It’s not a smokehouse in the traditional sense, this restaurant is in the rear of an Intercontinental Hotel for goodness sake and that just wouldn’t sit too well with the staying, paying customers – chimney smoke, even with a faintest whiff of hickory or fruit wood chips isn’t a great selling point.
What Blue Boar Smokehouse has is a smoker, a fiery Josper Grill and plenty of deep south inspiration with their own British spin.
The dining room is within a stone’s throw of Westminster, it even has it’s very own Division Bell, so it’s no wonder this place is a hot-bed of political gossip. Cabinet members breakfast here, members of select committees drop in for coffee and lobbyists take advantage of the hand-crafted beers in the bar. It’s here that Tory co-Chairman, Lord Feldman allegedly described Conservative association members as “mad, swivel-eyed loons”. Vehemently denied by him, a source tells me he was definitely here on the date in question and he did speak to a few members of the press at once, but microphones are the one thing this place doesn’t have, so what he actually said remains a mystery.
The restaurant decor is unbranded, but you do find the heavy wood, leather and pinstriped upholstery, often associated with hotels but they’ve tempered that with subtle lighting, and on the tables you’ll find crisp linen and wrist-breaking silver salt and pepper salvers and matching cutlery.
It’s a Thursday night and the restaurant is busy with long tables of businessmen and smaller groups with couples, there’s a nice buzz when we arrive at our table at 7.30pm.
My dining companion tonight is Mr’s best friend and he’s here with an open mind, as long as he’s not fed cooked cheese, there’s nothing he won’t try.
We’re settled into our seats by Sara Carmignani the Restaurant Director who introduces us to our waitress, Maria.
We begin our night with gin as I’d heard about the ‘Gin Cabinet’ full of rare and heritage gins which include Boodles 1950’s vintage gin, a 1960 bottling of House of Lords Gin and a real vintage from the 1920’s a bottle of Smith & Carman Finest unsweetened Gin but Simon the bar manager, suggests a Williams Chase apple gin which is a whopping 48% and a generous measure too. Served with a 125ml Fentimans tonic, it leaves me seeing stars for at least twenty minutes.
I ask Maria, whether there’s a chance we can get a look around the kitchen as Executive Chef, Jon Ingram is on the pass tonight.
I wanted to ask him a few things about the food preparation and his kitchen toys. Shack is a massive fan of the Big Green Egg and knows a thing or two about the art of barbecue. Having just bought one, I knew that if he saw a Josper Grill (it’s from Spain so it’s pronounced Hosper) he’d be impressed. I was also keen to see the smoker and the smoking chips.
It’s fed with industrial charcoal and burns brightly throughout service and way into the next morning. It’s the combination of a grill and an oven and has the capacity to cook food between the temperatures of 482 ºF and 662 ºF which allows grilling and roasting without baking. It’s quick, less messy than an open grill and uses less charcoal. The Big Green Egg is in many professional kitchens, and is also controlled by adjusting the air flow – a skill in itself. Chef Jon Ingram tells me he could cook the hotel’s breakfast bacon on his Josper if he need to – it remains that hot. He also explains about the three different types of wood pellet they use in their smoker.
It’s not only the ribs that get the sous vide treatment, here are some Tomahawk steaks about to have a little bath in the sous vide before they’re put in the Josper.
They’re known for their ribs here and are worth a try (£9 starter portion/£16.50 main), my dining chum ate his with a knife and fork in respect of the meat I took large bites and wish that I had my roll of floss, I think whilst he looked idiotic eating ribs with cutlery he wasn’t picking out hunks of pork from his teeth most of the night.
The secret is the Blue Boar Rub a mix of herbs and spices only Jon knows how to perfect. A 30kg batch of the stuff lasts the restaurant 3 weeks. As you can see from the picture these were juicy, blackened and full of hunks of pork which fell off the bone with ease. Baby back ribs are slathered in the Blue Boar dry rub and smoked over specially selected wood chips. Then they’re treated to a barbecue marinade before they get a blast in the Josper Grill.
Look out for ‘Rib Of The Month’ – happening in this restaurant in September – including a Yakima Red beer marinated rib, given the spice and sauce treatment and then finished off rolled in peanuts. The ultimate bar snack. The Blue Boar is a place to visit on a special occasion, and if you can’t afford the ribs in the restaurant, then head to the bar and enjoy them with a pint where you’ll enjoy a reduced bill.
