Meaty, Reviews

Temper, Soho – review 

 

As Christmas is nearly upon us and everyone is thinking about turkey, sprouts, pigs-in-blankets, and a whole host of other assorted festive requirements, allow me to distract you with some fire, smoke, and meat.
You know you want me to….

Temper is the brainchild of meat and BBQ maestro Neil Rankin and occupies a wonderfully smokey basement in London’s Soho (there is also now a branch in the city). Neil has worked for Barbecoa, Pitt Cue Co, and also opened the excellent Smokehouse in Islington – he is a man who knows his meat and, most importantly of all, knows how to cook it.

As you descend into the dining room from street level, your nostrils begin to tingle with the earthy smells of smoke and charcoal, a background hum of the outdoors that is hovering in the air and undercut with the soothing aroma of meat being cooked over coals. Once at the bottom of the stairs, a huge indoor fire pit is revealed, a clay oven at one end, various racks and grills at the other, and a counter that runs all the way round for diners to revel in the sight of meats (and fish) being lovingly, simply prepared and cooked before their eyes. It’s quite a statement and one which is sure to melt the heart of any BBQ fiend. For those who prefer a more traditional dining experience, tables away from the fire and smoke are also available, although I’m not sure why you’d want one!

The emphasis here is, obviously, on meat but don’t come expecting St Louis ribs or chicken wings – this is a different BBQ game. Starters come in the form of soft tacos – baked to order – and with a range of toppings like crab and pickled onion pork skin, prawns, or the wonderful Aged Cheeseburger; Small patties of beef, charred and juicy, with a slab of melted cheese served on piping hot, soft tacos are truly a thing of beauty and wonder and could, if ordered generously, satisfy as a main in their own right. A simple but delicious beef fat taco is worth a go as was, on one visit, the wonderful tuna and salsa offering which was clean, punchy, and utterly delicious. 

Mains are, for the most part, ordered by 100g portions and they suggest two or three to share for two people plus some sides. I’d normally skip sides to focus on more meat but do not, under any circumstances, skip these sides – beef fat roast potatoes covered in grilled, tangy Ogleshield cheese are truly sensational and a wonderful gluttonous treat. Likewise, the grilled corn with lamb fat bearnaise is a fabulous dish – some of the corn is popped to add an extra and exciting texture, the creamy, unctuous sauce cut perfectly with a dusting of mint. And of course, both of these sensational sides go perfectly with the hunk of smoked meats that come served on freshly griddled flat bread.

Beef fat potatoes with Ogleshield

Goat is rich, deeply flavoured and utterly moreish, demonstrating here why it is a meat we need to eat more of – totally delicious and increasingly available. If you think you don’t like goat or are too scared to try it, go to Temper and have some and all your worries will be over. Likewise if you’ve ever been slightly disappointed by dry, soulless BBQ beef then the charred, moist, and wonderful offering here will sooth any previous beef trauma. Also worth diving in to is the beef and marrow chilli which comes with fresh, spicy jalapeño and sings with delicate, fresh flavours of lime and coriander – a perfect example of what many restaurants only vaguely achieve. 

Beef and marrow chilli

To follow this fresh-faced feast, the warm baked cookie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream is an absolute must and comes served in the pan it was baked in. Gooey, sweet, sticky, indulgence of the highest order and well worth saving some room for (although on both visits we ended up sharing one between us).
Wine is available by the glass or bottle with a very decent selection of grapes and prices – house wines start from about £26 – and there are various tempting cocktails and craft beers. It is worth noting that if you do sit by the counter, white wine will get warm quickly as the heat from the pit radiates towards you – be warned!

Service is professional, relaxed, and of the highest standard and it is a marvellous place to spend a couple of hours, especially on a cold winter’s day. Dinner for two including drinks and service is about £100 but if you skip starters it’ll come in at nearer to £80 – but with food of this quality this is fantastic value. There are few places where you can enjoy such fantastic food in such an exciting and unique environment and Temper ticks the boxes for being one of the finest meateries around. And is more than worth returning to for feasts of meat and fire.

You will come out smelling like you’ve been slowly smoked over coals but this is a very good thing…

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Meaty, Recipes

Roast rib of beef – recipe

DSC_2232-01.jpegA friend recently told me that she loved eating beef but she’d never cooked it. I asked her why and she really didn’t know – by all accounts she is an experienced and accomplished cook so this did seem rather odd. I showed her a picture of a rib of beef I’d cooked for my birthday and she asked how long I cooked it for, looking slightly surprised at the short cooking time and saying she wasn’t sure if she’d be brave enough to tackle something like roast beef as surely it was quite complicated.

