One of the trends over the past couple of years has been the smoking of food. This ranges from fast food joints to high end restaurants who have imported eye-wateringly expensive equipment to do the job. The new kid on the block, the block on South Parade that is, is Smokin’. I called to sample their lunch menu which I found to be a bit puzzling. There was a choice of three starters, two of which were smoked and the third was Tortilla Chips, which is fair enough, but of the four choices of main course only one had been given the smoke treatment. This made my choice pretty straightforward. I ordered a glass of tap water which came with ice and a slice of lemon.
From the ‘Starter’ section I opted for Smoked Mussels in a Creamy White Wine and Garlic Sauce at £4.50. I love mussels and was intrigued to find out what they tasted like smoked. My first thought was how you can smoke mussels in the first place. This particular mollusc must have the shortest cooking time of any food other than salad! If overdone they go tough and rubbery as was the case here. They arrived in a bowl of sauce still attached to the half-shell which was good but there is only one way to open a mussel and that is to cook it. Mussels are steamed in a small amount of liquid which is normally white wine, water or cream for just a few seconds, until they open on their own account. Any which are open before cooking are given a sharp tap and if they don’t close are thrown away. Once they open in the steaming process then they are cooked. I have only once had mussels which have been double cooked and that was in France when, after steaming, they were done in the same way as snails, i.e. grilled in garlic and parsley butter but unlike snails they were flash grilled for a couple of seconds so as not to overcook the flesh. Smoking, however, takes much longer and then this dish must have been cooked again in the sauce as it came piping hot.
Speaking of hot, the sauce as well as having the listed ingredients, also had a liberal helping of chopped fresh chillies. Normally this would have earned several Brownie points but in this dish it totally overpowered the once delicate flavour of the mussels, even though this had already been done by the smoking process. The upside, if you can call it that, was that the portion was generous, the bowl containing an even dozen of the molluscs. As I was having meat for main course I ordered a glass of Lazy Bones Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon at £6.30 for 250ml. This was a very pleasant medium-bodied red with enough fruit to hold its own against the chilli enhanced sauce.
From the main courses, all priced at £7.95, I opted for the aforementioned eponymous item, Smokin Burger, described as Smoked Brisket Burger, Burger Sauce, Lettuce and Fries. This too had an extra ingredient in the form of a slice of fresh tomato tucked into the construction. The bun was Brioche style as is the fashion nowadays. Brisket is one of the cheaper cuts of meat and has lots of fat which means that it needs to be cooked for a longer period to allow the fat to melt and do its work in making the meat both tasty and moist. I am afraid that this was neither. The patty seems to have been made from raw meat as it was slightly pink in the middle. This is normally a good thing but the burger had been put in a press under a great deal of pressure, making a solid lump which suffered the same fault as the mussels, in that it was far too chewy. The meat should have been far looser, allowing any fat to run through it for tenderisation. I am afraid that it reminded me of ready-made ones from one of the less upmarket butchers. The fries were fine.
I was determined to have something I would enjoy so I went off-piste for dessert and avoided the only smoke related item, Smokin’ Sundae with Chocolate Sauce, having the Sticky Toffee Pudding served with Vanilla Ice Cream at £5.50 instead. Thankfully this ploy worked. The pudding was light in texture and dark in colour, absolutely perfect. The Northern Bloc Vanilla Ice Cream on top was as good as always and I do like the contrast between a hot dessert with a freezing accompaniment. My usual Black Americano at a very reasonable £1.75 was excellent and was complimentary to make up for my comment to the waitress’s enquiry as to my thoughts on the mussels.
I was really disappointed with Smokin’, not only because it was an hour and a half out of my life which I will never get back, but because it is a one-off restaurant and I would have loved to have promoted it better. It is ironic that the good things about the place are the ones which have no connection to smoked food, because as well as the dessert, the service was really very good. The young lady who served me was very chatty and transformed a so-so experience into something much better.
I would normally end with some witty remark about giving up smoking or something but after such a disappointment I don’t feel that it is appropriate so I will let it slide.
Photography by Stan Graham