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Smoak Restaurant Examined

Jonathan Schofield finds the bizarre wonderful

Written by . Published on August 16th 2011.

Smoak Restaurant Examined

THIS has been a good nine months for Manchester restaurant openings.

Cicchetti, Vertigo, Australasia, Rose Garden and now Smoak. 

There may be some similarities in style between Vertigo (click here) and Rose Garden (click here) but otherwise they’re all very different. 

Smoak Bar and Grill is a smash hit. It gives this end of Piccadilly, close to the station, a huge boost

Smoak, the re-invented restaurant and bar space of The Malmaison, ‘out-differents’ them all. It’s frankly bizarre. 

The place seems to have been dreamt up in the mind of a tripping alien restaurateur who’d once glimpsed across inter-galactic radio-waves the movie ‘Tremors’ featuring a bar diner in the American desert. “So,” he’d thought, “this is how all eating and drinking spaces on Earth must be. I will open one in the Sirius System. But with better wine. And fewer massive hungry worms.” 

Smoak has distressed wooden paneling, distressed brickwork, odd distressed boxes piled about, fifties style light fittings, diner style booths, a big chrome bar plus…er…a ‘genuine, antique gasoline pump’ and ‘a miniature oil derrick’. 

Alien designers hit ManchesterAlien designers hit Manchester - this could be their spaceship

It’s a theme yes, but as mutated as Picasso’s portrait of his lover Marie-Therese is to traditional portraiture.

It really shouldn’t work at all, yet is carried through with such verve that it not only delights but seems to have energized the staff who all have been wonderful on the visits I’ve made, some incognito. 

Unnecessary Picasso painting, reproduced here to labour a pointUnnecessary Picasso painting, reproduced here to labour a point

There’s also a meat cabinet. Imagine Manchester Museum if you will, but instead of cabinets filled with exotic stuffed animals this is a cabinet full of animals that stuff you. Again a crazy idea, but honest too. The butcher’s counter brought into the dining place. No shirking of the visceral truth.

Flesh my friendsFlesh my friends

The food comes from David Sharp. In the number of dishes available it matches the chef’s name, it’s direct, to the point. Yet it reflects the bonkers design in the creative mix and match of ingredients. 

The range of starters I've sampled include oysters (£2.75), baked black figs (£8.50) and ‘local Port of Lancaster smoked salmon platter’(£8.50). 

The baked black figs dish was a triumph, with lashings of ham and gorgonzola, it was a great beast of a starter, an intro that slapped you and the face and said, “You enjoying this? Feisty eh? Come on.” 

The Port of Lancaster salmon platter was as good as the figs but had delicacy and finesse with a butch crème fraiche that gave but didn’t take. It looked a picture as well. Port of Lancaster products are a byword for quality so it takes something special to enhance them - Sharp’s preparations and collations managed that beautifully. 

Pretty food picturesPretty food pictures

Note of caution here though. Smoak Bar and Grill should forget all the nonsense about ‘local’ on the menu. The Port of Lancaster is not ‘local’, sixty miles distance stretches a menu description too far.

The mains sampled include rump of Herdwick lamb (£18), rib steak (£22), halibut on risotto (£19), Herdwick mutton marsala (£14.50).

The Herdwick lamb, was joy on its puy lentil bed, a mix of textures which was well imagined by the kitchen. I was having a love affair with the baa-baas of the northern Pennines so on a return visit I went for the Herdwick mutton marsala, which was another success with yielding meat, a sharp but not overwhelming sauce, a splendidly blended cucumber and yoghurt riata, and pilau rice timed just right under a lid of naan. 

The halibut from the specials menu on a good risotto didn't disappoint but space limitations require me to leap to the poem of meaty joy described to me by Gordo when he popped in. 

He had the 500gm sirloin on the bone for £30.