There are lots of people who think a large roast is a complicated thing but really, it’s all down to planning and organisation and, more often than not, it’s all the accompanying dishes that cause the headaches. Unless you’ve got a fantastically complex meal in mind, roast meats (and beef in particular) are pretty easy to get right and a simple but delicious hunk of meat is always going to please.

Obviously if you are vegetarian or vegan you will massively disagree with me but there it is.

For me, the quality of meat is a defining factor and, put simply, the higher quality meat then the better the finished dish. I insist on free range, high welfare meat as not only to do I think this is morally the only choice, but there is no comparison when it comes to quality of flavour. Buy the best you can afford – it will be worth it, trust me.

As for timing, I always follow the blast-then-low method (which I learned from, the ever-dependable Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) – where the oven is preheated to its highest setting and the meat gets a good 20mins or so to start the cooking process. The temperature is then reduced for the rest of the cooking time and the results are always spot on. You can adjust how long the lower temperature cooking is depending on how you like your meat cooked – I insist on rare for beef and lamb but I will give you times for medium too. Well-done is simply unacceptable in my opinion and doesn’t bear thinking about.

Also, the resting time is vital – if you try and carve meat straight from the oven you will not get the best results. Meat needs to relax after cooking, to let the juices sink back in – in short, to rest is best! Also if you’ve slightly under-done it, your roast will continue to cook slightly as it rests which can be a big help. I rest meat for a minimum of 30 minutes but longer is fine – just don’t cover the joint too tightly with foil or there is a risk the residual heat may overdo your carefully timed roast.

I always have beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, greens, gravy and hot horseradish sauce but you can have whatever you prefer. But if you are one of those strange people who has cauliflower cheese with a roast dinner I’d rather not know about it.

Weirdos.

This quantity will feed 6-8 depending on how greedy you are.

Ingredients

  • 1.8-2kg rib of beef (or any other roasting joint)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Method

  • An hour or so before cooking, get you meat out of the fridge and allow it to come up to room temperature
  • Pre-heat your oven to its highest setting
  • Slosh a glue of olive oil over the meat, season generously with salt and pepper, and rub it all over, making sure the whole piece is covered with the oil and seasoning
  • Place your meat on a rack in a roasting tray (you can put sliced onions and veg to aid your gravy underneath if you like) and put it in the middle of your screaming hot oven
  • After 20-25 minutes, open the oven door to lower the temperature and reduce your oven to Gas Mark 3/160c then cook for 10 minutes per 500g for very rare, or 12-15 minutes per 500g for medium
  • Once the cooking time is up, remove from the oven and put the beef on a warm plate and cover loosely with foil (don’t wrap it tight or it’ll over-cook) for at least 30 minutes
  • Use the juices and whatever is in the tray to make gravy
  • Carve, eat, rejoice
  • Just don’t have cauliflower cheese with it….
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Ramblings..., Reviews

Smoke Ring Roma – Review

Via Portuense, 86, 00153 Roma, ItalySmoke Ring interior

Rome is a wonderful city for finding tasty food – there is a much broader selection of cuisines and styles than you will find in many other Italian towns (although that too is slowly changing) although anyone who has visited Italy will know there is more to the cuisine than pizza and pasta. During my most recent visit I chose four places which I feel any food-orientated traveller would be well rewarded by investigating if they find themselves in the Eternal City and reviews of all will eventually be posted. I should point out that I deliberately chose two eateries that are about as far from traditional Italian cooking as you can get and this is not because I dislike Italian food (far from it) but because sometimes you have to go somewhere a bit different. And let’s face it, if you find a traditional U.S-style smokehouse in Rome it simply has to be tried…

I was very, very excited when I discovered this place during some web-based research for possible tasty destinations. After all, I was in Rome to visit my ‘Meat-wife’ (my real wife is a vegetarian) who has shared some of the best BBQ the UK has to offer and who has recently moved to Rome to teach. She told me that she really, really missed the kind of meaty treats that we had gorged on every month so I felt it my duty to find somewhere. I wasn’t expecting much to be honest – at best I thought I might find a sort of TGI-Friday sort of faux American monstrosity – but I was thrilled to find that in 2013 a group of Italian BBQ enthusiasts opened this welcoming place on the West bank of the River Tiber. They take their craft very seriously, lovingly explaining on their website the importance of low and slow cooking and the miraculous flavour that smoke imparts to meat. They meant business. We had to go.

