Neil Rankin was the Scottish chef in the baseball cap on the latest Great British Menu who made bold statements about fine dining being dead, and it now being all about big hearty cooking. I’m certainly with him on this, and I’d happily swap any molecular gastronomy for a good slab of meat any day of the week. But sadly for him, the judges, or rather creepy Jeremy Lee, didn’t buy it. His indoor BBQ heart-on-the-sleeve style of cooking was thrown to the kerb and so he’s back in the kitchen at Smokehouse.
I’d always wanted to try this place, but the far end of Upper Street is a ball ache to get to for me, even if the promise of wholesome smokey food is tempting. But spurred on by his Great British cameo, we booked a table for Sunday lunch. On a sunny day with a packed beer garden of Yuppies there’s a great laid back vibe, topped off by the superb staff who refreshingly actually gave a shit about where they worked and what they were serving. Our waiter was even giving me beer pairings and all his reccomendations were spot on.
To start things off I had the smoked potted duck and sourdough. It was a decent start to the meal, but I wanted more of that smokiness to come through.
My partner went for the courgette flower with blue cheese and honey on the waiter’s recommendation. This was an excellent starter- light, sweet and with plenty of depth coming through from the blue cheese.
Then came the roasts- I opted for the Roasted pork rib eye & smoked shoulder (£16.50) which had all the makings of a classic and was packed with flavour, but there wasn’t enough of it. There needed to be more of the smoked shoulder to balance out the various sweet purees, and just simply more roasties and veg. It also felt like it had been standing there for 30 minutes, which given our 3pm table time, it could well have been. There was just a limpness to it, like it was the leftovers from the various dishes that had been slapped on the plate.
The Roasted Highland beef (£18) fell at the same hurdles. First up the beef was cut to thin, making it a little bit Toby Carvery, and less like the prime cut of Highland beef that it was. It also meant that whilst it came perfectly medium rare, the central section of the beef was just a bit chewy. There again wasn’t enough of it. If Neil Rankin is going to come out on national TV and say it’s the era of big hearty dishes, then he needs to think about upping the size his meat portions here first. The Yorkshires were also crap. They were cold and dry as if they had been lying on a counter for an hour. They hadn’t risen anywhere near enough to give that big rustic homemade feel, and instead these were more Aunt Bessie, rather than a fitting part of a high end London roast.
I was still happy though and cleaned the plate. I’m only grumbling about the portions because I’m a greedy bastard. But I’d set the bar high and had hoped for slightly better. But then came the desserts. First up was the T-cake or the Double D Tart- their name doesn’t give much away- which ever of the two it was, it was nougat, choclate ganache and pistachio ice cream.
This was topped by the Sticky toffee apple cobbler (£6.50) which is hands down is the most satisfying pudding I have eaten. Sticky toffee pudding at the best of times is a nailed on winner. Throw caramel apples into the equation with vanilla ice cream and you don’t get much better.
The bill came to around £75 for a few drinks and a three course Sunday roast. This isn’t exactly cheap, especially given the roast itself wasn’t the best. But I still loved Smokehouse. I imagine that Sunday lunch sees the menu at its most boring, and no doubt the a la carte plays up the smokehouse name much more. It’s a restaurant that made me want to come immediately back, half because I absolutely loved it and half because I felt that I missed out on the main event and need to give it another try before casting judgement.
63-69 Canonbury Rd, N1 2DG