also showed us how passionate she and her business partner Sean are about what they’re offering here. The whole idea for Smoke started a few years ago, when Sean caught a glimpse of Texan barbecue food on an episode of Man Vs Food (love that show!) and it ignited something inside him. So, he hot-footed it over to Texas to get the authentic experience first hand. A place called The Salt Lick convinced Sean that this concept could work in the UK and so here we are.
Smoke’s menu is simple but effective. On launch night, it had changed slightly from my first visit, with a few downwards adjustments to prices evident. There’s a small range of burgers (three, to be precise), two veggie options, and a whole load of meat from the smokers and pit to choose from. These include pulled pork, barbecue chicken, turkey leg, sausages, ribs and beef brisket. There’s also a kids menu (£6 for a main), information on the provenance of the meat and ice cream and a range of beers and wines on offer, including a selection from local brewery, Thornbridge.
While we waited for our mains, we were brought some of Smoke’s complimentary popcorn, which had a bit of BBQ seasoning on it, and our Diet Pepsis arrived in jam jars- regular readers will know that this normally would have pleased me, but I think I might be getting over the whole drinks-in-jars thing. They are becoming as ubiquitous as enamel plates. New trend, please. The popcorn was nice, though.
We shared the Smoke sharer plate (£30), which was epic. It comprised beef brisket, pulled pork, baby back ribs, barbecue turkey leg (I was just about ready to face it, post-Christmas) and house hot link sausage, as well as twice cooked chips and a side. We plumped for the jalapeño corn bread muffin.
As you can see, the sharer plate is massive and I was glad I’d only had a light lunch that day. The little pot of sauce in the middle is the chef’s secret sauce, made with mustard. It was alright, but the real star sauce for me is Smoke’s homemade BBQ sauce; a bottle of it is on each table. Duka informed us that some bottles had been growing legs and walking out with customers, which is hardly surprising, so tasty are their contents. But- good news!- Smoke are hoping to have it bottled for sale soon. It’s seriously good and doesn’t have liquid smoke in it, relying instead on chipotle chilis for its smoky flavour. My mouth is watering just writing about it. I’ll be first in the queue to buy some when the time comes.
So, what of the rest of the food? Well, I already knew from my first visit how much I liked the brisket. It’s fall-apart tender and well-spiced:
The sausages were succulent and smoky, and I loved the charring on their outside. The pulled pork wasn’t served warm enough for me, but the flavours were alright and it was juicier than it had looked on my previous visit:
That turkey leg, despite looking like something you might expect The Flintstones to be tucking into, was brilliant. It was nice to try something different from the usual ribs and brisket in a BBQ joint, and there was plenty of meat to go round on this. Plus, it was nice and lean, making it feel fairly healthy (which was just as well, considering everything else we ate):
I personally found the ribs a bit disappointing, they weren’t as meaty and juicy as I like my ribs; however, The Other Half disagreed, so maybe I’m just picky:
The cornbread muffin was a delight. It had a nice crisp crust on the outside and a good, crumbly texture inside, as well as some whole corn kernels:
Even though we really should have called it a night, it seemed rude to not try some of the puddings. After a brief interval, and a spectacular show featuring some choreographed moves with angle grinders creating lots of sparks, it was time. We shared the banoffee pie in a jar and campfire s’mores, selected from a chalkboard whose offerings regularly change.
The banoffee was the perfect size and not too heavy on the banana, which is a pet peeve of mine with banoffee:
The s’mores came on an enamel plate (!), with a thick biscuity base the perfect partner for the gooey marshmallows on top of it. The only complaint from The Other Half was “I could live with a bit more chocolate on it, but I think that’s true of everything in my life”:
Fit to burst, it was time to go home and collapse into a meat coma. Smoke’s got a great atmosphere, with the tables not too close together and some good music playing. Several friends and colleagues have visited since it opened and liked it. I enjoyed it just as much on my second visit and am looking forward to heading back very soon for thirds. Many thanks to Smoke Barbecue for having us as their guests at the launch night.