In true tourist fashion we arrived for dinner WAY before the locals – the place was empty at 7pm but the tables were dotted with reservation markers for 9pm and beyond – but like the troopers we are we were not put off. Smoke Ring has set up home in a brick archway and if you have been to any BBQ joint pretty much anywhere in the world, as soon as you walk in you’ll feel right at home. Light bulbs dangle uncovered from the ceiling, a huge rack of barrels full of liquor are stacked on one wall, signs behind the bar offer craft beer and cocktails – it is every inch the smokehouse that anyone would expect. Yes it may seem a bit tired to those who have tried many (not us however) but finding this kind of place in Rome is both comforting and refreshing. We took a seat at one of the many communal tables and had a look at the menu – eager to see what we could cram into our bellies. Meat is sold by weight (or portion in the case of ribs and wings) and you grab a tick-box form from the table, wonder how much meat you can get away with, and then take your filled in form up to the bar to pay. We ordered ribs, brisket, pulled pork, hot links, and chicken wings along with a bottle of an amber coloured wine from Lazio – as we weren’t sure on portion size, we went for 6 servings of ribs, 200g each of pulled pork and brisket, 2 portions of links, and 5 hot wings. This proved to be possibly rather excessive.

Hot links, ribs, and brisket

Hot links, ribs, and brisket

The ribs were St Louis cut – fat, juicy and huge. They had been gently seasoned with a simple but tasty rub and smoked to perfection – a nice bark and the meat clinging to the bone. I would perhaps have appreciated a glaze of sauce to finish but they were pretty fantastic all said. And six was far too much even for us (we managed four). The brisket came sliced thin which revealed the rouge ring imparted by the smoker and was savoury and delicious but possibly a little dry. The servings of links turned out to be two huge sausages cut into generous portions – we were very nearly defeated by them – and were some of the best that I’ve had, spicy and smoky with a satisfying snap when bitten into. Wonderful. Wings were also excellent – smoky, succulent, and pleasingly messy. The pulled pork was not half bad either and packed a deep, porcine punch with just the right amount of rub and a top quality amount of smoke for flavour. This is hard to do – Smoke Ring do it VERY well. The only slight let downs were the two sauces that came with the wings and pork – one was supposedly a standard BBQ sauce but in reality tasted a bit like ketchup with a bit of oregano thrown in, the other was a supposedly spicy number but lacked any real kick. That is not to say that either were unpleasant but given the quality of the majority of the cooking it did come as something of a disappointment.

But for all that meat and a bottle of excellent local wine we paid the grand total of 55 euro which was more than good value. By the time we left the place was filling up nicely and I certainly intend to visit again the next time I find myself in Rome and if you find yourself craving some serious carnivorous delights when you visit, this is the place to go.

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Atomic Burger – review

Sometimes you walk into a restaurant and immediately know that everything is going to be alright. There is something about the decor maybe, or the staff, or the smells, or the general vibe that instantly ticks all the boxes and makes you feel reassured that this place is everything that you have been looking for. It is very rare for somewhere to have this effect on the diner, sometimes it is the sheer unexpectedness or unappealing looks of a place that then serves killer food that make a particular restaurant somewhere special and worth seeking out, but I have to say that Atomic Burger had me smiling and happy from the moment I walked in and that feeling has remained with me pretty much ever since.

I first encountered this remarkable mini-chain (they have a branch in Bristol and a pizza place nearby) a couple of years ago when my wife was working in Oxford and I had come to stay with her for a couple of days. I spent my teenage years in the city and have many fond memories of its pubs and majestic medieval beauty, gigs, and parties, but I never really saw it as somewhere to eat out. To be fair, we didn’t really want to spend our precious pennies on food when there was beer to be had but Oxford never really felt like somewhere for exciting gastronomic adventures. I’d read about Atomic Burger in the Hardens food guide and, as I was aiming to visit the tiny cinema (The Ultimate Picture Palace) nearby, I thought I’d check it out. The Cowley road was always a bit of a rough affair when I was growing up but I’d played and seen many gigs in the pubs and venues that were scattered up and down it and was feeling nostalgic.

And surely the area must have been cleaned up a little bit since 1999.

