After a couple of aperitifs at a nearby hostelry, we strolled along The New River to our destination for the evening; The Smokehouse in Islington, North London. At first glance the restaurant looked a little bit like a slightly shabby pub but as we neared the entrance we were enveloped by the warming aroma of gently smoked meat. It was a sublime hint of the carnivorous delights we came for!
The Smokehouse in Islington is a lovely place with a great menu
Once inside all thoughts of shabbiness immediately dissipated as we wandered through the comfortable looking bar area and into the restaurant. Low lighting, cheerful staff and that same mouth-watering waft of something that had been cooking all day gave us a lovely environment in which to peruse the menu, and what a menu!
The Smokehouse’s summer cup was an obvious temptation
A quick round of The Smokehouse’s ‘Summer Cup’ gave us something refreshing to sip while we set about the serious business of whittling down the choices; a wonderfully difficult job! I couldn’t bring myself to order the foie gras ganache but I have to confess to being a little disappointed that no one else did, as I never got to taste it! However, the starters that we did choose all lived up to expectations and beyond. The octopus & n’duja shouldn’t really work on paper, but the delicate flavour of the octopus managed to stand up next to the powerfully spicy Calabrian sausage. The potted smoked duck was packed with flavour and the crab with Korean pickled cucumber was a pleasing introduction to quite a few Korean influenced dishes on the menu. The pick of the starters had to be the heavenly chopped brisket roll with gochujang (a smoothly spicy, tomato based Korean condiment). I cracked open the fist-sized crispy crumbed casing which revealed steaming, deliciously seasoned, meltingly tender beef that may have proved too large a portion for some people but thankfully I was saved from any such worries by my companions who all wanted a ‘taste’!
Getting stuck into the extensive beer list
Starters out of the way, all washed down with a beer or two from the extensive beer list and we were onto the main event. Somehow we all eschewed the evening’s special and there may have been a tinge of food envy when we saw some of the dinosaur sized ribs appearing from the kitchen and looked on longingly as they were whisked away to other tables. It was yet again a short-lived disappointment as the Barnsley chop and short-rib bourguignon both delivered on flavor and the two of us that ordered ‘The Sphere’ (smoked ham hock, pigs cheek, squid romesco & fregola) could find little fault with it other than there was little trace of the flavour or texture of the squid but to be honest, I didn’t miss it amongst all that porky loveliness! Whilst on the subject of Porky Loveliness, a special mention must go to one of the side dishes; roast potatoes, green salad or even some grilled gem lettuce were on offer but paled in comparison to the little dish of Korean Pulled Pork that was one of the best ‘side’ options I’ve ever come across. Very simple; melt in the mouth pork (shoulder, I think) with subtle Korean spices and a few spring onions sprinkled over the top. I would happily sit at the bar with a pint or two and a dish of this sublime pulled pork (or two, or three) and be a very, very contented man!
Neil Rankin the master of the BBQ
I first came across the Smokehouse’s chef, Neil Rankin, on one of those Great British Menu episodes where he was billed as a ‘Master of the BBQ’ so as a fan of all things ‘meat meets heat’ I was immediately interested to find out more and if I’m honest, I was half expecting to find some sort of poncified ribshack/steakhouse/American BBQ diner with deep fried everything when I first looked up this restaurant. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Rankin and his staff seem to really care about what goes on your plate and there is an obvious commitment to using quality produce and an approach that celebrates all things meaty and smokey whilst being inventive and thoughtful about how a dish should come together and what works well with what. I wouldn’t even describe it as a BBQ restaurant, simply a damn good restaurant that happens to have beautifully smoked meat in a lot of it’s dishes.
A rare treat!
So, if you’re in North London and as long as you don’t mind a few Hoxton hipsters draping themselves over the comfy armchairs in the bar and you’re prepared to experience a certain amount of food envy when you start seeing some of the dishes you didn’t order come out of the kitchen, then you will be in for a rare treat indeed!
The Smokehouse Islington
63-69 Canonbury Road