For Milton Keynes and the surrounding area, this has got to be the most anticipated restaurant opening of 2014.
Not the biggest, not the grandest, but the most anticipated.
It all began on Facebook in January, with the promise of a new smoke house with a top chef and a competition for free meals on recruiting your friends to like the page. The following months were an emotional roller-coaster of updates: extensive market research into what people wanted on the menu, cryptic clues of the location, changes in the location, more competitions and of course not forgetting the infamous ‘Smoke Shack Saga’, with plagiarised pictures of food misleadingly displayed and eventually called out. With opening dates pushed back and back, I started to wonder if Smoke Shack was just a pipe dream.
It came almost as a relief when learning that the opening was actually definitely happening in September. Like the whopping 8,000 followers they’ve accrued before even opening their doors, I was very curious about this restaurant!
I smiled as I sat down and saw a familiar sight, remember Sinclair Condiments? It’s a nice touch that Smoke Shack have teamed up to work with local businesses. There’s a vast selection on each table.
Okay so thoughts on the menu: it looks great and has a wide selection of burgers, hot dogs, grilled meats and even three eating challenges! Vegetarians will be thrilled to know there’s an entire separate menu dedicated to meat-free dining. There’s a few dishes I wouldn’t expect to see on a smoke house menu (eg fish & chips) which I think could be scrapped in the name of keeping the choices authentic and relevant.
We chose a Porky’s burger and a Country Bumpkin hot dog with skinny fries, triple cooked chips and a side of onion rings (we were hungry!)
The Porky’s burger: a 6oz beef patty topped with pulled pork, crackling pieces and mozzarella, served attractively on a slate board. Great flavours but the patty was well done, disappointing as I’d expect to see a flash of pink, along with melted cheese. The onion rings were lovely: really crunchy batter with a hint of pepper and quality onions with a strong flavour.
I haven’t had a hot dog in ages so was happy to see them on the menu. My Country Bumpkin dog was decorated with caramelised (stewed) apple pieces, smoked applewood cheddar and mustard mayo. The wiener itself was really delicious: great flavour and cooked perfectly. Lovely snap in the skin too! I was very interested by the apple pieces and I have to say they worked so well with the smoky applewood cheese. It was a fantastic marriage of rich and sweet. The bun however, was horrendous. It was hard and dry and crumbly but given we’d waited 45 minutes for our food I stuck with the stale bread, picking bits off to focus on the filling.
The slaw was equally disappointing, nice texture but watery and flavourless. However both the skinny fries and the chunky chips were very good, being well cooked and crunchy on the outside. Generous portions too.
Eager to explore more of what Smoke Shack had to offer we ordered a dessert, a peanut butter fondant caught my eye…
…and I’m so glad it did! This was a great note to finish on.
The Good: a fresh and fruity raspberry coulis to cut through its rich sidekicks.
The Bad: a decadent and genius idea to turn chunky peanut butter into ice cream. The coldness of a familiar food really confused my brain, in a good way.
The Just Plain Filthy: a warm, oozing chocolate fondant that had us grinning ear-to-ear as we prised it open. Glorious!
If only the whole meal had been as exciting as that dessert eh?
Smoke Shack was… inconsistent. The potential is there, but it’s started off the blocks very unpolished and there were a few basic slip ups I would expect a smoke house to have engrained into their practice.
I guess the hype surrounding Smoke Shack has been both a gift and a curse. Their Facebook campaign has caused such a huge buzz that it’s ensured people flock to try them out, but it has also set expectations incredibly high. For that reason anything other than a mind blowing meal was going to leave me feeling disappointed. The boys behind the restaurant have demonstrated a tireless enthusiasm for their venture, so I hope that they can smooth the bumps and turn Smoke Shack into a worthy local food landmark.