When I walked in my jaw nearly hit the floor. I had never in my whole life seen anything like it. For anyone born and brought up in the 80’s, it was a dream come true. It was like a realisation of the toy section from the Argos catalogue in 1987. It was like the bedroom you wished you had when you were a kid. It was wonderful. Hanging from the ceiling and stuck to the walls were all the toys and actions figures that I pined after as a child – figures from Star Wars, Boglins, My Pet Monster, Thundercats – you name it, it’s probably on their wall. There was a huge TV screen playing cartoons at the back of the room, there was a warmth, a glow, a joy that radiated from the place. A relaxed and friendly waiter showed me to a table (I just about managed to stammer a ‘hello’ so completely bowled over was I by the decor) and I looked at the colourful and intriguing menu. Normally I would shy away from a burger place that has a vast selection of toppings – it’s often a way of hiding the fact that they don’t really do anything well – but there was something about the Atomic menu that felt different. Each burger has a film or pop culture name or theme – The Tony Montana, The Daisy Duke, The Jake n Elwood – and each is customisable to the point of, well, as far as you want to take it. What makes it even more interesting is the option of having any burger as either beef, chicken, or veggie, thus allowing for everyone to dive in and enjoy the fun (gluten free buns are available too). All the toppings are fantastic – the pulled pork, the crispy onions, the dressing, the hot sauces (although be warned that the Atomic Fallout Sauce is lethal), and everything is made with love and passion and that joy that permeates the building.

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Inside Atomic Burger in Oxford

On that first visit though, I went down a slightly different route and ordered a hot dog. Plain and simple. Each main comes with a free side and of these, the chilli-rubbed ‘sci-fries’ spoke to me, as did a starter of BBQ wings. And a beer. Obviously. My order was taken and I sat back and felt very happy indeed.

When the wings came I was, well, more than a bit surprised. I have eaten many a chicken wing starter in my time and was expecting maybe 4 or 5 wings to come my way. This particular portion consisted of closer to 12, covered in a rich and smoky BBQ sauce, and served with a suitably sized stack of napkins and a side of blue cheese sauce. Heaven. The wings themselves were expertly cooked and the sauce was thumpingly good. I think I inhaled the lot in about 5 minutes. The hot dog was vast – a proper frankfurter that was juicy, slightly smoky, 100% amazing, and also gone in seconds. The chilli-rubbed fries that rustled together enticingly in the bowl were a revelation – hot and deeply savoury, crispy outside with a perfectly cooked fluffy centre. And, like the rest, devoured at an alarming rate. The waiter came to ask how everything was but I’d already finished. I knew I’d found somewhere pretty special and was so excited by it that my wife and I went back the next day for lunch – I had a chicken Daisy Duke (bacon, American cheese, BBQ sauce) and she had a veggie Bandit (Cajun-rubbed pattie, huge onion ring, BBQ sauce, cheddar). They were totally awesome. The burgers were massive but not scarily so – and we staggered out happy and full, unable to manage one of their tempting milkshakes or ice cream desserts.

Since that first encounter I have eaten at the Oxford branch 4 or 5 times – the latest to their newer premises a few doors down from the original and we got the train from London especially to eat there – and the Bristol branch once. Every time I have been filled with joy, nostalgia, and fantastic food. The beef burgers are hefty, juicy, and fantastic. The wings continue to deliver on every level (a large portion is more than enough for two – trust me). The staff continue to be utterly brilliant. I’ve had some of the biggest onion rings known to man, a crunchy exterior with properly cooked onion hiding inside, as well as creamy and delicious slaw, and more of those addictive ‘sci-fries’. The plain fries are pretty epic too I should add. And every month there is a different special burger to tempt you with – The Wicker Man creation last year was truly epic. On my last visit I created my own – the Hans Gruber tribute (look it up if that film reference means nothing to you) which featured crisp dill pickles, BBQ sauce, Swiss cheese, tumbleweed onions, and a whole frankfurter crammed atop a mighty beef patty. It was truly amazing.

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The Wicker Man special – chipotle braised beef, Cajun-spiced onions, cheese 

And I should also add that, unlike every other burger chain or restaurant in the land, Atomic do not use a sweet, enriched brioche bun to contain their vast creations. A simple white roll is all they feel is necessary and I have to say it works completely. Some people may take umbrage with this. Some may wax lyrical about the qualities of an enriched dough that will help keep the whole thing together without dissolving into mush before the burger is finished. Some may say the richness of the bun works with the burger. Some perhaps can’t imagine why you wouldn’t use a brioche bun. Some say they thought the Sun and the Moon were the same thing. People say all sorts of things. I’ve had some delicious burgers – Honest Burger, The Joint, Pattie & Bun to name but three – many of whom opt for a brioche-style bun but I have to be honest and say that the only time I’ve noticed the difference was when I was served a burger in a brioche bun that had clearly been toasted hours earlier and was chewy and unpleasant.  Atomic’s traditional rolls more than stand up to the task (and are also pretty damned tasty) of holding an unruly burger in place and surely that is all that matters.

