photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
We’re all for new hobbies, but some people go way too far with their latest obsession. For instance, middle-aged men who get into their vintage supercar a bit too much. It starts with a baseball cap off Ebay. “It’s cool! It’s from the same year as the car darling”. Next thing you know they’re wearing bomber jackets with a yellow horse patch to family birthdays, funerals, Christmas. It ends with a settlement over child custody and a tearful AutoTrader listing.
Turn up outside Smokestak and you could get a bit worried that these guys have gone all tragic-car-dad over barbecue. The exterior is pretty much unmarked and characterised by corrugated iron, purposeful rust, and an extremely testing door. We get the feeling the architect’s mood board centred around the word STEAMPUNK crossed out and replaced with SMOKEPUNK and, you have to say it’s a successful realisation of this. Whatever this is. Once you heave open the door you’re in an artfully dirty and dark room. The seats are wooden and the cutlery black. If Grand Design’s Kevin McCloud did a wealthy Scandinavian serial killer spin-off, this would likely win basement of the year.
Their barbecue aesthetic is certainly on point, but what about the food? Turns out they’re really, really into this barbecue stuff. Their brisket bun - the thing they basically got famous for selling at festivals around the UK - is almost definitely still the best meat between bread you can get in London. The tower of meat comes with a handful of pickled chillies and it’s a storming combo. The bun comes in a regular and large size, meat quantity-wise. We are not regular kind of people and neither are you. We’ve jumped the gun though, because you’ll probably be chewing on some crispy pigtails before you go anywhere brisket related. These little fellas look a bit gnarled and wrong, but they taste so right: crunchy and moist, you shouldn’t be leaving anything on the bone. It’s down to business after this. Smoked meat business. Three slices of pastrami with pickles and mustard are smokey, meaty, vinegary bliss. The slices of brisket with a pile of pickled chilli are all charred edges and melty fat. Our one complaint? Please sirs, can we have some more?
Smokestak’s obsession with all things smoky doesn’t end at the vibe and the meat though. The jacket potato is transformed from the nostalgic lunch of your 6th form into a crisp, partly blackened, molten cheese covered monster. On the lighter side of things, charred greens are covered with tahini, pomegranate and peanuts - a delicious combo. It’s one thing being able to smoke meats, it’s another being able to smoke greens.
And that’s the thing about Smokestak. They’re really into barbecue and smoking all kinds of foods (and surfaces) in the best possible way. This is Shoreditch’s finest example of how to go OTT on something, really well. It suits popping in for a quick bun and beer at the bar, or booking with a group to get serious with a whole brisket. It’s the sort of place you can use as an example of how to go about an obsession in the right away, even to Ferrari cap wearers.
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Cured Pigs Jowl
This is like the sweetest, most delicate bacon you’ve ever eaten. It’s intense like good San Daniele prosciutto, except crispy, which is as good as it sounds.
Crispy Ox Cheek
These are essentially tiny cubes of slow-cooked beef that have been breaded and deep fried, kind of like a super meaty croquette. So yes, you want to order them.
A pot of unadulterated crispy pig bits. We like ’em.
This is a soft, perfectly formed, handful of joy. You’ll want to rest your head on it, if it wasn’t already in your mouth.
Pastrami, Sour Cabbage, And Pickles
This is melt in your mouth meat to make you swoon, not sweat. Not your average pastrami.
Thick-Cut Pork Ribs, Pickled Cucumbers
They aren’t lying when they say thick. These doorstops are slathered in BBQ sauce and make a great sharer.
Because meat is the new bread, this is everything we like about the brisket sandwich but without any pesky bun getting in the way of us going all-in on that incredible beef. Take that, bread lobby!
Beef Rib, Pickled Red Chilli
These slices come on a black metal tray looking the result of a mad scientist’s latest experiment. Perfectly charred meat, a pool of sauce and a handful of chillies. It’s the best experiment ever.
Heritage Tomato, Roasted Pine Nuts
You’ll need the sweet-and-sourness from these tomatoes to counter all that smoke, salt and fat. Also, we’re pretty sure that this is the only thing on the menu that doesn’t contain pork fat.
Salt Baked Beetroot, Goats Cheese, Hazelnuts
You’ll be really, really enjoying this and then think, ‘wait, I’m in a bbq meat restaurant right?’.
Charred Greens, Tahini, Pomegranate, Peanut
Hidden in plain sight on the menu, this isn’t your normal kind of salad. A definite order.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
If you’re ordering this after all of that barbecue, you’re undeniably a champ, and we’re also a little worried for you.