About half way through a gruellingly protracted struggle against my barbequed rack of ribs, I felt myself give in. No sticky homemade smoky sauce is worth a tearing apart a hog’s carcass for, I thought. And yet that’s what I found myself doing: laughably inadequate wooden cutlery cast aside, I tore the rib cage apart, bone by bone, on our picnic bench beside the river Lea in Hackney. Even the (purely speculative) mutant son of Hulk Hogan and Chewbaca would be challenged by these ribs.
Smokey Tails is a fantastic venue: amongst the crumbling warehouses of E14, a giant tarpaulin covers the restaurant and bar like a circus tent; within, fairy lights illuminate the diners huddled together on their benches, giving the whole place an ethereal, dreamlike feel.
The music streams forth from the dance pit, mingled with the sound of crunching gravel underfoot as we sat n the riverbank, watching the barges go past: the atmosphere is at once laid back and upbeat, a consequence of the intimacy created by the shared tables and the arching tent. It’s a really cool place, and while it’s only around while the weather permits, the potential for some big nights here is enormous.
The cocktails are mostly excellent, the kind of refreshing concoctions demanded by a sizzling barbeque, garnished with mint and lime. And founder Seth Troxler’s barbeque sauce, faithfully handed down from generation to generation, is a success. Sweet without being sickly, richly oaky and satisfying, the sticky black stuff varnishes the meat, clinging to the crevices.
It’s a huge shame, then, that the meat this marinade finds itself upon is inferior. It was almost impossible to eat. At first I thought it might be a little overdone – the ribs looked like they were mistakenly grilled by an errant flame of Ash Ketchum’s disobedient Charizard – but the exterior glaze wasn’t overly crisp. Ribs need to be cooked slowly on a low heat if they are to be tender. Instead the ribs were chewy and tough, unworthy of the delicious marinade.
Typically for a pop-up restaurant, the menu is simple: you choose your meat, complete with two sides, and if you’re feeling fruity you can also go for a dessert. My infamous ribs were accessorised by garlic and chilli broccoli, which were an unusual success: crunchy and challenging in the right ways. Smokey baked beans were redolent of cinnamon and woodchip fires, delicious in the first mouthful but ultimately too sweet, and a hulking lump of gluey mac’n’cheese, which sat on the table dumbly awaiting its fate of being left largely untouched.
My partner’s pulled pork brioche bap fared better, benefiting from being edible without recourse to a half-nelson, but there was something watery about the juices. Putting the stuff in a brioche is a neat idea in theory, but it carried the sandwich dangerously close to dessert territory. The desserts, though, were fine: a slice of a tarte au chocolate so rich and velvety it made my eyes bulge in surprise, and a playful take on Eton Mess was at least light and foamy.
Smokey Tails has a wonderful atmosphere and a great drinks menu: get to Hackney Wick and check it out while you can. But eat somewhere else first, unless you fancy an almighty brawl with a tenacious pig.
119 Wallis Road