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The Hans Gruber tribute burger

If you’ve got room (and I have never quite managed it) there is a sweeping array of tempting things for dessert – milkshakes, ice cream, waffles – all of which sound fantastic. I saw a Vincent Vega shake (ice cream, bourbon, peanut butter, cream) go past me once and almost sighed at its sheer majesty. One day I’ll do it. One day…

Atomic Burger is a real destination and one well worth seeking out. There are whispers and rumours that they may expand beyond the current sites and if they do we should all rejoice. Their concept (not a word I usually associate with good restaurants) is unique and wonderful and the food more than lives up to the expectation set by the surroundings. There is even awesome Star Wars wallpaper in the toilets. Yes. There is. They are soon (early 2016) unveiling a new menu which I’m sure will be every bit as exciting and epic as the current one and I can’t wait to go back and try it. There is nothing else out there like Atomic and that is worth celebrating and cherishing. If you like burgers, you will love Atomic. It’s that simple.

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Check out their website: www.atomicburger.co.uk

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The White Horse Inn, Woolstone, review

Creamy wild mushrooms on toast

Creamy wild mushrooms on toast at The White Horse Inn

Many apologies for my absence of late – I haven’t forgotten you nor indeed vanished in a BBQ-induced fug! Slow the recovery from pneumonia is…

Whenever we go camping we treat ourselves to a meal at one of the local pubs. Obviously my ability to get out and about into the countryside has been somewhat hampered of late but I was able to drop by an old favourite quite recently and was very glad I did.

The Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire is certainly not lacking in idyllic village pubs that serve food. Almost every hamlet you pass will have a sign extolling the virtues of their particular local haunt and why you should stop and eat there immediately. Interestingly enough however, most of the claims in this area do appear to be pretty accurate – in a world where more and more pubs are putting the kitchen before the beer and generally resulting in more and more opportunities for terrible cooking, generic menus, and trend-chasing, this is worth taking note of.

The White Horse is located in the almost achingly beautiful village of Woolstone – a mixture of black and white timbered cottages, 18th century stone farmhouses, and a babbling brook that trickles through the centre. The pub takes its name from the Bronze-age chalk figure carved into the downs that rear above the village and over the last few years it has been carving a reputation as a serious contender for best eating pub in the area. And there is some seriously stiff competition – Helen Browning’s magnificent Royal Oak in Bishopstone and the Blowing Stone Inn in nearby Kingston Lisle to name but two.

The first time we ate at The White Horse we not particularly impressed – the food was fine but overly styled and underly flavoured as if the chef had been watching too many episodes of MasterChef and not bothered to taste the food before it was delicately arranged on the plate/slate/board. A lemon chicken that tasted too much of lemon and not enough of chicken but looked like it had come out of a food-styling manual, scampi and langoustines that cascaded out of a bucket of chips but tasted like they’d come from a supermarket – these were conundrums that were coming out of the kitchen. All style, no real substance. That, however, was in 2011 and things have since changed in a big way and now the careful and exact presentation is matched by flavours that sing and dance around the palate in happy harmony. Don’t get me wrong – there are no Michelin pretensions here, no foams, airs, sous-vides, or the like, but there is serious, straightforward cookery that takes pub staples and makes them deliver beyond expectations. A starter of wild mushrooms in a creamy garlic sauce was rich and satisfying but still perfectly judged as a first course – a delicate parmesan crisp complimented the lovingly cooked fungi and added a nice bit of extra crunch. Likewise the duck pâté was beautifully smooth and served with a simple salad, chunky toast, and a zingy chutney that brought the whole dish together.

Roast chicken thighs with salsify and tarragon sauce

Roast chicken thighs with salsify and tarragon sauce

Mains also deliver – mushroom-stuffed chicken thighs served with salsify (a tricky root to get right), buttery mash, and a lick-the-plate-clean mustard and tarragon sauce was expertly cooked and consequently devoured in minutes. Lamb three ways (roasted rump, crispy belly, and slow-cooked shoulder wrapped in pancetta) on a bed of spring cabbage, beetroot, and sweet potato was brought together by a wonderful light minty sauce that also had us chasing the final dregs around the plate.

