Smokeworks, Cambridge

Father’s Day again, one of those rare opportunities to spend time with my two beautiful, clever and talented children.  What better way to celebrate than a meal at Smokeworks, an American-style BBQ smoke pit restaurant in that most gorgeous of tourist-saturated English university cities.  After all, it promises much:

“in the heart of cambridge we’ve smoked, pulled, brined and seasoned classic BBQ food and paired it with beer, bourbon & milkshakes.  delivered fast. eat-in or take out. just round the corner from the cambridge corn exchange, SmokeWorks is the perfect meal out before a gig or concert.”

Regular readers will probably know that both my kids picked up the smoke habit from their first trip to the US in 2006, at a time when pulled pork was unheard of in the UK.  It’s now very much flavour of the month, to the extent that Lindsey once even ate it in a lasagne as a very un-Cuban dish in a Cuban restaurant in Bristol.  They needed little persuading to take a Sunday drive out to Cambridge, though one aim was to banish the memory of a very so-so meal at Bodeans BBQ restaurant in Soho, the last time we ate at a similar establishment.

Cambridge being what it is, the best way to get to town is to park at the park & ride at Trumpington and get the bus in, a lovely route that takes you past the glorious Fitzwilliam museum and also another regular haunt of Cambridge visits, Browns restaurant.  A short walk picturesque and historic down side streets and you arrive at Smokeworks.

From the outside it blends well into the background, but on the inside it seethes with gloomy retro post-industrial sturm und drang.  One neat feature is the numbered board on the far wall, which lights up when anybody turns a switch on the wall by their table to illuminate their need for attention from one of several cool but friendly waitresses parading the floor in jeans, t-shirts and aprons.

I should also add that like Bodeans they have a no booking policy, but unlike Bodeans we walked straight in and sat at a table upstairs.  Downstairs was apparently heaving, but we were able to eat in comparative peace and quiet.

The menu left both of my two drooling, though Lindsey had already predetermined that a pulled chicken bun was her thing, not least because she fancied some of the accompanying “bacon jam” – a product that really should be on our shelves and adorning our buttered toast in the mornings.  Adam chose a pulled beef bun with fries and chilli pickles, plus a drop-dead gorgeous salted caramel milk shake.  The only reason we did not sample more milk-shakes later was due to being over-full, but more will be sampled next time, for sure.

Ah yes, this brings me to my own choice:

the works £27

perfect for sharing unless you feel daring. 25p from every works will be donated to charity MAGPAS
rack of bbq pork spare ribs, mixed meat bun, chicken wings, house spiced sausage, meaty bbq beans, house pickles & fries

beef it up £30

a step up from the works – swap the pork ribs for beef ribs & corn on the cob for only an extra £3

In for a penny – I went the whole hog and had the beef special, washed down by a refreshing bottle of Bitter & Twisted ale.  Obviously this was so I could sample the widest possible selection of foods, all the better to help you choose, dear reader.  That or it being Father’s Day so I make no apology for making a pig of myself!  In practice, some samples went to Lindsey and Adam to nibble on, and the bun came home with me for later consumption!

Where the food at Bodeans flattered to deceive, Smokeworks pleased from the start.  Both younger members of the party munched happily on their buns and sides, plus tasters from my platter (reminding me to plug the campaign for real plates!)  OK, so daughter liked the fries more than I did, but then maybe I should have asked for the beef dripping mash instead?  At least the brioche-style roll appealed, and that is always a Millward test for any burger or meat bun dish.

So to the big meat plate:  I’ve long thought short ribs, cooked well, to be one of the most delectable and succulent cuts of beef.  It has the advantage of being cooked on the bone and benefits greatly from slow cooking – in this case many hours of brining and slow-smoking to reduce the meat to the tenderest melt-in-the-mouth texture and concentrated beefy goodness.  They were the cat’s whiskers – beyond reproach, and certainly good enough to compare to the finest Stateside, as seen on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  Time for Guy Fieri to come and compare the British version of American comfort food, maybe?

Praise too for unusually greaseproof chicken drumsticks, fair-to-middling BBQ corn cobs, excellent meaty spiced sausage, reasonable BBQ beans that could have been pumped up with more of the zingy BBQ hot sauce, and especially for the house pickles – a lovely touch that worked really well, and was in-keeping with the modern vogue for DIY choice on accompaniments that some will love and some will hate (remembering the recent trip to Five Guys, where they went overboard on the optional extras front.)

A total bill of £64 including service was not bad considering the quantity and quality of food consumed, and we were soon on our way for a quick tour of the Fitzwilliam.

Since this is not the kind of establishment touting for Toques, it’s only fair to judge it on its own terms.  It succeeds by virtue of attention to detail, which is hardly surprising since it is related to the same CambsCuisine team that run fine dining establishments around the city – including the nearby Cambridge Chop House, visited and reviewed not long since.  Smokeworks will not suit every taste, but for carnivores with a taste for comfort food you could do a lot worse than seek out this joint.

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