I would describe the Smoking Goat as a dive bar personified with a twist – the decor is rough & ready, walls olive green, atmosphere buzzy; hued with sweet chestnut and oak cast timber barbecue smoke. It’s quite intimate with a section that seats about 10 diners elbow to elbow, backs to the wall with a U-shaped bar and just a handful of high tables. Not your usual glossy, incense infused ‘sawadicap’ greet restaurants that you get generally everywhere else serving curries or pad thai (I’m not judging by the way!). What you get is a street food inspired, a minimalistic menu, robust flavours, barbecue smoked meats and lashings of fish sauce. There is also their ‘Lazy Susan Feasting Room’ at the back of the restaurant which at a glance seats about 10 people. We’re surrounded by the parallel world of hipsters and suits alike, staff are attentive, knowledgeable and darn right cheeky – our waitress blurted out ‘you wouldn’t have guessed it!” when I mentioned that I work in the City during a post meal chat with her, stereotyping my attire! Pah. The two chaps responsible are Seb Holmes (head chef) and partner Ben Chapman who is inspired by Andy Oliver of Som Saa in the East. They opened in November 2014 and trust me, they have delivered something very good. Here are my experiences of June and July 2015:
Fish Sauce Chicken Wings – I have nothing but complements for these delicious little wings, garlicky, sweet, sticky and seasoned with, yeah you guessed it – fish sauce. The batter was crisp, light and the succulent flesh just slides off the bone. A dangerously good plate of food that had lavish care applied to get the best out of the humble wings and are designed to be eaten with no dignity!
Slow Roast Duck Legs Marinated with Galangal, Lemongrass & Kaffir and basted with Ketjap Manis & White Pepper. Not quite as impressive as the wings, but still very tasty; the flesh was smokey, fragrant and sweet from the marinade is charred to give the skin a molasses coloured caramelisation. The acidic Jaew dipping sauce helped moisturise the protein.
Smoked Rendang Shortrib with Tumeric, Roasted Chilli and Pickled Ginger. Any non prime cut of beef slow cooked in my opinion is a beautiful thing – this short rib is testament to this theory; it’s intensely aromatic from the spices, coconut milk and chillies.
Som Tam – Green Papaya Salad. With all the rich food and spices this dish just made sense and was a wonderful accompaniment giving balance of heat, sweetness and sour notes – every mouthful made me happy.
Sticky Rice. As soon as you pull the rice out of the plastic bag it comes in you’ll realise why it’s presented this way; it’s so sticky, glutinous and could possibly use it as glue but boy is it good mopping up juices.
Coal Roast Aubergine Salad. The chef nailed this dish, a definite showcase of skilled cooking. The aubergine was intensely smoky, but was balanced out with the freshness of coriander and the zing of shallots. The molten egg yolk just oozed when prodded with my folk and married so well with the fish sauce, sesame dressing and the toasted rice added textural fun.
Coal Roast Scallop with Red Nam Yum (£3.50). Red Nam Yum is a combination of fish sauce, lime, chilli and sugar syrup. This featured on the specials, recommended to us by the waiter. I loved the fact that they came with the roes that so many restaurants discard. Waste not want not!
Everything was washed down with Beaver Town Neck Oil which is an amazing IPA, great clarity in flavour, soft, refreshing and citrusy.
We were so full, there wasn’t any room for desert, but this isn’t the place – you can’t order it as they don’t do it, so opted for an Old Fashioned. These arrived around the same time it took to pour a pint of Beaver Town. I don’t believe cocktails are their finest hour, so I’m not expecting the care and lavishness it takes to make a good in a dive bar, it’s hardly the point.
I simply couldn’t resist going back to drink more Beaver Town and have another fix of wings and to try the crab which wasn’t available previously. The menu had taken a dramatic change though, no short rib, no aubergine, no duck or the aforementioned crab for that matter. Ce la vie.
Together with the Fish Sauce Wings (now up to £7 from £6) we ordered the Chilli Wings which were more pungent in flavour with an extra dose of fish sauce and relentlessly angry chopped chillies.
Rock Oysters with Nam Jim. The Nam Jim was sour, spicy, salty and sweet which brought the oysters to life – a refreshing change to the usual shallots and vinegar.
Crispy Belly and Pickled Water Melon. Pork belly fried until golden, sweet water melon with a breeze of mint and coriander. The chef is showing off here again – we loved this dish which was perfectly balanced with the sweet, salty, sour flavours closely associated with Thai cooking. Fork every element and inhale for the best results.
Longhorn ‘Waterfull’ beef with Lemon Grass & Chilli was a piece of skirt scorched on hot coals and get’s a good dousing of acidic Thai juices. It’s good but not as compelling as the duck to short rib from my previous visit.
BBQ Rare Breed Pork Belly. I always expect big things when it comes to one of my favourite cuts of meat and I wasn’t disappointed – slow cooked, melting tenderness, Mr Piggy you have done it again. Loved the savoury smokiness of the chilli sauce it hitched a ride on too.
Fresh Guilt Head Bream. I have no doubt this little fish was in the sea hours before we ate it. It was so fresh; the flesh buttery and moorish.. Every morsel was devoured except one part – the cheeks. Our waiter duly slapped our wrists for not devouring them! I found this very endearing and testament to staff knowledge here. Feast your eyes as you lucky people as you a ‘head’, ‘full body’ and ‘back’ shot!
The damage: Expect to pay £50-60 pounds per head with drinks
The good: A really nice change to your high st Thai restaurant, I love the sweet chestnut and oak cast timber wood used for the BBQ which perfumes the whole restaurant. The food is punchy and unrestrained and comes very fresh ingredients.
The bad: I wouldn’t want to sit on the tables squashed with my back to the walls. Don’t expect nice kharzi’s in a dive bar also please bring back the duck and aubergine!
7 Denmark St, London WC2H 8LZ (no phone, no bookings) @SmokingGoatSoho. Mon-Sat, bar menu from 3pm, full menu 7pm-midnight.