Guys – don’t put barbecues on slabs. We all know they blow up when you do that, scattering the garden with half cooked sausages and ash.
We’re in that peculiar time between spring and summer, when we want to imagine it’s warm but know deep down we ought to be indoors with an extra layer. And yet the lure of another bank holiday just around the corner and the prospect of more than two hours of sunlight on Saturdays means there’s a roaring trade at B&Q, Asda and others who purvey metal caskets in which you can load white-hot briquettes. By the time you’ve read this week’s critique, you can content yourself that somewhere nearby, a man will have given his kid a burnt-on-the-outside, uncooked-on-the-inside burger that contains as much decent beef as 10 metres of tartan.
There are sensible ways to barbecue, of course, and most of them involve paying money to people who know what they’re doing, or, better still, visiting friends who can really cook and are happy to feed you because you make them laugh.
The alternative to that is to order a dine-at-home box, where you can use an oven rather than a BBQ. And Dishpatch, the company that’s pretty much cornered the post-lockdown market for eat-at-home dinners, provides just that.
Smokestak is the east London barbecue restaurant that provides bona fide classics right to your door. Without the exploding paving slabs. Without the raw sausages. And without the high probability that it’ll either rain or that there’ll be an icy blast of Siberian wind that will send you scurrying back indoors to make peace with the central heating.
Born and raised in Barbados, Smokestak founder David Carter’s early life was centred around outdoor living and open fire cooking. He moved to London in 2008, shortly before joining the award-winning Japanese robatayaki restaurant, Roka, where his desire for live fire cooking was cemented. In 2013, David opened Smokestak as a barbecue street food vendor at Street Feast Dalston Yard, which led to a permanent home in Shoreditch. Within its first year, the restaurant was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand and, nearly five years later, is regarded as a stalwart of London’s restaurant scene.
Thankfully, he shares the love via Dishpatch’s easy-to-order website.
For Smokestak’s latest menu, diners can choose between 15-hour smoked beef brisket, barbecue-glazed pork belly rib or slow-cooked pulled pork, along with a selection of starters, sides and desserts.
Starters include gochujang-glazed chicken wings; earthy, salt-baked beetroot with gently-torched goat’s cheese and hazelnuts; and whipped, smoked cod’s roe with flatbread. On the side, try the restaurant’s signature chips cooked in beef dripping, refreshing white cabbage and green chilli slaw or coal-roasted aubergine with miso.
Finish with rich sticky toffee pudding, doused in salted caramel, silky chocolate mousse with crunchy house-made honeycomb or white chocolate cheesecake with berries. Perfect. And not a burnt burger, crying child or unseasonal downpour in site.
Smokestak make BBQ the way BBQ is meant to be made. It’s big on flavour, big on texture and packs the sort of punch that Katie Taylor explodes onto an opponent’s face.
And so, in our case, the starter of lamb merguez – that’s posh sausage, to you and I – with fermented chilli sauce was spectacularly good. Coriander seed and cumin dazzled alongside the hot/sour chilli and while the price tag was just the wrong side of expensive, the flavours were sensational. A starter of beetroot with goat’s cheese and hazelnuts was simple, elegant and bang on the money. The salt-baking of the beetroot extracted the best of its earthy, sweet flavours while the chalky goat’s cheese and creamily robust hazelnuts added mellow deliciousness with ample crunch.
A side of beef dripping chips were stunning. Rich, deep beef fat had been lightly smoked, giving the humble chunks of potato an other-worldly beauty. Crunchy, packed with flavour and so delicious I nicked all of my partner’s, they were a winner, though, again, at £6 they were over-priced.
We opted for the pulled pork option – and it was brilliant. Slow-cooked pork was served with delicious slices of pickled cucumber, the light acidulation on the cucumber cutting through the more-ish richness of the pork. Lovely. Thank you Mr Smokestak. Good work.
Dessert was a sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel. It was supposed to serve two but I ate the lot. Well, with the temperatures hovering at something colder than it ought to have been, it seemed the best solution.
Delivery was typically efficient – it seldom goes wrong with Dishpatch – the food was magnificent though the prices all felt a little too much. I know all the arguments about times being hard, energy prices going through the roof, premiums being paid for delivery at home and the time and effort it takes to ferment chilli sauce, rather than buy something cheap and cheerful at the supermarket.
Even so, it all felt a bit 10 or 20% too much. A couple of posh sausages with a dipping sauce – fabulous though they were – ought not to come in at so high a price. Powerhouse of spicy and earthy flavour they may have been, but the real heat came in my wallet rather than in the fermented chilli sauce. And so the deducted marks are for that reason and that reason alone. It was delicious but didn’t feel like great value.
Still, you get what you pay for and Smokestak is a redoubtable operation. David Carter has built a formidable business that packs a punch and offers big, bold flavours and great eats to any address in the UK. You might have to sacrifice the bottle of wine you’d planned to drink in order to afford it – or just not pay for your kids’ next school trip – but, if you’re a fan of BBQ, that’s probably a price worth paying.