Wilmslow’s Cheshire Smokehouse has always been synonymous with top-notch artisanal food and seasonal British produce.
The farm shop in Morley Green doles out exceptional smoked meats and fish, just-baked breads, shiny fruit and veg, and superb made-on-site meals to a discerning bunch of locals every day of the week.
So when it was announced one of the folks behind the business was unveiling a new wine bar and cafe in the centre of town, expectations were high.
Smoke’s new site is in a three-storey, glass-fronted space which used to be the French Brasserie, a rollicking gallic restaurant-cum-live music venue, beloved by thirty- and forty-something funsters.
Following its closure more than a decade ago, there’s definitely been a gap in the market for an all-day swanky bar to grab brunch and to slurp decent wines as the evening descends.
A moodily lit, discreetly swish place, Smoke is all dark beams, exposed brickwork, cast iron fireplaces, wood panelled flooring and Scandi-style chairs. So far, so Wilmslow.
Wander past any morning of the week and you’ll spot friends catching up over brunch and, as the afternoon draws on, couples and groups surreptitiously slipping off heels and cosying up over fizz and olives.
You can perch at the bar, though waiters glide over three floors towards tables perched in corners where you could hole up for hours making your way through its extensive drinks list.
One thing they’re very passionate about here is good wine – and it shows, with a carefully curated collection of wines. There’s nothing too flash or gimmicky about the drinks – and that’s why it works so well. I started with a superb glass of rose prosecco, whilst my dining partner raved about his locally-brewed IPA.
By day, Smoke rustles up a ‘build-a-brunch’ concept – we’re talking Smokehouse-sourced bacon, sausage, black pudding, halloumi and avocado that several friends have happily given their seal of approval.
The evening menu, however, is short and reads more like a selection of bar snacks with sharing boards making up the lion’s share – from servings of smoked duck, chicken, and trout, to a charcuterie platter, and a meat and cheese board with salami, smoked kasseler and house pickles.
There’s also a clutch of small plates that veer towards Spanish tapas – chorizo, cod and piquillo pepper croquettes and patatas bravas.
I’m all for sharing, and after mulling over the boards, we plumped for the Spanish Selection: with bellota chorizo, trevelez serrano ham, sliced lomo, manchego, pickles and crackers.
Each of the meats were superb – salty, flavourful slithers that are easy to scoff. The crackers? You can forget. What’s missing are thick slabs of sourdough or something bready to get your teeth into and to dip into bowls of olive oil. We ordered an extra bread basket for £2.95. Small plates-wise, we ordered the satisfyingly tasty ham croquettes and the patatas bravas which was a little on the greasy side.
Smoke is warm and it’s stylish with great service and great wine. It’s just the place for long, languid afternoons to nurse very quaffable wines and tuck into nibbles.
But here’s the thing that’s baffling me. This place has a serious advantage over most of the area’s other restaurants – direct access to superb suppliers aligned with the Smokehouse. They should exploit it ruthlessly to create arguably some of the best dishes in this part of Cheshire. But they don’t. For now, it seems, they’re sticking with the Spanish-skewed menu.
My verdict? They’re not reimagining the wheel, nor are they setting tongues wagging with a lip-smacking menu.
But the thing about Smoke is its knack for genteel escapism. It’s one of those places that’s utterly reassuring, and a space you can rely on for a decent drink and a low-key atmosphere without the gimmicks.
As yet, Smoke’s not been an overnight sensation, but given time, it’s got the backing, the potential, and the setting to become a great neighbourhood joint.
31 Water Lane Wilmslow SK9 5AR