Here he goes: ‘The quality of the beef was stand-out good. Aged for well over four weeks, there wasn't a hint of the household attracting bright red; it was massively dark brown with the look of middleweight boxer who can take a bit of punishment then deliver a knock-out blow with taste and texture. It was piled high with crunchy sea salt and came with Gordo's favourite sauce for beef - bearnaise, throbbing with aniseed and liquorice.’ 

Middle-weight boxer steakMiddle-weight boxer steak

Desserts are big, crowd pleasing, festivals of sweetness at £6 each. They have that ex-Wimpy bar, big American diner bar colouring and scale and flavour. The cheesecake was a small boat children could have set sail in, the baked Alaska looked a comedy cake into which a big fat kid might fall in Charlie and Chocolate Factory. 

Big dessert landBig dessert land

There are a couple of winelists. From the flash list, the best wine we had was a Tignanello 2007 (£95) from Piero Antinori in Tuscany. It was so complex it scared me to begin with but then calmed down into a glorious full wine of smoky fruit and dreamy evenings. 

All in all, pretty much all good.

The Malmaison has taken its former restaurant area, a dark, sexy, if slightly faded Art Nouveau space, and put a bomb under it.

Now it has Smoak Bar and Grill which is - so far - a smash hit. It gives this end of Piccadilly, close to the station, a huge boost. With its eye-catching windows, its lunatic interior, it pulls in huge numbers of non-residents and gives them a memorable experience. 

It’s even got meat hanging in a cabinet. 

The tripping aliens who thought up this place have done very well indeed.

Smoak Bar and Grill is at The Malmaison Hotel, Piccadilly, City, M1 1LZ, 0161 278 1000. 

As the first visit was hosted by the hotel I can't score it out of twenty as we usually do. The second visit wasn't hosted and overall would have scored a 17/20 on our rating, which is a very good and worth a trip:8 food, 4.5 service, 4.5 ambience.


Barton And Smoak 039Barton And Smoak 055

Barton And Smoak 048

Smoak House, Mint's Michael Campbell 014

Smoak House, Mint's Michael Campbell 015

Smoak House, Mint's Michael Campbell 016

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57 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousAugust 16th 2011.

of course Lancaster's local. It's the same county, historically, and our the smokehouse is positioned right on the coastline, which is where the sea ends... traditionally the home of fish. They don't have a port in Farnworth or Blackrod, so I think probably that's as local as it gets.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousAugust 16th 2011.

you've obviously never been to Blackrod Marina then...

Anonymous...August 18th 2011.

Also, Lancaster has no port as such. Heysham is the part of this city with a port. I live there, I know. Lancaster has a canal that's all!

AnonymousAugust 16th 2011.

Fantastic review! There's also a Facebook page where we're discussing it. http://www.facebook.com/smoakgrill

Claire LeamanAugust 16th 2011.

I'm going for lunch today my review to follow!!

VoAugust 16th 2011.

So does the bar retain it's dark and opulent vibe after this refurb or is it all trailer park, American diner trash like the restaurant?

GreekJOhnAugust 16th 2011.

All trailer park - fabulous

Christine KilbyAugust 16th 2011.

Thanks for the review - I may, after all, give the restaurant a try. Smoak is not an addition to the Picadilly end of Manchester because it is a replacement for the previous Malmaison restaurant (which I enjoyed on many occasions). I visited this new shipwreck/scene from Lost style bar/diner just for a drink and I detested it. The staff are still lovely and I was given a guided tour including the 'inner sanctum' right at the back of what used to be the old restaurant. This I believe can be booked in advance by residents or possibly private parties and which bore no relation whatsoever to the bombsite adjacent; on my early evening inspection it was devoid of atmosphere. Overall, Smoak is a mess, an absolute confusion with too much of everything and anything going on and which I think will soon look very very shabby - especially those awful sack bags which double as window dressing'. That said, the food looks tempting.

7 Responses: Reply To This...
P&PAugust 16th 2011.

It's an addition because it's a totally new restaurant offer. City Cafe and Abode both have excellent menus too, but this is something utterly different.

VoAugust 16th 2011.