Lamb Three Ways

Lamb three ways

The lamb itself was delicious – the shoulder was so tender that the pancetta could barely keep it from falling apart on the plate and the crispy belly was a triumph. In a similar vein the Board of Piggy is also worth investigating with a lively combination of confit belly, smoky fritter, and black pudding served with crispy sautéed potatoes and a serious whack of braised red cabbage that will leave even the hedonistic pork-lover full and happy. There are also more traditional pub favourites like fish and chips, steaks, and a lunchtime menu offering burgers and sandwiches. And maybe next time we’ll give that scampi and langoustine dish a second chance – you never know. The vegetarian options are possibly a bit less imaginative – baked mushroom or a butternut squash ravioli – but if the meaty mains are anything to go by (or indeed, that mushroom starter) they should prove to be a cut above expectations.

Puddings-wise the selection is limited but not under-thought – the treacle tart with ice-cream was a true wonder with thin, short pastry and a generous filling, served hot with a toffee ice cream melting on the side. From the description it should have been far too sweet but was actually just right. There is also the inevitable cheese board or ice-cream selection but there is nothing wrong with that – I recently opted for the classic combo of vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate and it was exactly what I wanted – nostalgic, simple, satisfying.

After a few years of visiting the area, The White Horse has definitely become a new favourite and is well worth seeking out. They recently installed a vast wood-burning pizza oven in the garden which is fired up twice a week (must try and time our next visit right so we can try it) and the Sunday roast is fantastic, a vast platter of lamb, beef, and pork, rich gravy, fluffy Yorkshire pudding, and seasonal vegetables plonked in the middle of the table for everyone to dive into. Again, the vegetarian options are a bit unimaginative and I have to say I’m not sure I’d choose a vegetable stir-fry as a Sunday main but perhaps I should be a bit more adventurous.

Or just stick to the meat and stop worrying…

The Board of Piggy

The Board of Piggy

All of this great food is served in a friendly pub environment with a decent selection of ale and cider and a pretty decent wine list. Prices are between £5 and £8 for starters and mains range from the mid-teens to early twenties (the fillet steak tops the list at £25.95) which is pretty representative of the area in general and with food cooked this well is certainly value for money.

So if you find yourself rambling the South Oxfordshire Downs or are looking for a new destination for a decent country dinner, find your way to Woolstone and visit The White Horse – you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

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Grillstock Smokehouse, Walthamstow – review

 

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There may be some (or indeed many) that view the opening of a new American BBQ joint in London as yet another example of lazy, greedy people trying to cash in on recent food trends. Another attempt to grab a few extra quid from the ‘dude-food’ obsessed crowd of bearded 20-somethings who slavishly follow every pop-up, food van, or ‘next big thing’ bricks-and-mortar establishment. And if the new branch of Grillstock in the heart of Walthamstow (alarms begin to sound as people realise they have to travel beyond the hipster haven of Hackney) was the result of cynical, soulless, cash-laden backers trying to make a quick buck then perhaps such suspicions would be justified.

But this, my good friends, is Grillstock.

And there’s a little bit more to it than that.

Starting life as a Bristol music and food festival way back in 2010, long before pulled pork featured on almost every pub and restaurant menu, Grillstock is a loud, meaty love-letter to the massive BBQ festivals and traditions of the US. We’re talking about groups of people who all get together over a weekend and sit around their blackened smokers, occasionally testing temperature and burn rate, to produce the ultimate in low and slow cooking, drinking ice cold beers, and generally being awesome. Grillstock (the festival, which this year is taking place at three different locations) puts meat at the centre of their celebrations and, like the US, features a genuine BBQ competition where everything from chicken to brisket to ribs is judged and rewarded with a variety of prizes and awards, alongside some great music, fine beer, BBQ demos, and some excellent places to chomp on various parts of porcine anatomy. And the chilli-eating competition is alarmingly entertaining to watch.

Following the success of the festival, a little smokehouse in Bristol’s St Nicholas market opened which was quickly followed by a larger site at Clifton Triangle and the lucky locals were thus able to feast on genuine, fabulous BBQ all year round. Having visited both on several occasions I can honestly say that the meat at Grillstock in Bristol seriously rivalled anything I’d had in London and, actually, made me rather jealous in the process. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got some excellent BBQ in the capital – Miss P, Pitt Cue Co, The Joint – but we didn’t have Grillstock.

Until now.

