“How did you find us?” asked our friendly waitress Loren at Sheffield’s brand new Smoke Barbecue.
Not wishing to reveal we were eating in pursuance of our duties I said it was the smell.
That’s true enough. When the wind’s in the right direction a whiff of barbie curls enticingly through St Paul’s Place.
Enticing, that is, unless you’re a veggie. There’s precious little for them at Smoke.
They’re chatty here. “Have you made any resolutions?” asked another of the red aproned waiters, halfway through our meal. He perched himself chummily on a table cobbled rustically from a pallet.
Too rustically: The leg splayed and sent him off balance, saving me from revealing that my resolution was not to eat turkey again before next Christmas. Of which, more anon.
Smoke is Sheffield’s first Texas-style BBQ, where the meat is rubbed with spices, smoked slowly on the premises in shiny metal smokers then finished off in the pit, a hickory wood-fired barbecue which takes pride of place in the kitchen.
“No microwaves!” said a member of staff proudly when I peered over to have a look at it. Get yourself a ringside seat by the kitchen area to watch the action.
There are plenty to choose from. Smoke, which seats 130, is a cavern of a place. The look is industrial with concrete floors, brick walls, exposed metal ducting, tables from pallets and barrels, school chairs and planks dangling from the ceiling, each with a strip light attached.
It takes up part of the ground floor of the ‘Cheesegrater’ car park.
For a carnivore, the menu makes your lips smack, with burgers, brisket, pulled pork, barbecued chicken, pork and beef ribs, turkey legs, hot link sausages but, oddly, no steaks or chops.
Smoke came about when co-founder Sean Gregory saw an item about Texan BBQs on telly and liked the idea so much he went to the Lone Star State to research bringing one over here.
The menu confused me, as it has done others. I thought I’d try the Rib Plate (£15) to sample beef, pork and baby back while my wife would have the brisket chilli (£9).
But the Rib Plate is not a selection but a choice of one from three. So, to get as wide a possible taste we switched to the £30 sharer plate and dropped the brisket.
Now the idea behind this type of cooking is that the rubbing, smoking and slow cooking tenderises often cheap pieces of meat and permeates them with extra flavour.
It didn’t quite work on our plates. The pulled pork was OK but failed to compare with the texture, tenderness and sweetness of that I’ve had recently elsewhere.
The plate was dominated by an enormous turkey leg which, frankly, could have come from someone’s overcooked Christmas dinner. It was dry and any spicy smokiness was missing.
Rib tips were pleasant if unremarkable but I did enjoy the sticky, sweet BBQ chicken wings and the smoked hot link sausages. The meal came with decent chips and a sort of slaw.
The turkey leg prompted my wife to tell the story of her friend who found she’d bought a one-legged Christmas turkey from Barnsley market.
When she complained the butcher said: “What do you want to do with it love, eat it or dance with it?”
Now considering all the effort involved , our meal tasted rather bland and less than piping hot. It was also expensive for what we got.
Our main course worked out at £15 a head and that was before the jalapeno corn bread muffin (£3.50) we had on the side. Served with a pot of butter and another of syrup (no wonder Yanks are obese), it fell apart as soon as you touched it.
Drinks are expensive. There’s a short wine selection but I was reluctant to chose from a menu which spells Chilean as Chillian and offers a bottle of Chennin (sic) so opted for a beer.
Wow, half a litre of Thornbridge’s Jaipur or Kill Your Darlings is £5.25 so I went for the house American Red at £2.50 for a half a pint in a glass shaped like a jar.
Vegetables don’t get much of a showing. There is a bean chilli and smoked halloumi and mushroom burger for veggies. We finished by sharing something called Campfire S’Mores (£5). Since the menu didn’t help – it just printed the letter M 12 times – Loren explained it had a biscuit base, marshmallow top and chocolate sauce.
It was the sort of thing you lose interest in after puberty.
The website says the company’s aim is to “1. Open the Restaurant and 2. Be famous.” I would suggest there is quite a lot to do in between.
While I commend the staff – service was bright and friendly – the pricing and cooking needs some attention.
Our bill, which came in a Rizla tin, was £45.30.
Smoke BBQ, 1 St Paul’s Place, Sheffield S1 2PN. Tel: 0114 3310331. Open all week 11.30am-11pm (Sun until 10). Credit cards. Disabled toilets and access. Music. Street parking. Web: www.smokebbq.co.uk