Other starters on the menu include Cornish sardines with salt-baked beetroot and thyme (£9.50) and a chilled heirloom tomato soup with goat’s curd and summer herbs (£7). We tried the meatloaf (£8.50) with fried egg because we were intrigued by the Blue Boar Ketchup. It was a great choice, thin slices of herby meatloaf are coated with a tomato sauce that kicked the dish up to another level. The fried egg added a rich creaminess and it was a good starter portion size.
A silver platter carried my pulled Somerset Kid (£18.50) which was creamy and had been slow cooked perfectly, sweet strands of young goat are served with a large gherkin pickle and glazed sage and onion rolls, which looked great but were a little dense and not as light as I expected. It was clear that the kid had been given the smoker treatment and it was sublime. Creamy coleslaw and mustard-sugar-beans (which had a hint of pork fat) were perfect partners. It’s a large portion of kid (200g) and that would work as well as a starter for two. The idea is to build a slider with the kid and the bread rolls but I felt the flavours were just way too good. The logo-covered greaseproof paper prevents the taint of the silver tray affecting the food, but became a nuisance when it got caught up with the beans, coleslaw and meat. Trying to pick out chunks from the food that still remained turned into a game I didn’t want to play so I left a little more than I would normally have.
When Shack saw his county-of-birth mentioned on the menu his face lit up like all his Christmases had come at once. The 30oz Tomahawk steak (£60) is for 2 and served with the rib still attached, with blackened avocado (which is lightly seasoned with olive oil and Josper’d) and onion rings. The Yorkshire Rose Veal T Bone (£30) was another contender served with anchovy and caper butter but the rare breed Hereford rib eye steak (£21) with slow roasted tomato was the one. It had been given the sous-vide bath treatment and after grilling, it simply fell apart when cutlery pierced it, just fabulous. The roasted Scotch Bonnet sauce (£2.95) an addition for the steak was delicious, dry, and hot but not overpowering.
For sides we ordered the spicy corn which arrived sprinkled with Parmesan, Shack doesn’t eat cooked cheese, and there was no mention of cheese on the menu, these were replaced without any fuss. We ordered onion rings which should be re-labelled Lord of the Rings. Huge circles of thickly cut onion have been dipped in a mind-blowingly-good batter and deep-fried to create one of the best onion rings I’ve ever tried – definitely the ring to bind them all here. The chips were thin and crispy, just the way I like them.
We had two large glasses each of Castello Vicchiomaggio Chianti Classico San Jacopo 2011, chosen by my guest. It was a 90% sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo and 5% Colorino mix, it was seductive in colour, had a cherry and rose petal bouquet with a fruity taste in the mouth, perfect with our meat choice.
For dessert there’s an Eton mess (£6.50) and for the ordered, an Eton tidy (£8.50),
along with a great choice of ‘comfort’ desserts like sticky toffee pudding with honeycomb ice cream (£7.50), hot chocolate pudding with a cherry beer sorbet (£8.50) but it was the gooseberry and oat crumble with vanilla custard (£6.50)
and the praline Cambridge cream with warm doughnuts (£8.50) for us.
The Cambridge Cream came with the perfect sugary lid which needed the heavy spoon to crack it and the smooth cream beneath had a subtle burnt hazelnut flavour and the mini doughnuts whisked me back to a windy Brighton seafront after the first bite. The gooseberry crumble was sublime, both sweet and sour with a delicious pouring cream custard, studded with vanilla.
We save enough wine to try the three-cheddar plate with crackers. A thin slice of quince jelly, some sweet black grapes and a slice of homemade Eccles cake were a welcome addition on the plate. The Cheddar plate was inspired, carefully selected cheeses all burst with flavour and make a welcome change to the usual offerings. The Montgomery, (earthy, rich and smooth, from North Cadbury) Black Bomber Cheddar (intense vintage cheddar, made in Snowdonia) and Lancashire (which was our particular favourite and a mature cheddar).
We thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Blue Boar and would definitely return with a bunch of friends. It’s not cheap but what hotel restaurant is? What you get here is unique food in a relaxed setting with excellent service.
Address : 45 Tothill Street, Westminster, London, SW1H 9LQ.
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 3301 1400
We were guests of the Blue Boar Smokehouse.