Smokehouse

The Dark Horse, Moseley

I offer no apologies for the bias that comes with this post. It would be nigh on impossible for me to write about The Dark Horse without taking into account the many nights I’ve spent in the bar drinking endless of amounts of gin, or beer, or bourbon. It is the place at the bottom of the hill, the two minute six second stroll to the pub, or the four minute stagger home. It is the place where the night occasionally descends into fable, where impromptu limbo contents have been known to occur on a Tuesday night, bottles of overproof rum have been plonked on tables, or endless picklebacks have been drunk until I’ve gone home and mistaken my coat rack as a urinal. The Dark Horse is the place I go for a quiet drink on the way back from work, for the midweek open mic nights, or for a closing time dance on the weekend before half of the village comes back to mine. The good times happen here, that is the least you should know.

And yet I’ve never written about the food. Never really considered it, to be honest. Why should I. I’ve always considered what I do to be a study of a menu, not a post dragged out from a pizza I’ve eaten when I was pissed. Plus I like just being another local with a drink problem to the staff behind the bar instead of the bellend with a blog that I am elsewhere. But things have changed recently. They have a new head chef and the food is slowly taking a new direction; more focus on vegetables, a better understanding of fish; the smoker that was once central to the menu is now another gadget in the large open kitchen out back to be used only when required. The food is better than it ever has been, which I suppose is my job to tell you.

Take the truffle mac’n’cheese, so often a let down of overcooked pasta and gloopy béchamel. Here the pasta retains a little bite and the sauce is big on robust cheddar flavours. I can think of only one place that does a better version in Birmingham and I can’t walk there so in your face, suckers. Smoked salmon is wrapped around a salmon and beetroot mousse, before being encased in sheets of pasta and cut into cylinders. It comes on slick of beetroot puree and with a few sweet potato crisps. Yes, it is a bit cheffy, and no, I didn’t expect to see it on the menu (it’s still not on the online version…), but christ is it good. Balanced and delicate, it shows a new direction that happens to be far stronger than the old one.

When they do look to the smoker it’s still cooking of a high standard. The beef tacos are no longer cooked to a mush, now having enough texture to know it is animal you’re eating. The rest of it works; the tacos (likely shop purchased, but frankly who cares) the guac and the chilli. Same goes for the burrito; I dont like the flabby tortilla and I’ve told them as much, but I do like the control and the balance of the filling that never sits still in the mouth. In particular I like the rice that has a slight Persian feel to it and the grilled chicken which is more fragrant than spicy. That chicken returns for a salad that looks and tastes far too healthy to be within these four walls. Claire mutters something about walking down to eat this as a healthy dinner, which to me sounds like a great excuse for a pint.

I can tell you from watching the World Cup here that the pizza is decent, and from a recent work night out that the BBQ beans taste great on just about anything. I can tell you from a meal a few months ago that the Kansas city chicken would not be on my personal list of recommendations, but that even the most robust of meateaters will enjoy the vegan goodness of the Texas caviar salad, even if I still have absolutely no idea what Texas caviar is. I can tell you that that when you get there Karolina will be smiling from behind the bar and Ellis will be giving even the straightest men a stonker in their y-fronts. I can tell you that my mate Tom will be sat on the patio having a pint with just about anybody, and that should you see him you should buy him one for services towards Moseley. Most of all I can tell you that the food is a world away from what it once was and is well worthy of your time. I hear they also do a great Sunday roast, though I’m usually far too hungover to try that personally.

8/10

I once got an A2B home here. True Story.

Rub Smokehouse and Bar, Birmingham

If anything had put me off going to Rub’s, it was the word ‘Smokehouse’ in their title. 2015 saw the art of smoking food have it’s arse ripped out of it by the mainstream, who seem to think that anyone with a lump of meat, a bit of wood and a couple of hours to kill, can produce the sort of grub that southern Americans have been living on forever. If only it was that simple; smoking meat is an art-form, yet what we now have is nondescript mushes of meat sandwiched between buns in chain pubs all over the country. Or ASDA with their take on pulled pork. Even KFC are doing pulled chicken. Seriously, I shit you not. Pass me the gun. Its time that I pulled the trigger.

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So for that alone I am glad that I went to Rub’s. It’s restored my faith in a cooking process that brings character to cheaper cuts of meat, with a little love and a lot of patience. There is an obsession here to do it the right way and not to cut corners. And I admire that. A lot.

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The menu is split between those meats in their unadulterated smoked states,  some with seriously hot sauce, or in mammoth, challenge sized, portions. We take a taster platter which veers from good to obscenely good. Pulled pork is still identifiable as pig, with texture to the meat and a nice gentle smokiness which doesn’t detour from the flavour. They are better than the ribs from the same animal, though the ribs are very good indeed. Beef brisket are fat slices of cow that has given its life for a worthy cause, the meat tender, yet still with the right amount of yield. For those who believe that this cut of meat should be eaten with a spoon, go elsewhere and have an amateur overcook your meat to nothingness. If you want to taste how it should be done, come and get your fill here.

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Best is the chicken with the pink tinge to the flesh that you get from it being cooked low and slow. That colour should not put you off – this is a chicken that tastes of a bird reared outside, with a rub that has gently penetrated the meat after a night in a smoker. Hand on heart, this maybe Birmingham’s best roast chicken. We have meaty burger sliders, deep fried hotdogs and properly jointed chicken wings. Its a serious amount of meat and only the beef hotdogs remain, as the batter is too heavy. Sides veer from decadent wedges of brioche draped in melted cheese, to mac’n’cheese which is not as good as the one I make at home.  That’s hardly a slur – I am yet to eat a better mac that is better than my own version.  I think there was crisp chips, though I was too face deep in meat to notice.  I ask to try some of the hot sauce which makes up the ‘insanity’ meals.  Its called Pyscho Juice and takes hot to a new level that I find uncomfortable in a macho way.

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Too full, we take our desserts home, along with a box of leftover meat that will be the following days lunch.  The desserts are a meal in themselves; a cream egg bound in brownie and chocolate and coated in digestive biscuit crumbs, and a caramel egg given the same treatment with pretzel coating.  They are chocolate crack, designed by someone with a mind of pure filth.  We love them but cant choose between them – asking to do so is like picking your favourite twin.  We want more, if only to make my GP shit himself at the thought.

Prior to this we got chatting to very affable chap who transpired to be one of the co-owners of Rub’s and was happy to show us around the kitchen.  Unsurprisingly, he had just returned from a trip over the Atlantic to the Deep South, for research and to further develop the food here.  Perhaps that the key to it all; that attention to detail is coming from really first-hand experience of how it is done properly, not swiped from All Bar One’s new pulled pork burger.  Its a winning route, with an end result a million miles away from what we have come to expect as acceptable due to market saturation.  It would have been easy for them to take shortcuts, instead they chosen to put their time into it.  Literally.

8/10

Rub Smokehouse and Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato