Situated on the ground floor of the hotel you're greeted by friendly staff dressed down in jeans and converse, in a bid by the hotel to tell you that this isn't a stuffy old hotel restaurant; it's got mixologists and stripped zinc and house wine served in tumblers - it's cool don't cha know it?
Smoak's sunken bar
This theme carries in to the bar area; all leather, neon and vintage accessories, bumping out the we're cool, gritty and industrial vibe - which I suppose is what a grill feels it should be, rather than starched table clothes and silver service. There's at counter dining with a short bar menu for the pushed business man and there's a cocktail menu with the house signature, the Smoak Stack. Served a little impractically in a kilner jar (the lid kept dripping on my leg), the Smoak Stack is a very drinkable mix of buffalo trace bourbon, pear juice, caramel liqueur and smoked apple wood smoke from the 'smoaking' gun - it's a big cocktail, with a big price (£9). Lifting the lid off the smoke rises out, a wonderful scent and piece of theatre hammering home the message that all their meat is cooked on a josper grill and meat needs wood smoke, yadda yadda.
The restaurant's a two tier affair of well spaced tables - the pared back theme runs through with rough grey walls, bare faced grey columns and zinc tumblers for your water. We had a great seat opposite the meat fridge; a glass fronted affair with steaks stacked high and hanging carcasses - it was total meat porn and is worth a trip to salivate at this alter of the beast.
Meat porn, er I mean fridge...
As with all hotel menus, Smoak's is a bit of a mismatch, pleasing all punters rather than concentrating on one direction; therefore there's salads, a curry, fish fingers and pasta - we decided to order off the grill; why come to a restaurant so keen on marketing this aspect to have a dish we could get somewhere else?
The starter of steak tartare was presented elegantly and simply; a large portion of achingly tender, superb quality beef with a heady mix of shallots and capers cutting through the sweet, deep umami flavour of the beef. There's a choice of mild or spicy, however I felt the mild was lively enough, letting the top quality beef sing loud rather than end up as a backing note. A sausage sampler was all there with the flavour, but the portion was small for the £8 and the overly fiddled presentation jarred with the industrial, meaty image Smoak is trying to conjure.
Steak tartare - truly divine, best dish of the evening
The boy felt it rude not to order a steak for mains; the menu lists provenance of each cut including meat from Donald Russels and breeds such as Belted Galoways and Short Horn Cross. The fillet was perfection; exactly as medium rare should be. A tender, well flavoured and obviously quality piece of meat that had been granted the care and attention it commanded.
Side of bone marrow
The baked half shells was an impressive dish - half a lobster, crab, a fat juicy scallop, prawns, crayfish, razor clams, clams and mussels galore; all coated in a buttery garlic sauce richly flavoured with the aniseed kiss of fennel. The sauce was brilliantly and expertly tasteful, and lashings off it too; most of the dish was cooked to absolute perfection, however the lobster claws and razor clams were chewy and overcooked - a gripe I would usually overlook when the rest of the dish was so sublime; were it not for the £35 price tag.
Half baked shellsExpert cooking and flavouring followed in to the puddings; a fruit terrine, wafer thin slivers of fruit in a champagne jelly, was as excellent, light, sublime creation; an inspired bright flash of mint creating a fresh, delightful end to a meal. The baked alaska was a very sweet treat, but didn't stand up to the height standard of the terrine - the sponge weirdly tasted shop bought and was very hard and the small garnish of strawberry sauce could have been larger adding an interesting, sharp edge to a very sweet dish, rather than the red dribble it was.
The food at Smoak is, overall, very good - it's large plates of food, given the time and quality of cooking it affords with excellent, attentive and well informed service. There's a large selection of drinks and a good choice of wines by the glass from a well stocked cellar, rather than the ubiquitous vinegary pinot grigiot. The only real issue is the price; Lounge 10 is offering a fillet AND plenty of sides for £22 and Smoak's is £30 for a fillet, a small piece of bone marrow and a mushroom - whether this is a calculated ploy aimed at those on expenses or the need to recoup the installing of a josper (£18k just for the grill I've heard), I'm not sure; but don't they know there's a recession on?!
Price for one cocktail, one beer, four glasses of wine (all different), two starters, two mains, two puddings, two sides and one port (service not included) - £141.85
Food - 8/10
Service - 8/10
Go again - I'd go back, but only if someone else was paying! (Or I'd not order a steak as some of the other mains are pretty well priced!).