The decor maybe new but the menu is still the same grill / brasserie type offering as Smoak's previous incarnation.

Anonymous...August 18th 2011.

There is no part called 'inner sanctum', but a beautiful lounge called 'ember'...

NickAugust 19th 2011.


Christine KilbyAugust 19th 2011.

Thanks Glenn Fielding - following your post, I am now rather fond of you

NickAugust 20th 2011.

Christine! Check out M-dog Manchester on Facebook. He shares your thoughts. Funny!

NickAugust 30th 2011.

oh dear just looking at the food shots above again and they look horrific...! bleugh.

Christine KilbyAugust 16th 2011.

Continue the conversation, enter another comment...

Andrew Procter-HoeAugust 16th 2011.

was there last tuesday and going back on thursday as it was so good and i have 50%off

AnonymousAugust 16th 2011.

The decor here reminds me of an overdressed Katie Price. Those curtains are an eye sore and the whole styling clashes with the Gothic stye of the Malmaison.

The food however. Stunning and delicious. Blackhouse need to re-visit their tired menu if they want to compete with this.


suzyblewAugust 16th 2011.

sounds very interesting! However please can you block these people who keep advertising crap on the forums?

P EvsnerAugust 16th 2011.

Let's keep up with architectural styles shall we? It's not a Gothic building but a 1904 structure with free Renaissance elements. In fact it's very very un-Gothic.

Simon TurnerAugust 16th 2011.

Aware that this will bring out the mockers to mock me, but what vegetarian options are there Jonathan? This looks like total no-go-zone for veggies, especially with that ridiculous meat cabinet. Not veggie myself but often go out in groups so it's always good to know if veggies are catered for.

Jonathan SchofieldAugust 16th 2011.

There's goats cheese souffle, salads, vegetable curry, ricotta ravioli and wild mushroom ricotta Simon. I don't think the cabinet is ridiculous. As I've put in the report it's actually a visceral reminder of the fact that the flesh you eat was once attached to a living beast. You should applaud the honesty. It might even get some converts to veggiedom.

Smoak Bar & GrillAugust 16th 2011.

Hi Simon, there are indeed some vegetarian options. You can view the menus here: http://www.smoak-grill.com/the-grill.aspx Good to see so many opinions on Smoak. It's all valuable feedback.

Smoak Bar & GrillAugust 16th 2011.

Jonathan, over on our facebook page we're asking the question: "So if you were a "tripping alien", as suggested in this article, and you were visiting planet earth, what would be the drink and meal you would just have to experience?" We'd love you to join the conversation as your article inspired it. http://www.facebook.com/smoakgrill

Lizzie GarveyAugust 16th 2011.

What the hell is wrong with the good old fashioned £££ sign ???

Alex MilesAugust 16th 2011.

Went for dinner here and have to say it was a disappointment...it is trying to recreate a New York style grill/texan joint which are all the rage in both the States and London. The decor is decent enough and the service is superb, while the food is well presented - but the meun points to confusion as to what this place wants to be with grills, italian, french sitting alongside specials of veal with asparagus and a lamb shoulder stew.

There was disappointment in our group at the sausage starter - and crab cake main course...which lacked punch and seasoning. Better luck was had with a beuatifully presented shrimp starter. However, the fig starter so praised in the review was nearly inedible, tasting purely of smoke and charcoal that destroyed any balance between the figs, gorgonzola and ham - a mistake in the kitchen or was this the desired result? A main of pulled pork and 'local' pork chop was reasonable enough, but the cornbread accompaniment was again underseasoned and forgettable. Another guest's steak again suffered from the overpowering charcoal sensation. One bright point was the chips - they were the real deal, and brought back happy memories of a meal in the Bresilin restuarant at the Ace Hotel in NYC.

Had the 50% discount on food, and it was a fun enough night and atmosphere but overall with several dishes misfiring this is not the new saviour of the Manchester dining scene.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousAugust 18th 2011.

with regards to the 'charcoal' steak... It is a 500 degree heat josper grill! And the restaurant has been named after this, because of the new flavour it gives from cooking the steak in this way. I found it wonderful being done this way.

nevereatenacremeeggAugust 16th 2011.

