Here's a piece of advice: don't wear your best clothes to Smokestak. The clue is in the name.
This newly opened BBQ restaurant near Shoreditch High Street began as a street food stall at Dinerama, quickly gaining attention for their knockout ribs and brisket — arguably the best in London. Now, it's morphed into a large, brooding, very grey restaurant with décor like a steampunk version of Brokeback Mountain, if that movie was set in the Futuristic Zone of the Crystal Maze.
There's a lot of leather on wood on metal; there are deliberately muddied-up windows and there are many nails, bolts and hulking smokers. We should, in all honesty, hate it for being so obviously Masculine BBQ. Except we don't, because it's brilliant.
There's a lot of bad BBQ in London; a lot of cotton-woollen pulled pork that comes overcooked and sopping with unbalanced BBQ sauce. At Smokestak, they don’t even serve pulled pork, we expect for this very reason. London is in dire need of a break from slow-cooked pork shoulder.
There's plenty of other food to focus on. Those who've visited their stall will be familiar with spectacular brisket, which is some of the best we've had anywhere in the world, let alone London. It's so soft, with the dreamiest fatty pockets. We tell owner and chef Dave Carter this fact and he laughs, reminding us that it's good because "we've done enough fucking about with it over the years." Practice/fucking about makes perfect. The best way to enjoy it is stuffed into a dinky bun with bright, sweet and just-hot-enough pickled chillies. "Why does this bun taste so good?" we ask, "because we brush it with clarified butter" they reply.
Pastrami is richly spiced, laid on the plate with precision, fat glistening in thick, come hither strips. Ribs are great too, both pork and beef retain just enough chew to be satisfying; too many ribs nowadays just flop off the bone leaving no room for cavewoman satisfaction. That can be achieved by nibbling on the sticky, gelatinous pigtails by the way — crisp, pudgy and slicked with BBQ glaze.
Sides, too, are excellent. A celery slaw has enough acidity to power through all that rich, sweet meat, and it's necessary because eating at Smokestak is an intense experience. Even a grilled baby gem comes under a snug of bacon and walnut gremolata. A jacket potato has been scooped, pimped and re-stuffed, emerging as golden potato soup in a shell, though some may balk at the price tag, "half a jacket potato for £5?!" a friend remarks.
And that's the thing about Smokestak. These are super high-quality ingredients served in a restaurant with massive overheads, cooked with a lot of skill, after a whole lot of practice. It really is excellent BBQ, but it's not cheap. If you have to order just one thing, make it two. Eat the brisket bun first, then the sticky toffee pudding with brown butter ice cream, for it is the best sticky toffee pudding in London. Bar none.
Smokestak, 35 Sclater Street, E1 6LB
Last Updated 22 February 2017