Residencies are the latest evolution of the London dining scene. A venue with a spare kitchen and dining room rents it out on a short to medium term basis and the menu, cooking and service is handled by the resident(s).
In some instances, a residency is a step forward from the humble supperclub, a path into the catering profession for once-amateur cooks such as Asma Khan whose Darjeeling Express supperclub moved from her living room to The Sun & 13 Cantons Pub and Restaurant in Soho for 9 months. This gave Asma the opportunity to develop a much larger customer-base, many of whom are ready and waiting for whatever she does next and also helped her to hone the business skills needed to manage a project of this scale.
In the case of Smoke & Salt, a residency is a way for young blood chefs to get their cooking out to the public without the full expense of funding their own permanent restaurant, an enormously expensive endeavour.
Remi Williams and Aaron Webster are the duo behind Smoke & Salt, which they created after meeting a few years ago when both were working in the same London restaurant kitchen. After a series of pop ups during the last couple of years, they have signed the lease on the upstairs space within The Chapel Bar and are offering a £38 tasting menu (available Monday to Thursday evenings) that showcases their interest in techniques such as curing, smoking and preserving, and their commitment to high quality British produce. They also offer a brunch menu on Sundays.
The drinks menu is provided by the landlords who run both the downstairs and upstairs bars and includes a good selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails, wines and soft drinks.
The tasting menu changes monthly, according to what’s in season. We visited in June.
These Guinness-glazed pretzels served warm with with whipped olive oil butter were a superb start. Beautifully textured and great flavour and a little different to the usual bread offerings.
Listed on the menu only as “Table Treats”, these consisted of a bowl of Smoke & Salt dry-rubbed mixed nuts, some house-cured biltong with a lovely kick to the spice and little pastries that we were told were thyme panelles made from chickpea and topped with roasted red pepper ketchup. We enjoyed all three snacks but both agreed that we’d swap the serving order, having these served to the table on arrival, to enjoy with drinks and then moving on to the bread as a start to the meal proper.
The starter, called BLT, was a beautiful bowl of ricotta cavatelli (a small curled pasta shape), heritage tomatoes, grilled lettuce, bacon dashi, crispy bacon, sourdough and lettuce gremolata. It was a pretty dish to look at and enjoyable to eat, particularly the tomatoes and bacon, both of which were delicious.
A ‘surprise’ mid-course of (Scottish) Wagyu Skirt Tartare was served next with pickled carrots and what was described as home-made marmite. The overwhelming flavour of the dressing was balsamic vinegar, indeed it was hard to taste anything else including the beef itself. The texture of the beef was great but I think the dressing needs work, as does the balance of how much is used for the small portion of beef.
The main course was a real winner. Spring lamb cooked two ways – a few slices of perfectly grilled leg of lamb, served pink, and a crepinette of lamb reminiscent of a beef faggot. These worked well with a vivid and robust green garlic sauce, pickled okra and chewy roasted sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) which were also served raw in very thin slices – they were crunchy like radish and a great contrast.
Both my friend and I weren’t sure whether we’d like the dessert, as neither of us are fans of grapefruit but actually we both loved it, in fact I’d describe it as my dish of the meal. Pink grapefruit segments with a little charring, pink grapefruit curd, pink grapefruit gel, pink grapefruit sorbet, and candied grapefruit zest balanced with a lovely elderflower yoghurt and small chunks of pound cake. Full as I was, if they’d offered me a second bowl I’d absolutely have licked it clean!
To finish, petit fours – a buttermilk fudge with buttermilk gel on top and coconut macaroons with (English) strawberries. The fudge was gorgeous but that sharp buttermilk on top didn’t work for either of us. The macaroons were delightful.
Remi and Aaron have forged a great partnership with both bringing different skills and ideas to the table, resulting in a very enjoyable meal. Overall I found the cooking very good, the inventiveness of the dishes and presentation intriguing and delicious and the ingredients were clearly of excellent quality.
For me, the pricing is a touch high and I’d rather see the ‘surprise’ course dropped in favour of reducing that headline price by a few pounds. Better still, make the table snacks an optional extra and bring the main menu price down another couple of quid. Including tea or coffee with the petit fours would also give a stronger impression of great value and potentially help bring people to the table.
Kavey Eats dined as guests of Smoke & Salt.