REVIEW: Smokestak, Shoreditch

I fell in love with Smokestak’s smoky, meaty tendencies quite some time ago at Dinearama, one of my favourite pop-up foodie fests in London. In the summer, we went almost weekly, and every time without fail, I’d have to sample the signature pork ribs or beef brisket. So, I was pretty gutted when I found out they were packing up their giant American BBQ and leaving… but only momentarily, as they were off to start their very own bricks and mortar restaurant (!), which I excitedly visited last week.

My sense of direction is not something I’m revered for, in fact, I’m mostly ridiculed for my inability to find my way anywhere, but that wasn’t a problem when on the hunt for Smokestak: you’ll smell it before you can see it. And once you see it, you’ll know you’re there. It’s all thick, dark wood doors, slick black walls and low lighting glowing through the windows. Inside, it’s much the same: hazy and moody, smoky and sultry.

There’s a good bar, so if you do walk in and have to sit on the high stools, don’t fret, and the cocktail offering is concise but clever. Do try to book ahead though because this place is pop-u-laar, and you might have a long wait ahead of you. There aren’t loads of tables, but there’s a good mix of big group benches, round tables, and snug spots for two. And the slate disc plates and giant slatted chairs look like they belong in an episode of Game of Thrones! The staff are really nice, liberal with the tap water – which you’ll need to wash down all that salty goodness – and pretty happy to let you take your time, which is unusual in a place that’s got such a waiting list.

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Bet you want to know about the food now, don’t you? Well, in short, it was delicious. It was so meaty, and so flavoursome, and just so well cooked, that I couldn’t quite believe we were just in a dinky startup joint down the road from Shoreditch High St station. Except I could, ’cause I know what these guys are about. The menu consists predominantly of barbecued beasts, but also has some barbecued sides, oh and, barbecued desserts.

Everything is designed to be shared, so its best to just pick a couple of things from each course and dig in. To start, we ordered Pigtails as well as Pastrami with Sour Cabbage and Pickles. The Pigtails were not what I had pictured in my mind – I think I was thinking more of pork scratchings or those crispy pig ears Duck & Waffle do – but these looked very much like big chunks of pig tail, with the bone in the middle. They were super crispy on the outside though and fatty and unctuous underneath, and drenched in a sweet and sticky goo. SO GOOD. The pastrami was thin and soft and a little bit spicy and went perfectly with the sour accompaniments.

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Next, we opted for the classics: Thick-Cut Pork Ribs and Beef Brisket. The ribs are a real favourite of mine, so of course, they were excellent, but the brisket was even better than I’d had before from Smokestak’s stand. It was melt-in-your-mouth good, and so full of sweet, barbecue-y flavour, which was further enhanced by the lovely BBQ sauce it comes with. Seriously, I could eat so much of this, it just falls apart and is utterly satisfying. It’s a generous portion for two, but still, I could have had more. Okay, I’m done now.

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And because we felt we needed something to wash down the meat, and vegetables seemed a step too far, we plumped for the Smoked Rarebit Jacket Potato, which was delicious too. It’s really charred on the outside, and really cheesy on the inside, and serves as a great little boat for a mouthful of brisket. What’s not to like?

We were actually too full for dessert, opting to drink three gallons of water to balance out the salt instead, but the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Burnt Butter Ice Cream looked pretty darn decadent.

Our bill came to approx £40, and I’d say it was money well spent. Go check it out!

SMOKESTAK, 35 Sclater Street, London, E1 6LB

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Freelance writer, eater, drinker and cook living in London.

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