I recently went to visit Bex‘s Dad and his wife at their lovely new place in rural Dorset. We had a great day, checking out the house and huge garage (or really car stable). Keith, Bex’s Dad plans to build a deck around this with Tiki bar and barbecue area, so clearly this was essential, and I also immediately wanted to buy the awesome 50s US pick up he is currently selling…hitch mounted grill anyone?!
After a day of obligatory tourist sight seeing – including seeing the cobbled hilly street from the famous Hovis advert (about as Northern as Peckham mineral water then) and visiting their great local farm shop it was time for dinner.
It just so happened that Keith, when strolling around their closest town of Gillingham had stumbled up the local BBQ joint – South Street Kitchen. Obviously, there was no other option but to check it out – for research, right?!
The restaurant is somewhat hidden down a quiet side street, only really standing out as you approach thanks to it’s matt black exterior paint, and white ‘SSK’ lettering cascading down the side wall. The painted meat cleaver over the door makes the building’s contents a little clearer.
As you walk in there’s a relaxed bar and waiting area and a huge exposed brick wall like in those New York apartments you only see in movies as I assume no-one can afford them, with a huge painted logo in the middle.
The dining area is a little more formal but certainly still maintaining a casual atmosphere. You would neither feel out of place in a nice shirt, nor a truckers cap. Chesterfield style leather bench seats line the walls with vintage style bulbs lighting the wooden tables. Just trendy enough without being concerned that every drink os going to be served in a jam jar.
I was incredibly pleased and to be honest, somewhat relieved to see a decent selection of craft beer on the menu. I say relieved for two reasons, one because, as a complete craft beer lover, I have pretty much become addicted to that hoppy kick and a lager just won’t cut it, but also because it’s just great to see local businesses supporting each other. The craft beer industry is built upon helping each other and improving the product so give it a go!
The beer that SSK has on tap – ‘Fresh’ also happens to be from one of my favourite breweries – Wild Beer Co. With a pint ordered, it was onto the important bit, the food.
(If you don’t have the eyes of a buzzard, click here to go to all pics where you can see a larger copy of the menu…)
I did what any self respecting BBQ lover would do and ordered the Smokin’ Board for 2 which has 1/2 rack ribs, pork belly and wings along with chips and slaw (to share, honest), of course then immediately asking to add additional pulled pork and smoked sausage. I felt mac’n’cheese too may have been a step too far.
As you can see from the menu, it’s a pretty varied offering even if someone, daresay isn’t into their BBQ – why you would go for dinner with them however is beyond me… Although, I have to say a lot (all) of the Tapas dishes sounded damn good.
Whilst we waited for the bounty of mains that we had ordered, the server brought us over some of the Home Cooked Tortilla Chips. We all double-took when he announced that they were condiments (complements) of the chef, but it proved a very funny and memorable start – hey, we’ve all had a first day once!
The tortilla chips were delicious – those homemade types that bear no relation to doritos whatsoever, and the tomato salsa was fresh and tangy.
Next, the mains arrived, and well, kept on arriving – extra meat add-ons were probably, and lets be honest, predictably excessive! Keith had opted for a brisket chilli burger (but with the chilli on the side), and his wife Paula for the belly pork – one of the aspects of the board. The Smokin’ Board turned out in fact to be two boards, both shaped like the SSK cleaver – yes, I immediately wanted one at home.
I started off by digging into the smoked sausage, which for me, was the highlight of the platter. It had a really prominent, but well balanced smokey flavour. It had been split and grilled before serving it, adding a nice char and crisping up slightly which gave a great texture.
Next, I sliced off a bit of the pork belly. It had been cooked in a way I had not seen before, being rolled before going in the smoker. It was clear from a great flavour, that by rolling in this way, it had absorbed a good amount of the smoke, although, I must say I missed a little of the crispness that the fat on an flat piece of belly can gain with a final grill (who doesn’t like crackling!). It too had been grilled before serving to give nice char marks and a little extra layer of flavour.
