Stan Graham heads to Smoke Barbecue on Merrion Street for his lunch this week, where he enjoys the meaty delights and even a pudding!
Ah, the Merrion Centre. This example of 1960s styleless architecture holds a strange fascination for me. On 5th September, 1961 I began my secondary education at Leeds Central High School which is situated on Woodhouse Lane, smack opposite the entrance to Morrison’s Car Park. It is the big square brick building now occupied by a splinter group of Leeds Council. Schooldays, especially the ones at Central, were not the happiest days of my life which I blame for making me take up smoking! Speaking of smoking I decided to put aside my negative memories of the area and try the barbecue establishment next door to the bowling alley.
Smoke has no menu outside so I went in blind. I need not have worried as the food on offer was the usual barbecue fare. There was a large choice of meats, burgers, chillis and sides. There were also sharing plates and an 18oz rib eye on the bone.
The room is enormous, as is the kitchen barbecue area, and the couple of largish parties were lost in the space of the lower level. The higher level was occupied by smaller groups. Loud music gave the place a good atmosphere: it was loud enough to listen to and also to drown out any Hooray Henry who may sit anywhere near. After perusing the menu I decided on the Pit Plate which, at £11.00, gives a choice of barbecue chicken, turkey leg or the ubiquitous pulled pork, I chose the fourth option, house hot link sausage. Each comes with twice cooked chips and a choice of side. I went for the pickled slaw which consisted of red cabbage with just enough vinegar and pickle to make it tangy without being oppressive. It was a fresh tasting counterpoint to the produce of the pit. The sausage was wonderfully spicy and the chips cooked to perfection. They were proper chips, obviously made in house, and from new potatoes as they were of varying sizes and there was a residue of the small ones which go really crispy. The portions were large and this is my only criticism. I think that it would have been better to have been given a choice of two half portions of items from the pit because, good as it was, the sausage got a bit monotonous after a while. This thought came to mind when I was eating the meal to the accompaniment of Oasis. I remember thinking that I had forgotten just how many great songs Oasis had recorded but I don’t necessarily want to hear them all one after another. Although there are beers available I chose a 175ml glass of Finca Shiraz at £4.75. Again, excellent.
Purely for your benefit, and to stay inside out of the rain a bit longer, I ordered ice cream (£5.00) and a coffee (£2.00). I was given a comprehensive choice of scoops and settled on two of vanilla and one of blueberry. Absolutely delicious. This was one large helping which wasn’t monotonous. The vanilla actually tasted of vanilla and there were whole blueberries in that scoop.
Here is a place I highly recommend. It is so good that I quickly forgot the associations with the building over the road.
Just a footnote, I eventually gave up smoking in my thirties even though the Headmaster at Central High tried his best, assisted by an assortment of canes, to get me out of the habit twenty years before!
Photography by Stan Graham