If you thought barbecue season was over, think again — on Denmark Street it’s just getting going. Following some highly-flavoured pop-up experimentation at Climpson’s Arch this summer, Smoking Goat has made the transition from pop-up to permanent, bringing its Thai barbecue to Tin Pan Alley.
The restaurant occupies a once legendary former dive bar and despite using music as no more than a backing track it has managed to retain much of its rugged character.
Murky green walls look untouched by time or brush, with just the occasional black and white patterned print giving any hint of decoration, while furnishings are basic enough to be insignificant. Given the low lighting there’d be no point in finer details anyway — especially when the foggy haze (provided by a constant stream of barbecue smoke filtering from the kitchen) is taken into account.
The space operates as a bar with a few snacks from 3pm Monday to Saturday, and then runs as a fully fledged grill restaurant from 7pm to midnight. Given that it would do well to seat more than 25 diners at a time, it operates a no reservations rule — so you should be prepared to queue.
A short menu of three starters and three mains blends Memphis-style barbecue techniques with punchy Thai flavours, using British produce as it goes.
We start with a delicately smoky-flavoured scallop (£3.50), served in its shell. Its tender, creamy flesh is offset by an enlivening dressing of lime, coriander and fiery red chilli. The flavours are exhilarating yet the dish proves to be the most subtle thing on the menu by far.
Fish sauce chicken wings (£6) are a must. Oversized and chunky, they come coated in a sweet, sticky — and rather sublime — mess of a sauce. Its natural saltiness and sharpness combine to conjure a flavour reminiscent of salt and vinegar crisps, and all the addictiveness that goes with it. The meat within isn’t completely outshone: it’s plump, moist and literally falling off the bone — something which turns out to be a recurring feature at Smoking Goat.
For mains we try two of the three offerings: slow-cooked duck leg and smoked lamb ribs (both £15). We would also have been tempted to throw a whole crab roasted in chilli into the mix, which we saw other diners cracking and smashing their way into, but it’s probably for the best that it was sold out by the time we came to order.
The duck is an extremely successful dish: wonderfully soft-fleshed and sweet-tasting thanks to a basting in kecap manis (a sweet soy sauce), and ferociously tangy from the addition of galangal, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass.
We can’t pick up on the smokiness of the lamb ribs, but it’s fair to say that by this point not only have our palates been battered with bolshy Thai flavours, but we’ve also been sitting in an increasingly smoky room for over an hour. This aside, they are literally dripping in flavour — their fat melting before our eyes as we scoop up meat so tender it has practically shredded itself. A basting of fermented shrimp, chilli and palm sugar adds a crispy caramelised bite and bucket loads of umami.
An accompanying som tum (green papaya) salad is refreshingly zesty and packed with the pow of fresh chillies. It might not be able to clean our sauce-smeared faces, but it does a good job of cleansing our palates.
There aren’t any puddings, and if there were, no-one would have room for them anyway. But there is a fairly well-stocked bar, a number of beers on tap and a short but interesting selection of wines. We enjoyed numerous halfs of Goat Milk (£3), a specially-commissioned hoppy number from newly launched microbrewery One Mile End, as well as a peppery Hungarian red (£7).
It’s early days for Smoking Goat and the offering might grow, but forgiving an extended wait between starters and mains we reckon it’s pretty perfect the way it is.
There are a few conditions, though:
1. Don’t expect any of your usual Thai staples, there’s no green curry or the likes here.
2. Don’t come looking for authenticity, this is US meets Thailand via London.
3. Don’t get upset if your jeans smell like a smokehouse for weeks after eating here, that seems to be par for the course.
4. Don’t bother at all if you’re a vegetarian — you’re not catered for here.
Oh, and if queuing isn’t your thing we have a hunch you should visit sooner rather than later as word is getting out fast.
Smoking Goat is at 7 Denmark Street, WC2H 8LZ.
Photos by Paul Winch-Furness. The light was too low for us to take our own.