Next up, I tucked into the brisket chili, a favourite of mine to cook at home as my misses isn’t that keen on the pepperyness generally synonymous with brisket, but enjoys it in a chili (I know…). The meat in the chili had a really great texture – pulled slowly cooked fatty meat in a sauce, what could be bad! The sauce itself was also rich and tasty, but Bex’s Dad, Keith and I both felt it could be a little hotter. This having been said, we both like ‘hot’, and it’s a difficult balance with the public as many don’t – my reaction to this would be don’t bloody order chili then, which is possibly a reason why I wouldn’t be much cop running a restaurant. Mark, SSK Pitmasters and head chef, who I later had the chance to catch up with, also said they could always spice it up so if you like it spicy, my advice would be to ask!
Next up, the rack of ribs had to be tackled, and these had a great texture – not quite falling off the bone, having just a little bite to them – much more practical when actually trying to eat, and a tasty BBQ glaze. The menu states that they are ’24 hour baby back ribs’ which I didn’t really understand, as a cook time of 5 hours for these ribs would have been top in my thoughts. I was going to ask Matt about this after the meal, but somehow forgot – beer and meat perhaps contributing, so sorry about that.
The chicken was very moist, but for me I’m a big fan of a good old spicy chicken wing, and would have preferred to see this on the platter as opposed to the deep fried coated variety shown in the picture above, but this again is really a personal choice.
Last, but certainly not least on the platter came the pulled pork (although technically an add on for those who just have to sample everything like me!). Sadly no bark on my serving, but as per the other porks, had a fantastic smokey flavour.
I am reliably informed by Bex, that the salad was tasty, and the few chips that I managed to munch on after the meat extravaganza were crisp and tasty – a nice mix of sweet and standard spuds there too. For obvious reasons, I can’t comment on desserts.
After the meal, Mark was kind enough to spare a few minutes away from the busy service for a quick chat and to show me around. We went outside where he had his two smokers – proper hillbilly affairs with a horizontal barrel acting as the smoke chamber, mounted over another barrel used as the firebox. One had been in use earlier that day, and so had an amazing smell when he lifted the lid. I was pretty amazed at the sheer variety of offerings that the restaurant was able to serve given the size limits of the 2 smokers, plus the very manual nature of this kind of Q. No, not every element of the board was the best of it’s kind I had ever eaten, but on the kit available, it was damned impressive. Not every BBQ restaurant is going to be able to afford a huge smoker with all of the bells and whistles, particularly one in a small town, which really isn’t going to see the same numbers as those in the cities – but then, isn’t that what BBQ is really about..?
When we came back inside, I had a quick peek into the kitchen, which has an open front so you can see the chef’s prepping and cooking your meals. They had a very impressive piece of kit right at the front. Pictured above, this was a fully charcoal fired grill – coals at one end to give a hot and cool zone – this explained the great charry taste on much of the meats! As you can imagine, there were also some pretty impressive extraction units too…
We had a good old chinwag about what we both enjoy cooking and barbecuing at home as well as about craft beer, Mark saying that he regularly visits the Wild brewery where he sources their beer. He recommended a bottle on their menu, Ninkasi.
Now a bottle of beer on a restaurant menu priced over £20, although being 750ml, I’m sure would be difficult for many to justify. A bottle of wine at this price however, would not be considered strange. The difference? Mindset.
Ninkasi is classed as a ‘celebration’ beer and is every bit as refined as a good wine, Champagne or even very good french style cider. Served in Champagne flutes in order to be best appreciated, it is a Belgian-style Saison which also contains fresh Somerset apple juice. It also shares it’s yeast and second fermentation process with that of Champagne. Needless to say, the beer was absolutely delicious, and I would highly recommend it – it’s also named after the goddess of beer which is surely reason enough.
All in all, a great evening with some nice Q. Matt is an incredibly nice guy, who is as passionate about BBQ as we all are… Definitely one to go back to…Good Eats!