August 26, 2011
Last week, I was invited to review Smoak Bar and Grill, the latest addition to Manchester’s ever-growing restaurant scene. Setting up home in the Malmaison hotel, Smoak describes itself as ‘a new bar and grill concept’ combing ‘the incredible aroma of oak smoked chips, cutlery clatter and exquisite fizzle of a chilled bottle of bubbly’. Which sounds like marketing bollocks to me.
The website didn’t fill me with confidence either. Mainly because it looks a wee bit pretentious, like the marketing people got a little carried away by their own hype; and that’s coming from someone who works in marketing. It looks like the type of restaurant more concerned with being the ‘place to be seen’ than serving up bloody good food. Then I looked at the menu. Steak tartar, cote de boeuf and roasted bone marrow. How could I possibly resist?
I went along with an open mind, having long ago realised that high expectations are almost always dashed and vice-versa. I was however a little cautious about the promised change of décor, having loved the dark, decedent style of the former Mal restaurant.
We started in the bar, which looks like an American diner and Speakeasy fell in love and gave birth to a strange breed of love child. With distressed brickwork and wood panelling, hessian sacks and a range of eclectic chairs and tables it was love at first sight; in no small part due to the American Rock music being pumped through the bar. I may have found my spiritual home. Better it was rather dark and intimate, despite what the pictures on the website had led me to believe and had a lovely relaxed vibe without a hint of pretension.
The cocktail menu is pretty dammed good too. And since I was ‘working’ (cough, cough) I went for their signature cocktail the Smoak Stack. Buffalo trace, caramel liqueur and pear juice, smoked with apple wood chips from a ‘smoaking’ gun. It arrived in a jar, which would have had me snorting with derision at the daftness of it all had the jar not served the purpose of keeping the smoky aroma firmly in the cocktail until opening the lid.
It smelled amazing. It tasted even better. The husband had a Sazerac which he thought was a dammed fine version, but I think I won the best cocktail game.
After cocktails we went through to the restaurant proper, with booths and smaller tables for two. All of which I could tell you about in more depth if I hadn’t been completely and utterly spellbound by a monster of a glass fronted meat cabinet. Like something out of a Saw movie, but tastier. I do however remember the smell – the incredible aroma of oak smoked chips -maybe not such marketing bollocks after all.
At this point the somellier arrived with the wine list, a lovely chap I feel he was perhaps a little embarrssed on informing us that at Smoak the wine is served in tumblers. Not being students we asked for wine glasses, which he quickly sorted for us. Looking around at the other tables we were not the only ones not to fall for the gimmick.
To start with I had the baked black figs, served with Gorgonzola and San Daniele ham. They were lovely. Although I would have preferred the Gorgonzola to be a little more ‘melty’ in the middle. The figs however were cooked beautifully and not overly squishy as restaurant figs can often be. The husband plumped for the three sausage sampler; served with smoked mash (or indeed smoaked mash – is there a touchy of the Maccy D’s about such overt branding?), pickled onions and red hot mustard. A smaller starter than mine, the sausages (or bits of sausage to be fair) were all great quality and he declared it the best of the two. In truth I think the sausages had it.
Choosing our main courses was easy. Although there were a number of dishes I could have happily chomped my way through including rare breed pork chop and pulled pork, Herdwick mutton marsala, Kansas City BBQ ribs and hot roasted shells (lobster, crab, scallop, clams, prawns, mussels and crayfish) our close proximity to the meat counter meant we could only consider steak.
I had a 350g rib eye with peppercorn sauce and husband went for a 500g sirloin on the bone with a béarnaise; both rare. Both came with half a roasted bone marrow and a portobello mushroom. If that wasn’t enough we added a portion of skinny chips (no fries here) and mac and cheese.
If I am being completely honest I think we would both have preferred the steaks slightly pinker, as they were verging on the medium-rare, but this was forgiven due to the exceptional quality of the steak itself which was blooming superb and well worth the £27 price tag (mine) and £30 (his). And I cannot praise the chips and mac and cheese enough. We polished off the lot. We’ll call this round a draw as he declared the sirloin supreme (despite usually preferring a rib eye), but I found the sirloin a tad fatty for my tastes.
For desert the husband went for baked Alaska, something you don’t usually find on a Manchester menu, while my savoury tooth could not resist the cheese plate.
The final course declared me the winner as the cheese was one of the best cheese plates I’ve had in Manchester, but the baked Alaska, although tasty was a little confused, being soft on the outside and hard in the middle.
Was it a perfect meal, no, but it was a bloody great one, helped in no small part by the attentive but not overbearing staff, including our lovely waitress Jessica and we will most definitely be back.
Smoak doesn’t profess to offer fine dining, rather American steak house with a twist. And it does it well. Very well.
If you like good meat, cooked well, make sure to add Smoak to your ‘to-do’ list. Just ignore the marketing bollocks.