I first tasted Neil Rankin’s food during his residency at John Salt in Islington and it was easy to fall in love with. He’s since opened up nearby Smokehouse which, as you might imagine from someone who used to be the head chef at Pitt Cue Co, specialises in roasting, grilling, smoking and barbecuing. The six of us thought it would be the perfect place to quash our New Years Day hangovers and it did so perfectly.
The outside looked more like a house than a pub or restaurant. Inside was a very relaxed affair; dimly lit with candles flickering away on each table. We were seated by the semi open kitchen and we felt comfortable as soon as we plonked ourselves down.
To get things going we were kindly treated to some Korean pulled pork which was easily the best pulled pork I’ve ever eaten; it was so tender and juicy. Its spicy kick made for a nice change from the usual heavy and sweet barbecue sauce that often accompanies it.
Only the Sunday menu was available which suited us just fine. To start the chopped brisket roll with gochujang (£5.50) was a real highlight. Encased in a crunchy breadcrumb coating was the softest of beef with tiny pockets of fat which oozed flavour. Totally divine. Oh, and the gochujang, which is a fermented Korean condiment made from red chilli, was a great companion for the rich beef.
Slightly more unusual was the pig’s cheek, pecorino and pear (£6.50). The cheek was full of flavour but it was served cold – I’d have loved it hot. The sweet pear and small cubes of pork fat along with the strong pecorino made for an intriguing blend of flavours which I wasn’t 100% convinced by.
The burnt leeks, chanterelles, Parmesan and duck egg (£6.50) were delicious. The leeks were perfectly cooked and not too bitter from the char. The gooey fried duck egg topped with a generous scattering of Parmesan was almost addictive.
Main courses offered roasts and we opted for the three meat options; roasted pork rib eye and smoked shoulder (£16), grilled Barnsley chop (£17) and roasted topside of beef (£18). All were served with roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables, gravy and giant Yorkshire puddings. They were all superb; my pork was cooked to perfection. There was more of that pulled pork too; only this time without the spice and instead with a lovely smokiness. Wow.
The rare beef topside tasted great with thick layers of fat atop each slice. You got loads of meat too. The Barnsley chop had a really strong smokiness which was bold yet it didn’t overpower the lamb with its ruby red centre and crisp fat. The accompaniments were plentiful; lashings of gravy (although my Dad felt it necessary to get an extra jug), carrots, red cabbage, crisp roast potatoes and a thick parsnip purée that I wasn’t so keen on. I’m yet to find a more generous and satisfying roast dinner in London.
Desserts kept the “mmm’s” round the table going; the double d tart (£5) was a take on a Double Decker chocolate bar. The layer of chocolate ganache on the top was slightly too thick and hard but otherwise it was most enjoyable – chewy and nutty nougat, Rice Crispies and rich chocolate with a scoop of pistachio ice cream – what’s not to like?! The winning pud however was the sticky toffee apple cobbler (£6) which was a sponge pudding with baked apples and vanilla ice cream. It was sweet, it was sticky and it was bloody lovely.
Service throughout our meal was spot on; it felt youthful and enthusiastic. We were looked after from the minute we walked through the door. I don’t live in Islington but it’s places like Smokehouse that make me wish I did so I could call it my local. But hey, I’d cross continents for a roast as good as that.