Smoke &t Valentine’s Day dinner:
This February 14th was the first Valentine’s Day since my wife and I got married. After just over six years together, last October my wife and I finally got around to getting married. We had a wonderful Autumnal wedding and then a fantastic honeymoon on the Italian Riviera.
We have spent our previous Valentine’s Days at home with one of us cooking for the other, or cooking together. After six years of this, it was high time we actually went out for the evening to celebrate, which is why I jumped at the chance to go to this latest pop-up restaurant from the great chefs at Smoke & Salt. Aaron Webster and Remi Williams have a decades combined experience between them, having trained and worked under restaurant and chefs such as Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Penny Hill Park and Deuxave Restaurant, Craigie on Main; both Boston, USA. Aaron and Remi came together, after meeting at London’s Shed Restaurant, to form Smoke & Salt, as casual fine dining experience which they have taken to restaurants and cafe’s across London. Their aim is to bring fantastic food to people across the capital in pop-up restaurants on their way to building their own restaurant.
Valentine’s Day was hosted in Sawyer in Gray, an artisan coffee house and bar in Islington. We arrived a few minutes early and were greeted at the bar by our hosts for the evening with a gorgeous glass of Prosecco served with a raspberry over the glass.
We were taken to downstairs to see the very cosy and romantic restaurant space. Whether by luck or design we were seated at a table in its own little alcove, I’ve tried to get a good shot of it here to show it as it was set up in a very romantic way, perfect for Valentine’s day.
We had looked at the menu beforehand, there was a set menu for the evening, but perused it again in anticipation. On the recommendation of our waiter, we ordered a bottle of Prosecco to go with the meal. He assured us it would go with every dish on the menu and suited our preference for white or rose wines. It was a great recommendation and we both enjoyed sharing the bottle.
Our meal by Smoke & Salt began with table treats of black salt pretzels with beet butter and padron peppers grilled with soy sauce and sesame seeds. These would have been more than adequate as a starter. The beetroot butter was absolutely gorgeous with just the right amount of beetroot run through the butter to impart a depth of flavour and colour without being overpowering. I loved the Black Salt Pretzels which were crisp outside and warm and pillowy soft inside and actually had a second serving when offered as they were so wonderfully warm and comforting. The Padron Peppers with the soy and sesame seeds were gorgeous as well, the blackening released their natural sweetness.
We then moved on to the starter, Chalkstream Farm trout served with a tapioca crisp, blood orange & paprika. Out of the whole meal, this was both mine and Hana’s favourite dish of the evening. The confit trout was incredibly tender and soft, very beautifully prepared and cooked. The blood orange sauce was both sweet yet tangy and complimented the trout perfectly. Served along with this was the pearl tapioca crisp with just a hit of paprika to lift and enliven it. I thought the crisp and paprika spice was the perfect addition and accompaniment to the fish. Along with the choy on the side, it was simply a beautiful plate of food. Both of us would have been more than happy to have had it as a larger dish as a main course.
The main course carried on the evening’s theme of fantastic British produce prepared in a beautiful way with Venison served with brassicas, rye & pumpernickel and chestnut. The venison was served with chopped venison and was cooked to perfection, still a little pink in it, meltingly tender and served with a rich gravy-sauce. The venison was the outstanding ingredient of the meal as a whole. I thought it was cooked to perfection. Pairing it with the brassicas (greens with a background mustard flavour) was great and there was just the right ratio of veggies to venison. As much as I loved the tapioca crisp in the starter, I also loved the pumpernickel crisp with the main course which was dark and inviting. This brings me to the way the dishes are constructed. I felt the pairing of textures, something softer and something crisper in each course was great and kept each course interesting and very engaging.
After the table treats, starter and main courses, and a couple of glasses of Prosecco, we were quite full but also ready for an indulgent bit of dessert. It was a good job we were as next up we had Chocolate and treacle cake with a stout sorbet, smoked brittle of surrey-grains and chocolate sauce. We carried on the pairing of softer and crisp textures in this dish with the brittle and the sorbet.
The stout & chocolate sauce was served in a sealed beer bottle with a bottle opener. We both thought this was a really fun way to serve the sauce up and make the dish a little more fun. My favourite part of this dish had to be the stout sorbet. Making sorbet from stout is something I had ever thought of before and when I’d first looked through the menu when I got via email I wondered whether or not it would work. I really didn’t need to worry at all. Not only did it work, it worked fantastically. The mix of fizzy, creamy and smooth stout was intoxicating, I could have very happily eaten a bigger bowl of it. The chocolate cake and the brittle were equally sumptuous and altogether the dessert was just perfect.
Smoke & Salt serve up a different set menu at each of their pop-up events. So whilst you might not get to try these dishes again, I can say you will always get fantastic food Aaron and Remi.