For some time Smokestak has been smashing out reliably tasty brisket sandwiches from their big ass locomotive of smokers at the entrance to the now defunct Dalston Street Feast. It was a most impressive open air smoke house that always had an impressive queue. And was always the street food guys that seemed the most obvious for a transition to that bricks and mortar life.
It took a while, but the Smokestak guys have finally opened up a space just off Brick Lane - A smokehouse from a dystopian future, looking like something from the Industrial Zone on the Crystal Maze - a mesh of naked concrete, thick reclaimed wooden tables, pavement tiles on counter sides and seemingly deliberate dirt-frosted windows. The first thing that hits you from walking in is the amazing smell of smoking meat that fills the room, deliciously comforting and so ever-present that it permeates your clothes. It is a nasally pleasingly shelter from the apocalypse. We like it.
The menu is short, separated into neatly compartmentalised sections explained by the wait staff. The nibbles at the top consist of scratchings, a chicarron-style pork rind, puffed up so that it is super crispy, yet airy, with a coating of spices to give it a bit of a kick. There was also the crispy ox cheek which was fucking great. Impressively neat cubes with a nicely breaded exterior that supplied a satisfying deep crunch while the soft, rich, meat nestled inside - loosely stored with a stew-like intensity of flavour.
The appetisers that followed were equally pleasing. The pastrami was a photographer's dream, deeply pink meat layered with a thin glisten of fat and topped with a dark seasoned bark. It was soft, moist, with the spice from the coating giving it the familiar flavour. It would no doubt would make a very good pastrami sandwich. But the must-order is the smoked girolles mushrooms on beef dripping toast: a combination of mushrooms garlic and herbs covered in a thick glossy and most outrageously sweet, smoky, beefy sauce piled upon on a slice of charred sourdough. You could have put that sauce in a bowl and we would have mopped it up with bread for ever and ever it was so good.
The brisket looked brilliant - craggy separations in the ribbons of meat, tissues broken down by hours in the smoker, were surrounded by reassuring outer pink ring and a dark bark. The layers of perfectly rendered fat meandered throughout the meat, adding melty texture to the bite. With all moisture in tact and the more intense taste of the bark in the mix, it created that ever pleasing mouthful of flavoursome smoked meat.
The pork ribs were soft, neatly charred on the grill and covered in a great sticky and rich, vinegary sweet sauce. And the beef rib, again smoked to just right so the meat was both yielding in texture and perfectly juicy. The slices slipped down delightfully with a splash of the sauce that was served with it, which merged savoury and sweet with the great balance.
Everything we ate was great. Some things were really fucking great.
There is an amazing level of care and attention to the way these guys present their food. From the neatly cut parcel paper, to the way the beef rib is pre-sliced - it is a poshed up form of barbecue, served like smoked meat is the most precious commodity in the food universe.
Whilst we find SStak very pleasing, it just isn't the same as the barbecue joints visited in the States (and clearly they're not trying to be either). There is something about the rustic charm of getting exceptionally smoked meat at decent prices in an unpretentious setting, with free WonderBread to boot, that adds to the experience of eating the food. The fine dining nuances that places like Smokestak and Pitt Cue use in their presentation and provenance feel like a form of smoke and mirrors to justify charging peak Shoreditch dollar. It seems we are still stuck between the chintzy Americana vibe of places like Red's and Bodean's, and the semi-high end concept of Smokestak, when what we need is an honest smokehouse, slinging by the pound and wrapped in brown paper.
But enough of the contrary humbug, it is doubtful somewhere will ever achieve the thing we're looking for in a barbecue gaff in London, it's an impossible dream. So we'll happily placate ourselves with regular visits here and Pitt Cue instead - they are selling the closest thing to it.