Smoking Goat Shoreditch: Review
The original Smoking Goat, on Denmark Street, was for many the moment when Thai food came of age in the capital. If this seems dismissive of the generations of Thai chefs and restaurateurs who came before, then we don’t mean it to; of course there were good Thai restaurants in London, but they tended to be high-end places like the Patara mini-chain, and of course David Thompson’s Nahm – each well worth the effort, but special occasion places; hardly somewhere you’d pop in for a bite to eat and a beer. Smoking Goat married an obsessive’s attention to culinary detail and authenticity with a cool Soho vibe and no-reservations model that allowed such accessible pricing, and was an instant hit.
The new branch, on Shoreditch High Street, is, days after it opened its doors to the public, already wildly popular, but then this is exactly the kind of place that would do well in Shoreditch. Candle-lit and stylish, overhung with charcoal smoke, it serves drinking food for a young crowd: it’s somewhere you’d go with a group of friends, order a couple of the large sharing plates and a magnum or two of craft beer, and settle in for the night. That this concept doesn’t feel as revolutionary in 2017 as it did in 2014 shouldn’t take anything away from the achievement of Ben Chapman and his team – this is, by anyone’s standards, a great place to eat and drink.
Most will start with snacks from the “Drinking Foods” menu. Chicken heart skewers (a quid a pop) were bouncy and full of flavour, served in an obscure powdered Thai spice that had an effect closer to the tingle of Sichuan peppercorns than chilli heat. Northern Thai beef sausage was a fragrant dose of lean mince, each mouthful accompanied by a sprig of Thai basil. And Tamworth belly skewers, neatly cubed and glazed with chilli, impressed with their soft texture and top quality pork.
The use of top-end British ingredients and Thai techniques was what made the original branch a success, and it’s abundantly clear that just as much effort has gone into the menu in Shoreditch. Steamed oysters came from the Menai straights in North Wales, and their briney flavour was matched with a herb/chilli dressing to great effect.
And if you were thinking that Smoking Goat may have been tempted to dial down the chilli to better appease their new East London market, then you need to try their duck laab, a dish so searingly spicy it brought our entire table to tears. Such was the lovely flavour, however – rich duck liver and kidney mince in fish sauce and lime juice – that we kept going back for more, fighting through the pain, managing no more than one white-hot, beautiful mouthful every ten minutes. An absolute must-order for anyone who thinks they can handle it.
Larger plates were no less impressive. Sour tom yam soup, deep crimson red and populated with chunks of velvet crab and huge, sweet mussels (more of that intelligent sourcing), was a fine bit of work, hearty and comforting and perfect as the dark Shoreditch nights close in. Soya-braised chicken came with another fantastic broth, and though the bird itself was arguably a tad on the dry side, it all still disappeared in a very short amount of time. Best of all though was the goat massaman, a marvellous pile of tender slow-cooked goat in a rich, chocolatey turmeric sauce that felt like it was providing numerous health benefits as well as tasting great.
It’s also worth repeating the value of the place. None of the dishes – not even the huge sharing plates – cost more than £13 and most of the snacks cost less than a couple of quid. Yes, they make the numbers work by making sure every table is always taken and turned a few times an evening but so what? In return you get some of the best Thai food in the country for less than you’d pay at any number of bland chains, and a drinks list (by the estimable Zeren Wilson) that would make a visit worthwhile even if you weren’t hungry. In short, there’s not much not to like at all. Go soon, and go often.
JOL was invited to review Smoking Goat on a complimentary basis. We retain full editorial control.