The review below is from when The Smokehouse opened as a pop up but it is now opened permanently so no need to worry, they aren't going anywhere! Yippeeee!On Thursday I headed to the Obar on Braunstone Gate in Leicester for the launch of The Smokehouse. In true pop up style, this authentic southern state American restaurant is open for 4 weeks only so you'd better get in quick!
On a grill imported from the states, chef Liam Watson will be serving smoked meats, ribs and hot wings.. along with the classics of mac and cheese, corn and more. I caught up with him to ask a few questions:
Before I started this project I loved French and British cooking. I got a real kick when I could add classic French elements to menus that were usually a pub bistro style. But since I took on the smoke house I've been smoking, BBQs and all things American, it’s become borderline an obsession… what to smoke, what should the dry rub contain, how long to smoke it, how hot to have the smoker, should the BBQ sauce by spicy and sharp or sweeter with a bigger kick of molasses? The variations for everything that comes into the kitchen are limitless and as a chef that’s incredible to work with.
Whose idea was it to bring the grill to The Obar?
It was a combination of two ideas really. The owners of the business had the idea to launch a pop up restaurant in Obar. They knew it had to be something fun and definitely unique to the west end area of Leicester and worth a trip outside of the city centre for. That’s when they approached me to see what was going to be possible. I pitched the idea of the smokehouse to them and we were off and running.
What is your favourite thing to smoke?
As a bit of a self confessed carnivore I love the ribs. We buy them in their whole racks, marinade them overnight in their dry rub before leaving them in the smoker for at least 7 hours. The final result is truly special and, unique in Leicester. But at the same time I love that through experimenting with the smoker we have found how well vegetables take on the smoky flavour. It’s been a revelation to us. Tomatoes and fennel with their high acidity take on so much flavour. As a chef, it’s fun to find things like this and get them on the menu - bits that people wouldn't necessarily expect when they arrive but leave still thinking about.
How did you come up with the menu? Have you picked things you have eaten yourself or is it more of an experiment?
It’s a combination of all of the above. We've taken a lot of inspiration from amazing restaurants like Pitt Cue in London, their style of serving really good food but not necessarily heavy American - exclusively burgers and ribs, showed that we could have the smoker, serve ribs and pulled pork, but with our own creative edge. Reading reviews, recipe books and everything else we could find on the style really helped get more ideas and assess what people would want to see on the menu. When it came to experimenting, that was the time when we really started to fine tune the menu and get the balance of our style of smoked food with the American classics we knew we wanted from the very beginning.
Are there any plans to roll out the pop up to the other Orange Trees?
Let’s see how this one goes. If the public like the concept and are voting with their feet then there may be a future for it. Right now we are just focused on getting this right, and making sure everyone who comes has an amazing time.
And now.. to the food!
Firstly, the ambiance and decor was lovely, you couldn't believe you were actually sat in the upstairs of the Obar - usually the space for late night drinking, arts students and musicians supping on cocktails. The tables and chairs were a little small and uncomfortable but you know what? It didn't matter!
To start we went for mackerel and hot wings, to share! The hot sauce was zingy and a perfect accompaniment, as was the smoky BBQ-esque table sauce. The mackerel was delicious, soft flesh and served with pickled cucumbers and peppers which cut through the rich fishy flavour.
For mains, we again decided to order a few different bits and share them. We had the 14 hour pulled pork with a side of pulled pork chilli and the Obar pork ribs (St Louis cut) with BBQ glaze. We also had macaroni cheese.
If you have room left for pudding and that's a big if... then I would recommend the Sticky toffee and maple pudding with salted caramel bourbon sauce. I don't need to say anything else other than WOW.
We took the waiters recommendations on beers and went for two from the Camden Town Brewery - Hell's Lager and Gentleman's Wit. The Gentleman's Wit is brewed with lemon and bergamot giving it a fruity tang which complimented the rich smoky meat perfectly.
Overall I wasn't sure what to expect - I knew that the theme would be excellent and the food would be nice but I didn't think it was be as excellent as it was. I can't gush enough about it and would urge anyone to get over before the pop up closes on 8 Dec! We loved every mouthful and every minute and will be heading back in the coming weeks with my Dad in tow!
The Smokehouse @ The Obar is open from 6pm to 9.30/10pm Tueadays to Saturdays. For bookings, telephone 0115 255 8223 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Obar is part of the independent Orange Tree Group of pubs and bars in Leicester, which also runs The Orange Tree in High Street, The Lansdowne in London Road, and The Basement in Wellington Street.
*We paid for our meal and my opinions are all my own! Apologies for the rubbish pictures, it was v dark and atmospheric!