Hey, we’ve got a funny one for you. We’ve been mastering our elevator pitch for a movie. Let’s see what you think.
It’s set in Britain in 2020. Everything’s going okay, well, sort of. We’ve got this trade deal cliff-hanger thing where our country is looking to break away from our nearest trading partner, but it creates loads of drama, propels a charismatic leader into power and dominates the news for years and years and years.
The leader likes buses – I know, everybody loves an unbelievable twist in their story, smart, huh – he makes them in his spare time from wooden crates and even posts messages on the side of them to win elections.
Anyway, everything’s going fine.
Then, suddenly, we get this killer virus that wipes out the economy, shuts all of our pubs and restaurants and even makes Madonna film herself singing in the bath. Obviously. Because Madonna is always filming herself singing about fried fish at 3am in the bathroom.
What do you mean: where does the virus come from? We don’t know.
Let’s say someone eats a bat after the bat’s been eaten by a pangolin at some market in China, or something. What do you mean. What’s a pangolin? It doesn’t matter. We’re making it up as we go along, a bit like the charismatic leader guy and his policies.
Anwyay. This virus hits and there’s all sorts of scandals.
A scientist breaks his own rules to meet up with his lover, an advisor goes to a beauty spot to test his eyesight (I know, that one’s a little bit far-fetched, let’s delete that bit, nobody would ever believe it).
Football is played in empty stadia so you can hear what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer really thinks of his players and a 99-year-old war hero becomes a national treasure by raising, oh, I don’t know, pick a number, any number – let’s say £30 million – for charity.
Anyway, this film is shot through the eyes of a chef, actually, let’s make it a restaurant owner, and it shows how they cope as the world crumbles to dust.
They’re initially shocked because the charismatic leader – the one who likes buses – tells people not to eat out. The business they’ve built over years is smashed to pieces and they slowly have to find a way to get back in the game.
Whaddya think? Far-fetched? I know, it’s probably a little bit kooky.
Meanwhile, back on planet earth, a virus wipes out the restaurant trade, a charismatic leader is propelled to power, there are all sorts of scandals, a bat and a pangolin actually do create a disease and Madonna really does post a message from her bath. And, boy, what a bath that is.
It’s been four months since Boris told us that restaurants could carry on trading but that people shouldn’t eat in them. It’s been just under four months since Rishi Sunak rode to the rescue and provided a bail out package that temporarily saved an industry from immediate closure – though he shows no sign of doing that for live music or theatre.
Sell your shares now, if you have any, it’s all going to go Pete Tong, if it hasn’t already.
The resilience of our restaurant sector has been one of the local success stories during the festival of weirdness that is Covid-19.
Adaptable, creative, inventive, light-on-their-feet, willing to take sensible risks and determined that the show must go on, they’ve found a way within the labyrinthine and ever-changing rules to stay afloat.
Well done them. If ever there was a time to be grateful for the brilliance of our local restaurateurs, it’s now.
Faced with an existential threat, they’ve risen to the challenge and found a way to deliver value-for-money food with a smile on their collective face without once resorting to singing in the bathroom about fried fish and uploading it to Instagram.
It probably won’t surprise those in the know that Smoke Stop, just outside Shrewsbury, has been punching above its weight since the end of March.
It’s long been lauded as an exemplar among local restaurants.
It spotted a concept – American BBQ – and executed that with unerring skill when it opened some years ago.
It’s adapted subsequently, engendering a loyal following in the process, and it was among the first to find a way to trade when Covid-19 struck. Creating a drive-thru that’s been one of Shropshire’s best lockdown offers, it has stayed one step ahead.
When the Government announced a return to trading, it changed its offer to providing dine-in on Saturdays and Sundays with drive-thrus from Wednesday to Friday.
It’s the drive-thrus that feature in this week’s review. They are organised with efficiency. While the queues for other burgers spill onto local roads and block traffic, SmokeStop makes the most of a car park the size of a small football pitch.
A one-way system leads to a pop-up till, at which orders are placed. They’re cooked, fresh to order, and collected a small distance away, while the next-in-line is ordering.
The food is terrific; it always is at Smokestop.
My State Champ burger was a celebration of meat. A generous beef patty was covered with melted American cheese, bacon, ketchup, mustard, lettuce, onion and pickles. A mix of umami and sweet, salt and acidulated pickles; it was a carnival in a box. The peppery mustard and acid pickles were the perfect counterpoint to the umami-rich burger, sweet and salty bacon and sweet ketchup.
The lettuce added a little texture in a fat, fluffy bun. Wonderful.
The fries were great, too. Fries have been one of the casualties of Covid-19. Unless they’re cooked to order, they’re seldom crisp. These were. Well done, chef.
A Big V burger was a celebration of all things vegan, with a veg patty, tomato salsa, lettuce, onions and pickles beside a generous portion of fries.
We shared a separate 18-hour smoked brisket, the cheap cut that punches above its weight. Singed around the edges, still moist within, packed with more flavour than a wagyu farm; it was delicious.
Smoke Stop has been one of the top five additions to Shropshire’s dining scene during the past five years and it continues to shine.
Why people provide patronage to cheap burger joints when Smokestop provides an infinitely better service, remains one of the conundrums of Covid.
Burger and hot dog boxes
The notorious P.I.G burger with BBQ pulled pork, bacon and cheese, £12
The Cluck-Star, southern fried chicken with bacon and cheese, £10
The Frankz and Beanz 9in sausage with pulled pork, beans, bacon and cheese, £12
Eight-hour smoked baby back ribs (half rack) and fries, £9
Eighteen-hour smoked brisket and fries, £13
Tex-Mex burrito bowl with smokehouse brisket chilli, £13
Skin on fries, £4
BBQ pit beans, £4
Grilled halloumi, £4
Welshpool Road, Ford, Shrewsbury