Smoak at The Variety Bar401 Sauchiehall Street,
0141 332 4449
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Pop-up street food
Review published on 04/02/2013 © Sunday Herald
Is this the conversation stopper of the year award? Here we are pinned into a wall seat at the Variety Bar, scanning the clientele, wondering if skip caps and ironic trucker hats are obligatory or if it is just neck-to-wrist tattoos?
Were bemoaning the fact we stick out like a couple of dull old geezers in a dead cool bar when four soft corn tacos in a little plastic basket arrive. To be frank? They dont look anything special so we pick them up without high expectations as the chat continues.
Then wham, bam, thank you, maam theres an explosion of flavours in the mouth. First? Soft, tender smoked beef, then ginger, then what tastes to me like a hint of fish sauce, then a blast of the revolutionary ingredient of the night: Korean kimchi. And finally coleslaw with sesame flavours. If this all sounds a bit weird, believe me it isnt. It is absolutely delicious.
Theres a lovely fresh-tasting marinated salsa on the crisp, cleanly-fired tacos and tossed madly somewhere into the whole mix is crumbled feta. Feta? How does that work, I ask Roberto as we try to reread the brown paper menu in the gloom. I still dont know but it does, so we stop talking and start eating.
Sliders next. Three mini brioche buns that I watched the guy at the tiny temporary kitchen inside the front door toast individually just before he carefully scooped out the middle of some baguettes so they too could be filled with either oak-smoked brisket or mesquite-smoked pulled pork. The pulled pork is sensational and straight away the best Ive tasted outside the States. Not only is it full of flavour but its doused in a delicious sweet, sharp sauce that pulled pork needs if it is not to taste fatty and heavy. Theres more pulled pork in the Cuban sandwich along with ham, mustard dill pickle and emmental. Crazy, I know, but good crazy.
The Texas cheese steak has that oak-smoked brisket with caramelised onions, emmental and peppers yet the rich taste of the meat still shines through. Somehow, somewhere, the guys that run Smoak cook the steak sous vide or in water in little vacuum bags for extra flavour as all the best Michelin-starred chefs do. The method gives an incredible texture. And, yes, they have a smoker which is rapidly becoming the must-have kitchen accessory in those tiny bits of Glasgow which are razors edge and hip n happening, food-wise. Is it a Bradley? I dont know.
I try to have a chat with the guy behind the counter but what with the music boom-shaka-la-ing and the orders making him twist and turn backwards and forwards between the ingredients and the grill we dont get too far, but what I do pick up is that there is a phenomenal attention to detail in the food preparation.
Now, cut to the chase. This is street food and that temporary kitchen is really an indoor stall. And, yes, this is another incarnation of the Man v Food phenomenon. Its man food, in the same way tapas and a bottle of wine is girls night out food. Sliders and tacos and big, bold baguettes with juices running and flavours fighting for attention is one for the boys.
What about the atmosphere? Im glad you asked. The Variety Bar is one of Glasgows most authentic pubs, being all Art Deco and lowly lit, but way more pub than eating joint food is only available from noon until 7pm, Wednesday to Sunday. The barmaid tells us the tattoo explosion is actually a collection of tattooists on a night out and you dont have to be old not to have one. Dont Fear The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult is playing and there are pints flowing and people jostling. And dotted here and there, like us, on little tables are people just in to sample the food. Its one for the bold, but nothing ventured nothing gained.