All too often it’s the places with the biggest build-up that prove the biggest let-down… And Smoke Barbecue has had more hype than most.
We’d heard how owner Sean Gregory got the idea from a TV series; jetted off to the US to check out the concept; and now plans to create a new chain, starting in Sheffield.
We finally got to the restaurant two days before its official opening – and first impressions suggest it lives up to its reputation.
Service is good, from the time the door is opened for us. And staff actually listen to their customers. They’ve monitored feedback and already the menu has been changed, smaller portions introduced and prices dropped.
Whether or not the pit barbecue concept appeals, you can’t fail to be impressed by the setting: meticulous in detail and achingly hip.
Part of the striking Cheesegrater building in St Paul’s Place, the restaurant is a lofty temple to industrial chic.
Concrete walls, metal ducting and exposed brickwork somehow come together with salvaged timber and tables made from pallets and old barrels. The end wall is a work of art combining rusted corrugated sheeting with mirrored panels, and diners are encouraged to graffiti the toilet walls with their thoughts.
The ceiling is dressed with vast nets of paper globes, lit to resemble a plume of smoke. And at the centre of this awe-inspiring scene is the fire pit itself – surprisingly understated, like a circular stone table with a wood fire burning beneath it.
In charge of this beast, and the rest of the open kitchen, is head chef Euan Calder, an Aberdonian who previously ran the food side of Bungalows & Bears and now declares himself ready for a fresh challenge.
“It’s a learning curve for everybody – but it’s fun getting involved with some new toys!” he says.
The concept focuses on meat and lots of it. Huge joints are bought in from a Yorkshire farm, then butchered, rubbed and marinated in-house before being smoked for up to 18 hours and finished on the fire pit.
Fish and other specials are in the pipeline: “The beauty of being an independent is that we have flexibility to adapt,” says Euan. But for now it’s meat, more meat and a token veggie option.
We order drinks and nibble salty chilli popcorn while we watch our food being cooked.
Local produce includes Thornbridge ales at £2.25 per half-pint jar or £8.50 for a 2pt jug. It being January, I’m on lime and soda – astonishingly, more expensive than beer at a jaw-dropping £2.50.
There are no starters, so it’s straight on to the main event.
My chicken pit plate is half a bird: breast, leg and wing. It’s moist, succulent and infused with a salty, spicy chargrilled flavour. Not much smoke about it, but mouth-wateringly delicious.
My companion’s beef burger is good too, topped with spicy pulled pork and sandwiched in a bun with lettuce, tomato and dill pickle.
These are gutsy, in-your-face flavours, very American, which, after all, is the point. Both meals come with twice-cooked chips and a side order of dressed house salad or winter slaw. Even the sauces are made on the premises.
I’m full, but my companion ploughs on to the ‘pie jar’. Today’s version is apple, raisin and cinnamon crumble, tangy and fragrant with plenty of bite and an ice cream topping.
Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is £31.50.
* Smoke Barbecue, 1 St Paul’s Place, Sheffield (0114) 331 0331 Smoke Barbecue