The much-praised Thai barbeque joint gets its first sister restaurant.
64 Shoreditch High Street,
Shoreditch is awful. The surrounding areas, just east over the border of Brick Lane, a short trundle north up Kingsland Road, or down towards Spitalfields, are lovely, each having their own charm. But the little square directly around Shoreditch High Street, an area that ten years ago was interesting and relevant, and somewhat of a crucible for artistic pursuits, is now perhaps the purest example in London of an area dedicated to faux-artistry, entitlement, vacuous existences, and bulimia.
“I made the journey through the forest of Apple Macs, across the sea of unnecessary upward inflexion, over the mountain of shit body piercings, and arrived in Shoreditch.”
Just as Disneyland is a carefully constructed ersatz version of happiness and magic, so is Shoreditch a carefully constructed ersatz version of a cool, bohemian liberalism, which ceased to exist there sometime in the last decade. It is painfully mainstream masquerading as counter-culture – the Pharrell Williams of east London.
For these reasons, I try to avoid it. And any restaurants within that little square have to be especially fantastic to balance out the fuck-awful chore of having to be in Shoreditch for a prolonged period of time. I was optimistic that the newly opened Smoking Goat, on the corner of Redchurch Street and Shoreditch High Street, would fulfil that criteria; so on a miserable, drizzly Saturday I made the journey through the forest of Apple Macs, across the sea of unnecessary upward inflection, over the mountain of shit body piercings, and arrived in Shoreditch.
“The oysters were plump and tasted of the sea, and the crispy chilli on top had an addictive sweetness that made me want to order a dozen more.”
The original Smoking Goat was a great place to fall back on. Located just across the road from Soho, on Denmark Street, it was never as crazy no-reservation busy as many other places in that area. So when I was still in the dating stage with my missus, and was on a constant quest to find delicious, cool restaurants to take her to in the hope that she would think I was fucking awesome for feeding her so well and had struggled to get in anywhere, then I would generally fall back on Smoking Goat. You could always get a table, it was dark and fun, and it served Thai food that was gorgeous, and addictive, and a million miles from the Thai Red Curry with rice and naan that your local boozer was serving.
(As an aside, I said to somebody the other day, “Remember when all pubs had a dodgy Thai kitchen upstairs?” They replied, “No,” and looked at me like I was old. Fuck you, Kid! I’m barely thirty! Pubs haven’t always been gastro!)
Ironically, the new Smoking Goat looks more like a pub than anything else; the vast bar/open kitchen dominates the centre of the room, and there are large communal wooden tables and an impressive collection of draft beer. This all feeds into the premise that this new venue takes inspiration from the late-night canteens of Bangkok, and serves Thai drinking food. There are small plates and large plates, obvs. Although on this occasion, the large plates are actually large; big dishes of soup or noodles designed for sharing.
Things got off on a flyer with the barbeque Tamworth skewers. Alternating pieces of pork and fat, coated in a paste that was fiery and fruity and fragrant with lemongrass. It was quite literally everything I was hoping for. The chicken heart skewers on the other hand, not so much. They were over-cooked and slightly chewy. Eating anything’s heart is a fucking weird experience, and unless it is perfect in texture and taste then the sensation of eating another animal’s heart takes over and things get quite unpleasant.
Another high followed this though, Steamed Oysters with chilli and Kra Tin Leaf (absolutely no idea); the oysters were plump and tasted of the sea, and the crispy chilli on top had an addictive sweetness that made me want to order a dozen more. Thai style Duck laab came next. It was a plate of spicy, salty duck mince. It was nice, but I am really not in the habit of eating forkful after forkful of mince on its own, so until the jasmine rice and stir-fried greens arrived five minutes later it was largely redundant.
The fish sauce wings were the last of the small plates to arrive; they were good but not as good as I remember them being at the original Smoking Goat – I don’t know why, they were probably just a victim of nostalgia.
And that was the problem. The whole restaurant was a victim of nostalgia. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I wanted to, not as much as I needed to. Smoking Goat was such a hit the first time around that I guess this was always going to be the difficult second album.
From the large plates, we ordered crab and mussel D’tom yam. It was okay; the soup had a depth of flavour and felt nourishing – but there was no crab. A lot of crab shell, but little in the way of edible crab. It was fine, but not a patch on the sharing plates I remember from the original: the sticky pork belly, or the whole smoked lamb shoulder that I would literally fist fight my missus for the last mouthful of.
A man much smarter than I once wrote that “Each city receives its form from the desert it opposes.” I would suggest that the same is true of restaurants, and food in general: all the chefs in all the restaurants of the world will never cook a meal as delicious as one that is cooked and served to you by a loved one after a time spent away. In this instance, I had travelled across the wasteland of Shoreditch High Street and arrived with wonderful memories of the sumptuous delights of the original Smoking Goat. I guess this incarnation was always going to be on a hiding to nothing. Do I think it’s a bad restaurant? No. Would I ever visit again? No. There is no need; I know a happier brother who lives in a nicer part of town.
I guess if you spend a lot of time wandering around Shoreditch High Street then this Smoking Goat is worth a visit. I just pity whichever poor bastard has that existence.