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.

 

Peckham Burger @ Anderson & Co

Some years ago (like 2008/2009) the grand trendsetter looked upon the great city with its many diverse eateries and despite the health warnings said ” Let there be meat… Shit loads of it… Oh and pop-ups. Pop-ups are like the shizzle”.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.42.24And the people rejoiced for more meat and a multitude pop-ups seemed to be what their lives were missing. But not in the tired boiled/fried or the random installation art way of the past oh no, this was a new dawn, mashing up: craft beer, kimchi, live music, funky art and antiques, hotdogs, DJ’s, lobster and those revered culinary techniques perfected by our rebellious cousins across the great sea. Carnivorous creations of: ribs sticky and sweet, chicken wings made of hellfire with blue cheese dip, slow cooked pork spiced and pulled to the point of no return, steak so big and bloody young children hid their faces at sight of it and last but surely not least that flagship of Americana, the mighty Hamburger.

Last Friday I met up with an old friend who lives Peckham Rye (my old hood) and he suggested Peckham Burger chez Anderson & Co. Chilled hand crafted food cafe by day and by night (Weds-Sat) it morphs into aScreen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.43.23 slick patty and bun operation kicking out simply: beef, chicken, veggie (mushroom) and skinny (bun-less) burgers to which you can add bacon, cheese, etc… Sides were equally minimal: bloody mary salt fries, mac n cheese and coleslaw. There’s a few puddings as well; the specialty being ice cream sundaes with Jude’s the star of the show. It’s not a huge place; room for about 40 covers (give or take) if you include the handful of tables out front and the nice fairy garden in the back where we sat.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.41.44The drinks list is slightly more filled out with a good selection on non alcoholic options featuring Luscombe Drinks and Owlet Juices. Wine is simple and straightforward with a choice of one red (very solid Chateau La Bastide/Corbières) and one white (Inzolia from Sicily). Quite pleased to see a couple of very local beers in Peckham Pils/Brick BreweryRed Ale/Brockley Brewing and the only slightly further afield Kernel IPA/The Kernel Brewery (who have become a deserved regular on some of the UK’s best eateries). There were some more mainstream lagers as well but didn’t take much notice of them.

By way of aperitif I had a Peckham Pils (I’d tried to drink it on two previous occasions but both bottles were flat/faulty). Clear, bright with decent head retention and a touch lager stinky. The palate was alright, crisp and pretty clean, but they’ve still not got it quite right for me. Though I do like their Archway Steam.

Still thirsty I ordered another beer along with the Chicken Burger (au natural) and some of the cocktail seasoned fries. First to arrive was the Brockley Red Ale and I was much pleased. Rich rusty tone and nutty, earthy, red berry nose. Impressive texture to it, nice balance of sweet malt and savory hops. Yum I say!

My CB and fries landed and I tucked right in. Suffolk chicken thigh marinated in tomorrosso (tomato), garlic, basil, oregano, chilli with lettuce, tomato and our aioli on a cholla bun was how the menu described itScreen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.42.01. My tastebuds went with “Oh my flippin gawdness!!”. Gonna out on a limb and say it’s the best chicken burger I have had in years. A real masterpiece; from the cooking of that juicy tender Suffolk clucker, to the tangy vibrant marinade, which balanced just right against the mellow garlic mayo and the sweet soft as a pillow cholla. Senfrigginsational! The fries kept the standard high. Skinny frites with a perfect crunch to them, not greasy and I must say the addition of Bloody Mary salt was inspired. Raised the chip up to someplace special. Oh and their homemade tommy k was awesome! Had just the right amount of sweet, sour and spice.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.43.01To top it all off that red ale was the perfect match, it’s weight and feel beautifully complimenting my heavenly bird in a bun.

Service was spot on; relaxed, friendly and efficient.

Perhaps the bill was a bit more than you might expect to pay for 2 burgers, 2 fries and 4 beers, but we are in London after all. I was more than happy to shell out; hell it’s not every day you eat a chicken burger that might just Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.42.12change your life (ok didn’t change my life, but it certainly made my week).

Oh lo the grand trendsetter said unto them  “Some pop up burger joints are created better than others.”

Amen to that.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.43.13

3 Blind Porters

Tasting Porter Blind…folded

There is a distinct change in terms of my palate as the air grows cooler and evenings darken. Gone is my desire for fresh light citrusy beers of yellow and gold, give me the dense browns and blacks to keep the autumn and winter at bay.

The tale of Porter began here in London in the 18th century. It got its name due to it’s popularity with the people who enjoyed it most, the river and street porters. A dark fortifying beer that’s spread from London to Ireland to Italy to Idaho and beyond. Regional differences have allowed it to evolve and as a result is made in differing strengths and styles. But it retains it’s roots in being rich dense brew full of character.

I decided to keep it true to its origins and only chose bottles from 3 London breweries. To add to the mix I decided to review the beers blind and though I knew which beers I had, I didn’t know the order in which I was to taste them.

Here are my notes…

Beer 1

Nose- Black cherry, unsweetened chocolate, cold expresso, quality Turkish delight, middle eastern spices, clove, cardamom, not too savoury, beautifully sweet & intoxicating

Palate- Rich, coffee bean, expresso, viscous, coats mouth, dark fruit, black raspberry, clean lingering finish

Score– 9.5/10

Beer 2

Nose- Sour gueuze, fresh plum, Japanese plum liqueur, unusual but not unpleasant

Palate- Clean, leaner than Beer 1, dark chocolate, raspberries, not thick, fresh bright, aromatic

Score– 8/10

Beer 3

Nose- Muted, earthy mushroom, cocoa, moist fruit way off down a tunnel or smelling fruit cooking in another room, peach, strawberry pie

Palate- disappointing, thin, some fruit, boysenberry, unsweetened chocolate on finish, uninspiring

Score- 6/10

I took off my mask and after squinting a bit these were the beers that I had tasted.Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 10.17.58

But what was the order?

Beer 1 was The Kernel Export India Porter @ 6.1% abv. Not surprisingly I loved it, as I do most beers that they make.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 10.18.45Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 10.18.26Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 10.18.10

Then Beer 2 was By the Horns Brewing Lambeth Walk Dark Porter @ 5.1% abv. A well made beer with a very interesting aroma profile.

Finally and rather unluckily was Beer 3 Fullers London Porter @ 5.4% abv which is decent beer all round. But against the other two it was always going to struggle.

The idea that in taking one sense away you heighten others I found to be very true, as I found that I was able to recognise so many more aromas.

Click on the links above to find out more about the beers and see where one can buy em…