If over the past couple of years you still haven't come across Chef Neil Rankin, he is a classically trained chef but has chosen a direction that usually involves a good piece of meet and fire. The menu here plays with that concept in full such that even a vegetarian curry option is described as a 'coal roasted aubergine curry'. And while the back blackboard states as most good places do now that their beef is sourced here and their fish is sourced their, at Smokehouse they even discuss the sustainability of their woodchips that put the smoke into Smokehouse.
We modestly over-ordered because there's so many temptations on the menu that narrowing it down to just a couple of dishes is too hard and we want to get a sense of what's on offer. The kitchen kindly send out some extra food also, such that we really got to see a lot of the menu.
Starters offer a full range of wonderful sounding items and the Twitter-verse had been raving about the foie gras, apple pie and duck egg so we felt we really should see what the fuss is about. But remembering that Neil's crab dish in his previous gaff was a knockout we couldn't pass over his crab on toast here either to see what he makes of it and, for good unhealthy measure, we ordered too the duck confit with fourme d'ambert on toast.
All plates were generously proportioned and the foie gras dish, at £10, didn't skimp on the foie making it actually very good value such that foie gras lovers everywhere should just flock to Smokehouse because the foie gras itself is a beautiful example of the kind and pairing it with an apple pie to provide both acidity and texture is both fun and interesting, all coated with a highly viscous slow cooked egg. The crab however was also a big hit because it's not 'just' crab on toast but a lobster/crab bisque reduction sauce also coats the toast for additional depth of flavour elevating it above what is so often served elsewhere making it quite special.
The benefits of Smokehouse being a smokehouse are most obvious on the mains where the smoky aromas and flavours have worked themselves deep into the mutton chops leaving you in no doubt of the benefits of Neil's style of cooking. A peppered ox-cheek comes with a densely sticky and dark peppery glaze but we're both in agreement that the absolute star of the mains is the shortrib bourguignon where the beef arrives as a single cut on the bone and is meltingly tender from goodness knows how long it's been cooking through the day: it really is a special piece of meat and no-one who enjoys beef surely could do anything but adore this. For us, only the smoked pork rib-eye failed to work, its merits to us unclear. We also got to sample a side of the Korean pulled pork which is simply excellent, though quite which main would make you think 'I think I had better order a side of pork to go with this' we have no idea.
The food here is generously portioned and quite rich such that most people we imagine would leave Smokehouse satisfied in every way. We've said a few times now on the blog that a lot of the pub food in London just isn't that special but Neil's menus are always interesting and for a pub in Islington to be doing food like this is simply fantastic. For the carnivores of the world then, Smokehouse then is a must: Neil has a real passion for this type of food it seems and it shows.