Restaurant: Smoque (Canberra)

VERDICT: YES

Urbanspoon is a double edged sword, and more often it’s the edge that you don’t want that’s cutting at the underbelly of a halfways reasonable opinion.

Now, don’t get me wrong: we use the shit out of Urbanspoon in this house,  it has its place. But it’s like the internet itself – it amplifies fringe opinions, stupidity, lunacy, libertarianism, and other poisonous mind-worms to the extent that the collective opinion that might be quite reasonable, i.e. “THIS PLACE IS GOOD” is profoundly tainted by a few people who think that the food at some perfectly servicable venue is, literally, Satan.

Smoque is the best example we’ve seen in a while of this … Urbanspoonzophrenia. Check this shit out:

Smoque on Urbanspoon

That’s at 66% right now, and that’s really strange. Have a good read of those reviews for a sec. There’s three options for why they are the way they are:

1) This restaurant is suffering from wild swings of competence. The staff are being periodically replaced in a manner which creates enormous yawning cycles between marvelous smoky goodness and par-boiled horse tripe.
2) Some of these people leaving comments are mentally ill, or have the collective palate of a shit-covered ashtray.
3) Someone is gaming these reviews and is periodically leaving reviews which are deliberately vexatious.

Choose one of those, because nothing else is really possible.

Let’s unpack the dining experience at said restaurant.

Arrive about 7pm unannounced, as restaurant doesn’t take bookings for more than six. Short wait. Retire to pub. ACTUALLY RECEIVE CALL TO INDICATED TABLE IS FREE (this doesn’t happen enough). Return to restaurant, sit at table. Easy.

Now, Smoque have what is – considering the type of food they serve – a sensible model of service. Everything is ordered from the bartop and is delivered to a number, bistro-style.

We order a ludicrous concoction of food – beef ribs, brisket, pulled pork, pork ribs, chicken, cornbread, pickles, two sides. Couple of reasons: 1) it’s hard to screw up a slider or a salad too badly compared to properly treating the meat by itself and 2) when a restaurant does One Particular Thing, and you want to evaluate it, that’s what you order, Jack.

$79 is a reasonable bill for what we ordered (and what came). They have Sierra Nevada Pale, A&W and Canada Dry behind the bar – American enough. They also have Miller and Budweiser, which I mention only for completeness sake, and not because I would ever be caught drinking either of them. To be quite honest, if my feet were on fire I wouldn’t use Bud to put them out in case some of it soaked in. It’s like beer syphilis. But anyway.

Considering people’s collective whining about service time, you’d think this would arrived as ossified as the old knight from Raiders of the Lost Ark, years after ordering. Nope. 10-15 minutes perhaps, sharp and friendly.

This was a mighty slab of food, and for people who don’t eat competitively (that’s a hobby, and a story for other blog posts) definitely not a sane amount of food for two. Three normal people and four not-particulary-hungry people, perhaps.

Now, the food. A mixed bag, but with enough highlights to make us very, very happy.

Brisket: brisket is either totally substandard, but occasionally – when done perfectly – it’s suddenly possessed with insight and love and wonder. I have never managed to cook a brisket I was completely happy with, and it’s a cut which frustrates and annoys me. Plural Jewish friends have sympathised and assured me that only their mother, in particular, can nail this cut. Smoque can’t. Ours was more like pastrami, the texture slightly too much like sandwich meat. That’s not to say it was bad! Far from it. Simply the fact that if you’re really trying to impress people brisket is a cut with which one doth not fuck. I can only imagine the difficulties of trying to produce this, smoked and braised, in a commercial kitchen. Hidden in a sandwich or slider, shredded and dressed, it would have done better..

Pulled pork: winner. Pulled pork is often saturated in sticky bbq glaze that could more properly be used to pug up highway potholes. After all that trouble of slow-cooking such a wonderful cut of meat, to be smothered in such crap… it makes me wish the zombie pig could come back to life and gore the chef. But not this lad. The smoke marks were obvious even on the pork shreds, and the sauce was precisely where it should have been – high acid, not too sweet, a tiny bit ‘sweet-rendered’. We fought over who got to finish this.

Pork ribs: Not fooling, second best pork ribs ever. These were absolutely brilliant. I don’t know if we just got a magic rack or quite what happened, but this was seriously, truly excellent. The meat, sweet, friable but moist, perfect smoke character. The glaze, properly sweet but well balanced. As might be expected, falling perfectly from the bone. To get ribs this good you have to get many things precisely right and this never happens by accident.

Beef rib: this is a shit of a thing to cook, a mess of fat, collagen, long and uneven bones and weird sheets of muscle. Why the hell you would try to put it in a platter where people were all picking at the same portion is totally beyond me. Even between us, and our thoroughly unconstrained eating habits, and complete lack of personal shame, it was a pain. This unevenness also makes it unsatisfying to deconstruct – sheets of fat and big, angular bones fill your plate, and you root around like a blind tusker looking for the meat. The good parts though? Very good. The bad parts, trending tough.

Chicken: Heavens to balls, why you would attempt to serve this is beyond me. Chicken, moreso than anything else apart from turkey, has a tendency to cook at two speeds. It’s bloody hard to cook the drum/thigh right and not overcook the breast unless you slash holes in the dark meat you could park your car in. This was no exception. The drum fillet was beautiful, the thigh nice, and the breast was left on the plate because it was, as it always is, dry.

Sides: coleslaw and corn.  Fine, not too heavy.

Cornbread: very Southern, quite sweet, friable and pleasant.

Pickles: typical American pickles i.e. with all the brine character of a bar of soap.

Provided ‘spicy’ sauce: only spicy if you think white bread is exotic. Probably a victim of the fact that it has to be served to white people.

What would I do if I owned this restaurant? Ditch trying to smoke everything under the sun. The chicken and the 12″ of beef rib were obviously a pain in the etceteras to produce with everything else, and are inconsistent and difficult things to smoke and slow cook. I would bin the fuckers completely. If totally necessary to cook and serve something similar, short rib for the beef and a Maryland for the chicken would be much more forgiving cuts to smoke, glaze or braise.

Did we like it? HELL yes. Make no mistake, if you love meat then this is a wonderful restaurant, cooking in a difficult style to master (most Australians have absolutely no idea the attention to detail and level of obsession that American BBQ can involve), and getting enough stuff right that if I lived in Canberra I would be in here about once a month. If I’m in Canberra incidentally, I’m going back.

Also bear in mind they’ve been open for less than a year, and with this much on the menu they still totally get the benefit of the doubt.

I’m going to have dreams about those ribs.

And seeing as this is a food blog, here’s a picture of what we did to the platter:

20130330_211619

I should have taken one before it looked like a meat bomb went off, shouldn’t I? Hah. Screw it.

Oh, one last thing: there were young men in cardigans and fashionable moustaches at this restaurant. I resented this. Not much, though.

AND THE SURVEY SAYS
CB: Yes
MW: Yes

Overall:
Yes

<a href=”http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/344/1708592/restaurant/ACT/Smoque-Canberra”><img alt=”Smoque on Urbanspoon” src=”http://www.urbanspoon.com/b/link/1708592/minilink.gif&#8221; style=”border:none;padding:0px;width:130px;height:36px” /></a>

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