Texas beef rib at Smoque. Photo: Melissa Adams
There has been a good deal of hype in the lead up to the opening of this Southern American barbecue house, owned by former Flint owner (and still Flint in the Vines) Grant Kells and Ash Fanning.
Kells has serious pedigree, training at London's Connaught Hotel and later a sous chef at MG Garage and head chef at Wine Banc, his reputation precedes him. So expectations are high, even if this venture is very different from a fine diner.
And the crowds are certainly giving Smoque a good run for its money in the lead up to Christmas.
Smoque in the city. Photo: Melissa Adams
If you have a look at its Facebook page, which has tracked its progress before and after opening the doors in October, there is plenty of interactive and genuine interest, and a kind of friendly banter about the food and details that sets a good vibe.
If you are not familiar with Southern barbecue, a visit to Smoque will give you a fair taste of the tradition. Americans, but especially Texans, don't do anything small, and Southern barbecue and ribs, provoke high emotions.
Texan barbecue contests are not unknown, with teams competing ferociously for the top rib prize, with carefully guarded secret sauces and spice rubbing rituals, that run down through generations.
Texas brisket at Smoque. Photo: Melissa Adams
There's a process at Smoque, you order at the bar, and the food arrives remarkably quickly. Drinks are bought at the bar, and service is friendly if a little chaotic on our visit.
Bookings are run in sessions, so be prepared to be told which session you fit into, and/or pop off for a drink somewhere until there's a space.
Drinks come in jugs, or big glasses, food comes on trays, with side servings in little paper plates, and sport and music fill every inch of air space.
Smoque restaurant, busy and fast. Photo: Melissa Adams
This is not a place to linger over your meal, or conduct an intimate conversation, but it is not meant to be.
When we visited as part of the 6pm to 7.30pm throng, we were seated and acquainted with the procedure efficiently.
A jug of Pimms went down well on a hot evening and reminded us what a good summer drink this is and how silly it is to serve it by the glass.
Smoque, all about South America and the smoker. Photo: Melissa Adams
The place is full, with a clutch of American lads setting the standard eating Herculean numbers of buffalo hot-wings, and virtually everything else on the menu, washed down with liberal amounts of beer.
The Japanese family on the next table seemed a little perplexed by the whole set up, but soon got into the swing of it stripping a huge Texas rib, to share the meat around.
In line with the main game here we decide on a range of meat ''protein plates'' to share, with sides and a salad to break them up.
Carolina pulled pork ($14.90) is tender and almost sweet, and served in a little cardboard basket, as is the Texas brisket ($14.90). The brisket is a little disappointing, the slices of slightly dry beef with not much flavour.
The Smoque signature Texas beef rib ($34.90, 500 grams) is a huge thing, with a saucy, juicy meat and nicely done fat all down the side of the giant bone, requiring a little manoeuvring to get it off and on to sharing plates. The three-cheese mac 'n' cheese is, we are told, prepared by a French chef, and is a good example of this much-loved nursery staple. It is also a remarkable bargain at $3.90/$5.90 for a generous side serving, more than enough for a kid's dinner.
Red cabbage coleslaw is also a standard side serving ($3.90/$5.90) with good tangy dressing and plenty of crunch - a critical counterbalance to the rich meat.
Virtually all the dishes can be ordered inside a bun, is what they describe as ''sandwiches'', or you can avoid making choices altogether and just get one of the combination platters.
A surprise is the long list of interesting salads, and we opted for the Aloha ($11.90), with orange, daikon, bean sprouts, spinach, edamame beans and herbs. A good combination, freshly and quite subtley dressed with Japanese kabayaki (derived from eel, but really just a nice spiky salty taste).
We could have chosen any of eight others, from traditional chopped, ($11.90) where the cos, tomato, red onion, cucumber and red capsicum and egg are all cut up small, and served with thick ranch dressing (buttermilk and herb dressing, a top-selling dressing in the US).
Also on offer are the Texas waldorf ($15.90) with beef brisket, pear and gorgonzola, and the Woodstock ($11.90) with lentils and feta. All salads can be ordered with a meat topping for an extra $4.
Indeed, pretty much everything on the menu can come with something else on it - with cheddar and blue cheese as well as aioli and ranch dressing are available for $1 on anything.
Dessert was a step too far for us, but not for many, and the daily pie and brownie and salty butter caramel ice-creams have a firm following.
Smoque is a busy, loud, raucous eatery, in close step with the tradition from which it springs. You will need to decide whether you are keen on that tradition or not, but it certainly adds another dimension to Canberra's increasingly diverse eating scene.
Wine list 2/4
Value for money 2/4
Summary: Smoque is a traditional Southern American eatery, with all the loud generosity of spirit, fast-served, slow-cooked ribs and wings, and lashings of beer that go with that.
Catriona Jackson is director of communications and external liaison at the Australian National University and a food writer.
- 02 6162 3350
- Cuisine - American (US)
- Features - Cheap and cheerful, Licensed
- Chef(s) - Grant Kells
- Owners - Grant Kells and Ash Fanning
- Cards accepted - Cash, Visa, Mastercard, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Lunch Tuesday to Friday from noon, dinner Monday to Saturday from 5pm
- Seats - 100 inside, 30 outside
- Author - Catriona Jackson