1st impression was good overall but marred by having to argue with a rather rude waitress over the Peasant salad. The dish was brought out by one (very polite waitress) who said 'egg and bacon salad', blank looks all round, no, none of us had ordered one of those. The same salad was then brought out by another waitress who said 'Peasant salad'. A diner at the table motioned and the salad was put in front of her. The diner said to the waitress "are you sure this is the Peasant salad, it was advertised as having Manchego cheese but there is no cheese on this salad" Waitress replied to say it was definitely the Peasant salad. After a few mouthfuls and some digging about there was definitely no cheese to be found, we again asked the waitress who replied rather snootily "Well, the chef says it is the Peasants Salad so there is nothing I can do about it!" We asked her to take it away and check again and when she came back she said "Sorry, it is the peasant salad, the kitchen has ran out of cheese" - Not something I would expect from a restaurant pitching itself at that level. Aside from that, not being told the steaks were served with mushrooms when we each ordered more mushrooms and the sides coming 10 minutes after the mains the food itself was excellent.
Would I go back...probably not, with the recent appearance of Australasia, Vertigo, Cicchetti as well as old favourites the overall experience wasn't enough to make me book there other places.

John LevonAugust 16th 2011.

3/5 at best.

Very haphazard (if friendly) service, very variable food.
Worrying about ManCon's reviews now - maybe they need to find a way to review places anonymously because the mutton dish my friend got went pretty much untouched, it was that bad. Wonder how Gordo did - saw him in there tonight.

Steaks were pretty good but not cooked as ordered, mushrooms were very over-seasoned. Bearnaise not the best. Chips were very good. Very glad we only paid 50% - wouldn't pay full price.

PS thought the decor was cool, kooky and fun. No problem there.

Jonathan SchofieldAugust 17th 2011.

John, don't worry.

VoAugust 17th 2011.

500g isn't 8oz though is it. It's over double that. Gordo has a healthy appetite and so do I. Will be sampling the menu tomorrow night...

VoAugust 17th 2011.

Everyone seems to have gone metric on their menus. Just think of it as over a pound of meat. Mmmmmmm.

AnonymousAugust 18th 2011.

The steak I had was very good, better than Gaucho for me. The music was a bit loud and I'm not going to drink wine out of a tumbler. Overall I agree with the review, It's weird but well worth the trip. Veggies beware, request a booth!

AnonymousAugust 18th 2011.

Yes, what the hell is going on with the music, way above conversation decibels, loved everything but that, background music please so I can have a conversation with my pals without shouting and hear what the waitress is saying.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousAugust 18th 2011.

Did you ask for it to be turned down...? I have, and it was done so, very quickly. Staff were polite and understanding actually. Bored of complaints where people are too stupid to take the common sense approach and simply ask for a small, temporary change to be made... zzzzz

Richard HJAugust 18th 2011.

I'll give any restaurant a go that looks like Seven Deadly Sins as seen through the lens of David Fincher's Se7en.

Jonathan SchofieldAugust 18th 2011.

Richard, don't remind me of that film, it frightened me.

paulAugust 18th 2011.

We drive in MPH and order steaks in OZ and beer in pints we tried to go metric in 1973 it did not totally work

Lorraine GreenAugust 18th 2011.

Went there for lunch last week. Decor decidedly odd and contradictory but definiitely different. I actually preferred the Malmaison old look (and its intimacy). This might get more takers because it is so different but it's more of a buzzy than an intimate setting. However, many of my friends are vegetarian and I would worry about asking them there because of the meat cabinet and also the fact that the choices are limited but they are in most restaurants but that doesn't justify it. Most chefs are canrivorous creatures and for vegetarians the food in most places seems to be overpriced and not that great. Saying that, I'm not a veggie and didn't eat anything veggie so I can't comment on Smoak in this respect.

