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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Smokehouse, Surry Hills, Sydney

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.

Capitol records

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

View Larger Map
Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

The Smokehouse (CLOSED)
204 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9699 1155

Open Tuesday to Saturday 11.30am-midnight
17 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/09/2009 11:45:00 pm


  • At 6/10/2009 1:16 am, Anonymous Mrs Pig Flyin' said…

    I love the deco of the restaurant and most of the dishes were nice. Will be great if they can offer more non-salmon/trout dishes, maybe some white fish? Would also love to see some smoked meat, perhaps bacon, duck, and tongue?

  • At 6/10/2009 6:36 am, Anonymous Yas said…

    Ahahahaha I love the opening! You should do the bathroom reports on restaurants you visit too :)

    I'm actually going to this place on Friday!!

  • At 6/10/2009 9:19 am, Anonymous Veruca Salt said…

    Smokin'. For dessert, they could offer a seclection of smoked cheeses or would that be taking it too far?

  • At 6/10/2009 1:05 pm, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    looks great. the smoked garlic prawn wontons look very good.

  • At 6/10/2009 1:16 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Fantastic! I love the look of the salmon and trout..reminds me of when I was in Alaska and there was a great smokehouse there. I will definately be going there soon!!


  • At 6/10/2009 2:30 pm, Anonymous Howard said…

    The tasting plate looks like a hit. I agreee with Mrs Flyin, some smoked meat would be intriguing!

  • At 6/10/2009 2:55 pm, Blogger Food lover said…

    I also always check the bathroom in new restaurants! The food looks fantastic - one more place to add to my must visit list.

  • At 6/11/2009 12:43 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Is it just me or does that Smoked crispy skin NZ salmon belly have my name on it... *drooooooool*
    I am surprised Helen, no desserts?!?!

  • At 6/11/2009 10:18 am, Anonymous billy@atablefortwo said…

    yeah i am surprise too, where dessert?!?! Also, do they mainly serve fish, apart from the disappointing duck?

  • At 6/11/2009 10:53 am, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    It's cool that they smoke everything themselves, and what a range of fish! You're right that attention to detail really shows.

  • At 6/11/2009 11:05 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Mrs Pig Flyin' - I agree. It would've been great to have a wider range of smoked products, although I wonder if sometimes it's better to stick to a few things and make sure they're really good? Smoked tongue would be interesting and mmm... bacon...

    Hi Yas - lol. I have often wondered about the feasibility of a "restaurant bathroom" blog. And then there's the quality of the toilet tissue! lol!

    And what a coincedence. Hope you enjoy your meal! Would be keen to hear your take on it.

    Hi Veruca Salt - I had that exact same thought. They did have a dessert menu but none of it was smoked. The most interesting thing to me was a blue cheese wrapped in vine leaves and served with honeycomb. Intriguing.

    Hi Simon - The wontons were a hit with quite a few people. They did have a lovely crunch.

    Hi Noodlehead - Wow, can only imagine the deliciousness of the salmon in an Alaskan smokehouse! What an enviable experience!

    Hi Howard - Smoked meat would be great, although I wonder if meat requires a completely different curing and smoking process? Perhaps too difficult?

    Hi Food Lover - Ahh yes the little bathroom adventure. Always fun, especially if you get a quick stickybeak on your way past the kitchen! lol

    Hi FFichiban - Haha, I believe that was my name, and lol, we did end up having dessert but up the road at Maya Sweets. We tried a little bit of everything including a giant savoury dosai. Too tired to take pics of everything and post on it, but here's one pic of the arrival of the dosai.

    Hi Billy - Damnit, can't get anything past you two. Post-dinner pic above. The menu is mainly seafood but they do have a "specials" menu which included a vegetarian tarte tatin, a free-range pork belly (Pig Flyin' tried to order this but they sold out by 7pm!), the duck breast and a fresh fish of the day.

    Hi Arwen - It's amazing how a little bit of love does wonders for the feel of a restaurant. And it's always great when a restaurant has such a close connection with the food that it serves.

  • At 6/12/2009 4:25 pm, Anonymous Jax said…

    Looks awesome. Makes me pine for the smokeries of the East Anglian coast so I'm going to go visit as soon as I can!

  • At 6/13/2009 6:25 am, Blogger TheBigB3n said…

    looks awesome, haven't been to the area around Mohr fish in awhile, definitely keen to try The Smokehouse out!!!

    Crispy skinned NZ Salmon Belly,mmm I can imagine now, its gonna be rad!

  • At 6/13/2009 10:31 pm, Anonymous Lori said…

    I love this place! I had a salmon dish when I came and it was perfectly cooked. Then for Christmas lunch I bought a side of their smoked salmon (vacuum packed) and everyone loved it, very yummy and will probably do it again this year.

  • At 6/14/2009 9:41 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Jax - I think traditional smoking is unfortunately a dying artform, so great to see a smokehouse like this in Sydney!

    Hi The BigB3n - The salmon belly was fantastic - the skin was definitely the highlight!

    Hi Lori - I didn't realise til later that their smoked goods are available for sale. I can only imagine how good that smoked salmon tasted on Christmas Day!

  • At 6/22/2009 8:59 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You guys missed out on the fish pie! It's one of the greatest fish pies in Sydney. I think it was leek and smoked cod + salmon.

  • At 6/23/2009 12:51 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Anon - I was intrigued by the fish pie, and I did spot its impressive appearance at the table beside us. Will have to order it next time!


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