EDIT: The Smokehouse has now closed
I do love a good bathroom.
Just as they say you can judge the quality of a coat by its buttons, so too is the mandatory bathroom inspection a good indicator of a restaurant's attention to detail.
It's a little dim when you first enter the bathroom at The Smokehouse, your hands flailing in the milky shadows searching for the light switch, until you realise, in fact, the lights are already on. By this time, your pupils have widened enough for you to see the scallop-edged mirrors, the glass vase filled with fresh lilies, and the wicker basket stocked with folded hand towels, all gently illuminated by the flicker of a scented candle burning.
Whilst it's tempting to pause a little longer in this quiet refuge, with only a vintage Stellar Artois poster to keep you company, be warned it's the only bathroom here, and people will notice.
Besides which, there are much more interesting things to be had on the other side of the bright red door, this restaurant so dedicated to smoked seafood, they built their own smokehouse attached to the kitchen. The hot-smoking process here is all natural and done by hand, the woods mainly blackbutt and stringybark, all aged hard words that comes from the South Coast. The other factor to the flavours here come courtesy of the special brining process, all top-secret of course.
The dining room
The loving touches so obvious in the bathroom, are found throughout the dining room as well, a scatter of eclectic knick-knacks that include the 30-year-old copies of Australian Women's Weekly, the record player in use in the corner and the rack of Capitol Records still in their sleeves. Long and spindly bare branches create an archway in the middle of the dining room, with more branches kept company by empty champagne bottles, nestled in the eaves of the skylight up over our heads. The view into the kitchen itself is framed with a curtain of smoked cod, salmon and eel fillets.
Champagne bottles in the skylight
Run by father and son team, Stephen and Adam de Launay, The Smokehouse sits on the former site of that other fish afficianado restaurant, Mohr and Mohr (now closed but Mohr Fish cafe still operates next door with limited seating). Varnished wooden tables are set with white napkins, wine glasses, tea lights and miniature mortars filled with salt and pepper to grind to your liking.
Pound your own salt and pepper
Tasting plate $12 (min 2 people)
Clockwise from bottom: smoked salmon on toast; smoked cod fritters;
smoked trout in nori on sticky rice; smoked garlic prawn wontons;
smoked salmon and ocean trout tart; and smoked eel on lime
We start with the tasting plate, a very reasonably priced entree at $12 for six different morsels. It's a finger food journey through variations of smoked trout, salmon, prawn, cod and eel, presented with a sprectrum of textures and flavours.
Smoked trout in nori on sticky rice
The flaking cubes of smoked salmon contrast with the shattering crunch of puffed toast rounds. Smoked salmon and smoked trout are combined in mini tartlets, much like one would find at a cocktail party. The most visually striking presentation is the smoked trout, served sushi-like, wrapped in a sheet of nori and perched on a disc of the waiter describes as "sticky rice". The trout is lovely and sweet, although I'm not so keen on the rice which is more soggy than sticky, especially against the toasted black and white sesame seeds.
Smoked garlic prawn wontons
Some at our table nominate the crispness of the smoked garlic prawn wontons as their highlight, whilst others prefer the golden-crumbed orb of cod fritters, somewhat similar to the Portuguese Bolinhos de Bacalhau codfish cakes, although not quite as salty or fibrous.
Smoked eel on lime
My favourite morsel is the smoked eel on lime, the flavour of the eel further heightened by the smoking process, the palate refreshed with the tartness of lime.
Lightly smoked sardine on toast (mains-sized)
with white bean puree and roasted cherry tomatoes
Mrs Pig Flyin orders the lightly smoked sardines on toast, the entree served as a mains-size, and then promptly and generously shared amongst the table. The sardines are thick fillets that are orangey-pink in colour, their firm fleshiness carrying well against the smooth paste of white bean spread on planks of toasted baguette.
Wasabi smoked salmon tail $24
with soba noodles, wakame and mirin dressing
Wasabi smoked salmon tail is a huge serve, the great expanse of salmon garnished with zig zags of wasabi and a corset of pickled ginger. There's a lovely depth of wasabi flavour without an upfront harshness to the sinuses, a gentle hum that goes well with the salmon and the tangle of soba noodles.
Roasted duck breast and mandarin sauce with pommes duchesse $28
- Daily special (non-smoked)
Pig Flyin is the only person disappointed with his dish of roasted duck breast. The duck is dry and not helped by the lake of mandarin sauce, overly sweet and a lurid orange hue.
Wine glasses at the bar
Smoked cod fritters, shoe string fries and chilli aoili $19.50
A served of the smoked cod fritters (we hadn't realise they would be included in the tasting plate) offers more of the crisp coated cod balls we'd already enjoyed. The accompanying fries pass the crunch test too, straws of potato cooked to perfection.
Atlantic salmon cutlet lightly smoked $24
on green pea and chorizo mash
The Atlantic salmon cutlet has the strongest smoky flavour out of all the mains tonight, the thick hunk of salmon paired with a dark green mountain of mashed peas dotted with tiny cubes of chorizo.
Smoked crispy skin NZ salmon belly $24
with caramelised eschalots and creamed sweet potato
I had gone for the smoked crispy skin NZ salmon belly, a skyscraper of three pieces of salmon piled on top of a dense wad of sweet potato mash. The fattiness of the salmon belly offers plenty of rich moistness but it's the skin I'm particularly fond of, a layer of crisp chewiness that's smoky and buttery good.
I'm also enamoured by the lovely presentation of the accompanying lemons, each half (not a mere sliver!) wrapped neatly in muslin cloth and knotted, a gesture that is generous, thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing.
Garlic green beans $6.00
For the table we share a side of garlic green beans, cooked to an al-dente snap and smothered with caramelised garlic.
The wine list is comprehensive with several available by the glass and the wine of the day priced at $28 for a bottle in white, rose and red.
Digging in with friends
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The Smokehouse (CLOSED)
Tel: +61 (02) 9699 1155
Open Tuesday to Saturday 11.30am-midnight
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6/09/2009 11:45:00 p.m.