Smokehouse in Islington
As the new beer wave in London strengthens there is still an area lagging behind. Restaurants are starting to stock good beers, but normally the selections are limited and lacklustre compared to their wine or cocktail offerings. Thankfully there are a few new places bucking this trend and the Smokehouse in Islington looks to be one of those leading the pack.
With a name like ‘Smokehouse’, and Neil Rankin of Pitt Cue Co fame at the culinary helm, I was assuming this would be an American BBQ affair. Surprisingly, the menu had more in common with Hawksmoor than Pitt Cue, with dishes such as Onglet, Beef Bourguignon and Ox Cheek on offer. The menu is confidently short and pretty meat focus.
You could probably slap a Gastropub tag onto Smokehouse, as it still has a welcoming Pubby area, and generous outside drinking space. But the food is the star of the show here, with beer as a talented tipsy backup singer. The beer list is proudly showcased in the middle of the restaurant on a chalkboard, a conscious statement of intent from those running the place. They have three cask pumps, umpteen keg lines and a healthy list of bottles coming from big names in the American and UK beer scene.
We started off with a few beers before ordering food. The Mikkeller Single Hop Amarillo on keg was a powerhouse of resiny goodness and a fine start to the proceedings. Smokehouse has taken a page out of the US craft beer scene’s book and serves each of their beers in a glass sized to fit its ABV. It’s a small point but shows an understanding of how beers should be served, rather than just sticking everything in a pint.
We ordered a selection of the dishes and some more beers and got stuck in. The Onglet was beautifully charred and succulent, and the short rib Bourguignon was thankfully not a sauce-fest but a huge beautiful smokey hunk of powerful meat. The sides on the dishes were a bit sparse, but thankfully we had ordered a fantastic extra in the shape of their lamb stovies.
It was a sweltering evening, which meant we mainly opted for pale ales throughout the meal. The Kernel table beer, Beavertown 8 Ball and Pressure Drop Fire were all fresh and fantastic, with only the Rogue Brutal IPA being a disappointment, lacking the hop-pow that the name would suggest.
The waiters were attentive throughout the meal in a way that only happens with good training. After taking time over the beer the waiter even asked what we thought of the place, saying he had been to Earl of Essex recently and was surprised at how many places had an extensive beer list now.
There is still room for improvement when it comes to their beery offerings. The list is large, but for the amount of beers on offer it’s a little too safe and samey. They are also missing a huge trick by not stocking more expensive sharing bottles that would work perfectly in that type of foodie environment. To some degree that is the biggest let down of what is a big step forward for food and beer in the capital, I’m just hoping that their beers will evolve as they find their feet as a restaurant, if only to match the fantastic food that is coming out the kitchen.