Service friendly and attentive despite the fact that they were very busy last week. I had the figs, cheese and ham which was a great starter. My friend had the sausage starter which she enjoyed but it looked a bit phallic! and you only got half of three different sausages on a small bed of mash which I thought was a bit mean. I had the special for a main which was braised lamb on a bed of chessy mash. It was lovely but I wouldn't have paid the normal price of £22 for it - it's just too steep. My friend had fish fingers and chips which were nice and I tasted the chips and can confirm what others have said - they are really good. Overall, I was really happy with the food and service but if you pay full price it's not that cheap. I might be limited to one course in the future but I'd still go back.

Danny ToftAugust 21st 2011.

Had a meal here on Saturday night (20th). WOW! What an experience - and thats what it was - an experience! Our waitress Tamara was attentive, knowlegable and efficiant which makes a refreshing change. The food was outstanding! David runs a superb kitchen, which we witnessed first had as we were sat at the grill. I had the pulled pork and pork chop whilst my friend had the rack of ribs, and for dessert - cheesecake and ice cream to finish. The thing that really stood out for me was the atmosphere! Best restaurant experience in Manchester by a country mile! I cannot recommend this restaurant enough and can't wait to go back again next week, espcially to sample more of Andy's superb cocktails!!

RayAugust 22nd 2011.

I tried this out last Thursday. Overall, it's promising, but there are a few wrinkles to deal with.

Firstly, the ambience. Buzzy and lively, which suits the décor. However, the music was too loud, and my friend asked for the music to be turned down, which they did. I hope they take note of what are evidently quite a few comments in this regard.

The ceasar salad was discppointing. What wrecked it was great lumps of bread, masquerading as croutons, whose texture resembled concrete. Is this place owned by a dentist? Cost taken off the bill - appreciated.

For mains, I ordered a burger, whose description on the menu sounded attractive. What I got was a decent burger, but additional contents not mentioned on the menu - a big tomato and tomato relish. Fine if you like tomatoes, less so if, like me, one is allergic to them. Back it went. For those who simply don't like tomatoes, this lack of proper desciption is going to give an unpleasant surprise.

The other main was a 400g rump steak - and pretty decent it was. I echo the chips (skinny fries) comments - they are very good, but are of course extra. Naughty.

A very good wine list, but markups are taking the rip, particularly on the top end where there is little to no tail-off of profit margins. Thus, a £10 wine is £30 and a £170 wine (Grange 1994) is £450. This hurts particularly in the middle range where a £20 wine is £60 or so. Not on. (That 07 Tignanello in the review is a good wine, but it's WAY too young - it needs another 15 years). Oh, and ditch this white wine in tumblers stupidity. It wrecks the wine, and all because some diners evidently can't hold their glasses by the stem. Let them hold the glass by the bowl - it will warm up the cryogenically served whites (which should never fog the glass up).

Service levels were good and the staff receptive to comments. Overall, it's not quote sure what it wants to be. The bill suggests upmarket steakhouse; the layout and furnishings something altogether different. I'll try it again, but 3/5 about sums it up.

AnonymousNovember 14th 2011.


AnonymousNovember 14th 2011.

ate in smoak the new malmasion restaurant after all the fuss had calmed down, although i had to resist severel times. got to say well done its brilliant in every way quirky, fun great food and even the staff are smiling. hush puppies were amazing and the steak so tender i cant believe how they do it, ill be going again for our office xmas bash

AnonymousNovember 25th 2011.

booked a table of four at smoak last night, the best steak i have ever tasted by far. makes gaucho look like an average restaurant, im defo coming back!

AnonymousJanuary 12th 2012.

I had the dis pleasure of eating at smoak last Friday. Table of four waited twenty minute for drinks and the food did not match the hype and compared to southern 11 no where near value for money. Asking the waitress what she recommend she answered were a grill room steak of course. I took the advice and plumped for fillet it was chewy, over cooked and Luke warm, advice from me stay away it's style over substance

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