Smoke & Salt, Pop Brixton
London between Christmas and New Year often reminds me a bit of last days of school in December. It’s raining outside. Half the kids you know have already been whisked off out of town. There’s a strange emptiness to the city. Everyone’s a bit mischevious. Everyone sneaks off to the pub at 3pm and gets a bit drunk on a Tuesday. Everyone finishes work a bit early. And if it’s just not that busy in your place of work, you’ll just go home.
Trying to find somewhere to eat between this period was tough. Every other restaurant seemed to be closed: either preplanned or at last minute due to low volumes of footfall. So we were particularly pleased when we called Smoke & Salt in Brixton to learn they were open and had a table.
LA and I first visited Smoke & Salt back in summer off the back of a friend’s review on Straight Up London. The Smoke & Salt team responded a few days later to a tweet of mine asking for Bristol recommendations. Their suggestion of Wilsons was probably the best tip I received all year.
This Christmas-New Year was the second visit. Smoke & Salt describe what they do as modern dining with ancient techniques. That is brilliantly simple. I’ve seen a shit tonne of restaurants over the last year or so attempt this sort of cuisine, but never having been able to get their identity that clear. With a vision like that, everything else can fall into place.
Their usual menu of small and medium sized plates was done away with this time, instead offering for a tasting menu so they could test out some new dishes.
Officially a five-course tasting menu, in fact came with three relatively good sized plates of food before the real tasting menu even kicked off. This, by the way, for the ludicrous and frankly charitable price of £25.
The Smoke & Salt sourdough comes out first. It’s served in a cotton bag, which means when you undo it that ever familiar, ever comforting wompf of freshly made bread fills you with joy. Next is the Brussel Sprouts (it’s Christmas after all), except the lovely spiciness that comes with these reinvents them after a tired season. Then the new potatoes. This dish used to be called ‘beef heart’ or similar a few months ago, but now the tiny strips of seared beef are a delicious unami surprise, rather than billed as the main attraction.
We’re into the actual tasting menu now. Trout with squid ink and puffed black rice is balanced and refreshing after the three starters. Salsify with green apple, smoked ricotta and pine creates a brilliant balance of texture in the mouth that I point out on each mouthful.
Spätzle cacio e pepe comes next served with crispy pork belly. An unnecessarily rich and hearty addition on a tasting menu that definitely felt out of place.
Never mind though. Next up the only choices on the menu. On one side of table there’s goose and pumpkin, with cranberry, pickled turnip and castelfranco. And opposite, there’s venison and skirlie, with prune jarne, pickled celery and pinhead oats. It’s a shame I was getting so full because this venison dish was out of this world. Skirlie is the sort of old Scottish dish that Floyd would have featured proudly. Stick onions and oats into a pan and cook. No nonsense, now where’s the glass.
The spiced pain perdu, with mandarin, custard and crystallised oats was a great final course, but the two large Patrons we guzzled down were the real sendoff.
Smoke & Salt is a definite personal favourite in Brixton and not just because you can get a seven-course tasting menu for £25. It’s doing this style of food impeccably well. Smoke & Salt is ancient cooking techniques, with modern flavour. Sounds simple, but it in this world, it rarely is.