Following the success of their first opening outside of Bristol (in the beautiful city of Bath), the owners turned their eyes toward London and, having carefully found the right site, opened their doors to the baying public on April 10th this year. I was lucky enough to get an table at the soft opening (which was by guest-list only) the day before and took a good friend along who also shares a penchant for smoked meats. This was my first proper expedition out of South London since being ill and I was personally very pleased I could just sit on a tube to the end of the line – thus saving more energy for meat.

On entering I have to say I was pretty bowled over by the place. The Clifton smokehouse is small – one large table down the middle of the room and that is it – but Grillstock E17 is spacious and filled with a huge variety of seating options. There are tables for two, a few booths, a big communal table with high stools, and a selection of customisable options for groups of anything from 5 to 10. Like Bristol (and I assume Bath too), once you’ve been seated you then order your food from the bar, collect your drink, and sit back and relax in anticipation of a huge meaty feast to come. The decor is pretty stripped back – the breeze block walls are adorned with posters from Grillstocks past and a bit of metal here and there – but the atmosphere and lighting is welcoming and hearty. It’s the kind of place that will be great on a hot summers day but also perfect to hide away and warm up in thedepths of winter. Also like Bristol, the staff are relaxed, friendly, and clearly enjoying themselves.

DSC_0982But what about the food?

Grillstock offer either a plate of one type of meat, a combo of three, a sharing platter of all four meats for two people, or the Grand Champion which is a selection so big I wouldn’t be surprised if it took more than one staff member to carry it (finish it in an hour and win a shirt and some hot sauce – maybe next time). They also do a range of burgers which includes the vast Lockjaw, consisting of two 5oz burgers, pulled pork, brisket, burnt ends, cheese, and fry-sauce which has to be seen to be believed, as well as hot dogs and a variety of sides and extras like BBQ beans and cornbread. This may make choosing your dinner rather difficult.

I’ve eaten my fair share of ribs, pulled pork, and wings in my time. Some have been good, others pretty poor. My combo platter of all three aforementioned meats at Grillstock was, quite simply, amazing. The ribs were soft and tender with a good ‘bark’ of smoked exterior that yielded to reveal perfectly cooked meat within. The wings had a nice zing and were succulent and delicious and the pulled pork was smoky, savoury, and incredibly more-ish. These marvels of smoked flesh were served with a huge fistful of fries, a well-balanced slaw, a lovely little brioche-style bun, and some house pickles which put many so-called ‘home-made’ pickles I’ve sampled in London to shame – crunchy, tangy, a bit of spice – everything a pickle should be.

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Ribs, wings, and pulled pork combo

My companion also had pulled pork but chose the smoked chicken and a slab of brisket to go with it. Brisket is a hard thing to get right – it is easy to dry out and turn into a leathery mess that needs a saw to hack through it – but the years of experience of low and slow cooking pay off here, producing a juicy, smoky, slab of wonder. The chicken was pretty special too.

Chicken, brisket, and pulled pork

Chicken, brisket, and pulled pork

All of this can be smothered in the house BBQ or hot sauces, which sit proudly on the table alongside traditional condiments like ketchup, American mustard (French’s of course!), and the classic Frank’s Hot Sauce.

And speaking of Franks – Frank Underwood would definitely come back for the ribs here, even though he has a favourite rib joint of his own.

Sorry, I may have been watching a bit too much ‘House of Cards’….

Back to Grillstock…

To go with our meats, we sampled the own-brand pale ale which was light and nicely hopped – perfect with BBQ – and were certainly tempted by the wall of bourbons and other boozy delights that shone from behind the bar. I can also recommend the Pistonhead lager or any of the Brooklyn beers they offer – all easy drinking and all perfect with the food. Or you can have cider, cocktails, iced tea, or root beer. You get the idea.

We were reluctant to leave – it was very tempting to sup on a few more beers, wait for the food to go down, and then start again but eventually we shuffled off, full and happy.

I cannot recommend Grillstock highly enough. Everything from the staff, the room, the food, the drink, the atmosphere – it’s all brilliant. And surprisingly well priced too. The combo platter (which filled me up enough so as not to need dinner) is £18 which is an absolute bargain, I have been to places where a single portion of (not so good) ribs cost more and certainly didn’t come with such a wide selection of sides. The beers were £3.80 each and you can get a Jack Daniels and Coke for £3.50! This is all good news.

