Smokehouse Islington

You wouldn’t believe it but when it comes to eating out I can be somewhat hard to please. Really do wish I wasn’t, as it can make me a serious pain in the ass to be around.

But is it such a crime to expect good food and drink served in a setting that make time stand still? Service that is attentive but not overt, warm but not gooey, knowledgeable but not snobby? And ending with a tab that doesn’t feel like you’ve been mugged?

Since I fell for well-made “craft” beer on a bicycle brewery tour of Norfolk and Suffolk four summers ago it’s been my mission to find a restaurant/pub/bar/bunker that brings together that holy quinquennial of fabulous food, wonderful wines, brilliant beers, stellar service and sumptuous surroundings.

It’s been an almighty challenge really, as most places that focus on food and service have been slow to catch on or flat out refused to acknowledge (due to old school snobbery) that quality beer is amazing with things edible.

On the other side of the coin the venues that herald the mighty ale as the king seem to place less emphasis on those customers who may prefer a goblet of good wine and can eschew more creative food offerings.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.28.36That has all changed with Smokehouse in Islington.

First off the interior is cozy, spacious and inviting without being too overdone or twee. Love their little wood fires dotted about and the pretty beer garden will be packed in warm weather. The loos were obviously not updated with the rest of the building and are in need of a bit of a facelift. Not dire, just incongruous with the rest of the surroundings.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.36.46The selection of beers in bottle, can and keg (only a couple cask options) is pretty wide ranging but with an eye on the London. Expect the Kernel, “The Towns” Camden & Beaver and Fourpure with solid imports from Germany, Belgium and the US. Though they would do well to add a few more 75cl to the line-up as they work well as an alternative to a bottle of wine with dinner.

Despite cider being on the up it barely just gets a look in with only a quintet available in bottle and 3 are from Cornish Orchards. Shame.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.28.48Looking at the eclectic wine list may disappoint those on a budget with only one offering of red and white under £20 and more grumbling from those wanting anything from the “New World” as it focuses exclusively on France, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

However, they are flying the St George flag in the rather small fizz section with three out four options coming from England, which is good… and expensive. Their “house” Prosecco is an eye-watering £28.50 which I think is just too much, even for Islington. Surely they can get something under £25?

On a positive note if you are comfortable dropping £22-30 on a bottle then you there’s plenty to choose from in all three shades.

The staff are friendly, knowledgeable and were very helpful when it came to choosing what to eat. Which is where Smokehouse does itself proud indeed.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.28.07For starters, I tried the deep fried rock oyster, beef dripping toast, smoked bone marrow which tasted as good as it sounds. Succulent, salty, rich and crunchy. A special dish and worth making the trip to Smokehouse just to try. Also gracing our lips and belly was a very inventive squid pad thai (not currently on the menu). Instead of rice noodles the squid was the “noodles”. Reminded me a bit of udon but with more bite. The flavours and textures were exquisite.

For main I went with the signature short rib bourguignon and wallowed in its smoky, sticky animal goodness. It’s the sort of dish that after you have eaten it makes feel as though you’ve rescued a cat from a tree or held a bus door open for a trapped pram. Satis-Fied.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.29.01Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.28.19Beverage wise I stuck with beer working my way through the Bearhug “Hibernation” White IPA and Fourpure “Session” IPA on keg before a run of receptacles in the form of Beavertown “8 Ball” Red Rye IPA, Rogue “Hazelnut” Brown Ale to pair with the short rib. Neither of which blew my socks off, so ending with a Weird Beard “Black Perle” Coffee Milk Stout seemed the only decent thing to do.

The tab was a bit on the high side but considering how many beers my pal Scanners and I tried it wasn’t too bad.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.34.23If you want to please a group of meat-eating friends some of whom drink wine while others favour beer then Smokehouse Islington is a must try.

Luckily for you West Londoners there’s a second Smokehouse now in Chiswick.

 

Croydon Craft Beer Festival

 

Well, Croydon had its first craft beer festival last weekend and I went along late Saturday afternoon to check it out.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.17.48Braithwaite Hall is a very impressive venue and had the feel of a grand old university library with its stained glass and towering rows books. However unlike the ales on show, there were some doubts as to the books authenticity.

The room was full and buzzing, a nice mixed crowd of friendly looking beer enthusiasts. Good start.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.17.37The first thing that struck me as approached the tables behind which stood the casks of beer I hoped to try was the alarming amount of them that held signs that said “Sorry this cask is unavailable”. Of the 31 the beers they started with on Friday night more than half were off.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.17.20Undaunted I ordered a couple halves of The Cronx Kotchin Nektar. They weren’t bad, Nektar just edging Kotchin, they were session-able, but nothing to write home about. Bexley’s Kent Green Hop was my beer of the session, showing some nice bite and tropical fruit. Yet it didn’t particularly excite me.

What followed was an average Peckham Coal Line Porter from Brick, an undrinkable acrid Entire from Cronx, which I traded for limp but inoffensive Oatmeal Stout from Hop Stuff and ended with a tepid ok-ish Red Ale by Bexley. Now temperature isn’t as big an issue with cask beer as keg, but my feeling was all the beers could have been a shade cooler.

What bugged me the most was the beers in the main lacked vibrancy and vitality. Real ale is a living beverage, and the best stuff expresses charm, character and most importantly it has to make me want another sip. Most of the beers I tasted failed to do that.

Now I know I may be harder to please, but seems the organisers fell victim to first beer fest folly; not ordering enough beer. Of course, they didn’t want to lose money so playing it safe seemed to make sense but with so many beers off for such a short festival. Disappointing.

I got chatting to some other punters and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. The lack of beers didn’t appear to be a problem though they weren’t ooing and ahhing over anything either.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.18.00Speaking to one of the organisers he admitted they could have done better, but overall the event was a huge success with plans already in the works for more events next year.

The bottle/can bar had some good stuff and was doing a decent trade, but I had come for the cask and as another beer ran out I decided to call time. A good thing too because as I later found out they had run dry by 7pm. Three hours before the fest ended!

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.28.06Luckily BRGR & Beer @ Matthew’s Yard were hosting Fourpure and Gypsy Hill pop-up stylee to celebrate CCBF. It’s an idea they should consider making a permanent fixture. There’s plenty of space and how cool would it be for a rotating residency of London’s best and brightest brewers supporting the solid line of bottles by BRGR & Beer?

I had really nice chats with Neil at Fourpure (am loving their Amercian Brown) and Mike at Gypsy Hill, the latter being in my opinion the most improved brewery in London at the moment (and one of my favorites along with Beavertown).

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.18.10

In rather reserved style after halves of Fourpure’s decent Red Rye IPA and GH’s sublime Hepcat Session IPA, I called it a night.

Now if I’d been there on the opening night of Croydon’s first craft beer festival it may have been a more enjoyable experience for me.

However, I get the feeling that this experiment wasn’t geared for geeks like me. Perhaps it was more about giving the people of Croydon (& Southest London) a taste of something new. Engaging a fledgling audience of curious imbibers who had tired of the same old same old and were simply seeking better beer.

Despite running out of the aforementioned ales (a cardinal sin to some) the organisers can feel confident that they probably achieved that.