Smokestak has made the transition from street food stall to full-blown restaurant, and chef/owner David Carter has done it in style.
Originally from Barbados, Carter worked in some of London’s best restaurants, before heading back across the pond to study barbecue in the US. After much praise as a street food stall at Dinerama, Smokestak now has a hugely impressive permanent home in Shoreditch.
The styling is super industrial and very measured – dark wood, leather, metal, crittall windows, and barely lit filament bulbs. It’s cool as fuck, and I love it. It feels more refined, more stylish than other BBQ joints, and this vibe is carried though to their gorgeous Instagram feed. This place is different.
A rocky start
Our evening got off to a bad start. Our table for four wasn’t ready, so we were pointed to the tiny, windowless, near pitch-black bar downstairs. After resorting to using the torch on Mark’s phone to read the cocktail menu, we waited a further 20 mins for someone to tell us our table was ready.
Back upstairs, we were plonked on a corner of the chunky communal table. Ours had obviously been given to someone else… Unfortunately, Mark backed on to a narrow gangway near the open kitchen, and staff spent the rest of the evening nudging him in the back every time they walked past. Mark was not a happy boy.
To their credit, the staff were on it, and quickly brought up a round of free drinks to apologise. Smokestak’s cocktail menu is short but strong, and my tequila, smoke, lime, and ginger Smoke (£8.50) was bang on the money.
Pulled pork is synonymous with barbecue, so Carter’s decision to leave it off the menu could be considered quite brave, but Carter is bored of it, and so am I. To fill this piggy shaped hole, you’ll find a range of grown-up, refined small plates with plenty to excite vegetarians as much as carnivores.
We got down to ordering a mix of things the table, as well as some dishes we greedily wanted all to ourselves.
The Crispy Ox Cheek croquettes are £4.50 for 3, so we order a fourth for an extra £1.50. They’re deliciously rich and come with a punchy mayo to dip in. Smokestak is best-known for brisket and you can have it two ways – as a bun or in thick slices as a larger plate. The Brisket Bun (£5) is small, but filled with juicy, fatty, melt-in-the-mouth meatiness that leaves you wanting more. Topped with some pickled red chilli, it’s a cracker. Order two.
Those veggie options I mentioned include dishes like Salt Baked Beetroot with goats cheese and hazelnuts (£6.50) and Smoked Aubergine with toasted cashew and burnt honey (£7.50). Both were well balanced, and made great sides for our meat choices.
We also had the delicious Grilled Baby Gem with bacon, and walnut gremolata (£5). I love cooked lettuce and have been chucking it on the barbecue for years, so I was glad to see something like this on the menu. The Wild Mushrooms on beef dripping toast (£7.50) was uber-rich, and whilst delicious, not something I could eat a lot of.
On to the stuff we were too greedy to share. Ribs were on my mind (they always are), so the only decision I had to make was beef or pork. I went for the Thick-cut Pork Ribs (£9), which were as tender and smoky as I’d hoped, and worked beautifully with the pickled cucumber that comes on the side.
Antonia changed her mind a dozen times, and ended up with the Torched Mackerel with burnt leek (£8), which was decent but didn’t stack up well in comparison to other dishes.
Emillie’s Beef Brisket (£9.50) glistened with juiciness and is served simply, with a small pile of pickled red chilli and a puddle of rich barbecue sauce. Top drawer.
Smokestak lived up to the hype in some ways, but struggled in others. Carter himself seems like a lovely guy and came over to see how our evening was, give us a quick tour of the kitchen, and show off his huge $20,000 smoker.
Some dishes are pricey, eg. half a jacket potato for £5, but we managed to eat and drink well for about £35 a head. Besides, there are bills to pay and the overheads here must be massive…!
It’s right up there with the best barbecue in town, and if you’re looking for an example of how to move from street food stall to permanent restaurant, Smokestak is the blueprint.
|Extra Ox Cheek||£1.50|
|Brisket Bun x 2||£5.00 each|
|Pork Ribs x 2||£9.00 each|
|Burnt Peach Old Fashioned||£9.00|
|Quince + Thyme x 2||£8.50 each|
|Porter Mill Station (btl)||£20.00|
|Kernel Pale Ale||£5.50|