So get on up to Walthamstow and try it. Or, if Bristol or Bath are nearer, head down there instead – you’ll find the same quality of food and service across the board. And once you’ve done that, buy a ticket to one of the festivals this year either in Bristol, Manchester, or London and take your experience further. Grillstock’s motto is Meat, Music, Mayhem – it could not be a more fitting description of this excellent enterprise.

Grillstock Walthamstow

198 Hoe St,

E17

www.grillstock.co.uk

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Meaty, Recipes

Home-smoked ribs

One of the things I love the most about real BBQ is the deep richness that comes from slow, low cooking in a smoker. Sadly, as I live in a first floor flat without any kind of outdoor space (apart from a windowsill and that is hardly going to accommodate a big fat Weber), I have been unable to indulge in such antics.

Rubbish.

However, I have been toying around with the idea of using my stove-top smoker to infuse the meat and then my conventional oven to finish the cooking and I have to say I think I’ve come up trumps. When you use a proper cold-smoker you need to keep a tray of water near the meat to help keep it moist and control the temperature of the smoke – otherwise you’ll end up some charred, dry unpleasantness that will make you sad. Now, I know that you can put metal hot-smokers in the oven but I didn’t want to go down that road for a two-hour cooking session as there is nowhere to put a tray of water that would benefit the process. Nor did I want my oven to smell like a bonfire for the next few weeks (smoky cake anyone?) so I decided to use the hot-smoker on the hob and then transfer the meat to a baking dish and put liquid in that before covering the whole lot and cooking at a low temperature for a good couple of hours. Simple.

I used a rub based on the excellent Pitt Cue Co recipe – I would have followed it exactly but didn’t have all the ingredients – and let the meat sit overnight before smoking. After finishing in the oven I have to say the results were fantastic! Although there wasn’t exactly the smoke ring through the meat that is the sign of proper BBQ, there was a bit of char and a good ‘bark’ (if you eat enough BBQ you’ll know what I mean) and, above all, there was a glorious smoky flavour that ran through the whole thing. It was quite staggeringly good. I’m going to make it again. Probably rather soon. So, here we go….

Note that the following quantity makes a large amount of rub but it keeps really well in a sealed container for a few weeks. Also, make sure you remove the thin membrane on the ribs – if you turn them so the curved side is down, use a sharp knife to carefully separate the membrane from the meat and then pull the whole thing off. It may or may not come off in one go. And yes, it is alarmingly satisfying.

Finally, if you haven’t got any liquid smoke don’t worry – it works fine with just water. Or bourbon. Or both…

Ingredients

For the rub:

  • 5g fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 onion powder
  • 50g fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika

Along with:

  • 1 rack baby-back ribs (membrane removed)
  • 2 tsp liquid smoke
  • a glug of bourbon
  • 100ml water
  • BBQ sauce for glazing

Method

First, make the rub. In a dry pan lightly toast the fennel, cumin, pepper, and coriander until they begin to smell amazing then remove and allow to cool. Blitz with the rest of the spices in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar.

Next, prepare the ribs. It is worth making sure they will fit easily in your smoker – you may find you have to cut the rack into portions but that won’t matter. Having removed the membrane from the rack, rub the whole lot generously with your, er, rub, cover, and put in the fridge overnight. If you have space put the ribs on a wire rack to let any liquid drip out but it’s not a disaster if your fridge is too mini.

The following day, remove the ribs from the fridge and pat them dry with some kitchen paper and allow to come back up to room temperature.

Prepare your smoker – I used oak chippings but any decent strong flavour will do – put the meat on the rack in the drip tray over a handful of chippings, put the lid on and place over a high heat until it begins to smoulder and then turn your hob down low. Cook the ribs for 30 mins then remove from the smoker.

While your kitchen is slowly turning into a smoky den (make sure you have all your windows open!!!), put a small wire rack in a roasting tray and add your liquids to the bottom. Pre-heat your oven to Gas mark 2/150c.

When your ribs are smoked, put them on the rack and cover the tray with foil then put in the oven for at least two hours, checking occasionally and adding more liquid if necessary.

After waiting patiently and smelling the increasingly awesome aroma that will be filling your kitchen, remove the tray and have a look at the meat – the outside will flake away and the meat should be tender and easily come away from the bone.

Glaze with BBQ sauce and finish under a hot grill to add an extra layer of gloss and decadence.

Eat without delay with pickles and any other BBQ delights you may have. I found some burnt ends kicking about so I had them too….

Ribs and burnt ends

Ribs and burnt ends

NB – I got the burnt ends from Bodeans who supply excellent pre-cooked BBQ packs to take away…

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