It’s mid-December and I am already starting to regret my decision to partake in Veganuary. In order to get my meat fix before the end of the month, I head to the one place that is guaranteed never to disappoint: the industrial-chic hipster haunt that is SMOKESTAK. Nestled on Sclater Street, it’s all very urban and cool and manly. Dark wooden panels, low lighting, open fires, man buns and SO. MUCH. MEAT.
The brains (or shall I say brawn) behind SMOKESTAK is David Carter, one of the biggest names on the London food scene. His brisket buns started their world domination in 2013, making this the 10-year-anniversary of its inception. Born and raised in Barbados, Carter moved to London in 2008.
After a few years of working in prestigious establishments such as Claridge’s, The Savoy Grill and Roka, he swapped fine dining for street food. He went about it in a rather extravagant manner, making the pilgrimage to Houston to buy a 4.5 tonne, seven-metre-long smoker. Carter started selling barbecue at popups and street food festivals before eventually giving SMOKESTAK a permanent home in 2016.
It has been a favourite amongst meat lovers in the city and has built up a loyal fan base – it’s me, hi. Although it changes most weeks, the menu is a constant smorgasbord of carnivorous delights. The standouts include dishes such as crispy ox cheek with anchovy mayo (trust me on this), pulled pork buns with green chilli slaw, charred pork belly ribs with pickled cucumber and the showstopper, a whole beef brisket for the table. A special shoutout goes to the pastrami with pickles, mustard and dill. It’s like nothing you have ever tasted.
Because my mother always taught me to eat my vegetables, I ordered a few dishes which did not once moo: pickled red cabbage, fennel and herb salad with citrus dressing and charred greens with tahini, pomegranate and roasted peanuts.
“What about the booze?” I hear you ask. Well, the drinks list is small but equally impressive. Craft IPAs, creative cocktails (try the green chilli Tommy’s – tequila, jalapeño, lime, agave and triple sec – but stop at three, I speak from experience) and a perfectly good selection of wines.
Finally, there’s the dessert. The sticky toffee pudding is a particular gem here. It’s served with clotted ice cream and sent straight from the food gods. Fluffy, moist and unapologetically sweet, this dessert won’t go to your stomach, it’ll go to your heart.
A decade on, SMOKESTAK is still a huge London hit, and deservedly so. Regardless of its hipster credentials, it’s warm and welcoming. The food is to die for, the service is lovely and atmosphere buzzy. If this isn’t enough to fall off the vegan wagon (vagon?) I don’t know what is.
35 Sclater Street, E1 6LB