Vicky Andrews has all she can eat. But is that a good thing?
French flavours haven’t made it onto the multi-cuisine menu at Smoke & Dough, but my visit to Liverpool ONE’s ‘unique new dining experience’ had a definite feeling of déjà vu.
The new restaurant has taken over a 7,000 sq ft terrace unit that’s been empty since the Red Hot World Buffet moved out in 2016. It wasn’t somewhere I’d have recommended to friends, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I ate at RHWB a fair few times during its heyday. Where else could you enjoy curry, Tex Mex, stir fry and chips, all crammed onto the same plate?
If your idea of heaven is mountains of food and you don’t care where it came from or why it’s so cheap, then you’ll probably love it here
Hoping to fill that tandoori pizza-shaped hole, Smoke & Dough launched this October with promises of an ‘American-Italian classic grill with a twist’ featuring an interactive BBQ concept served on ‘lava coal pits’ at each table.
“Your culinary journey begins with the first course of antipasti,” reads the blurb. “Once you are ready for the meats, the grill on your table is open and you control the service of the skewers and meats replenishment.”
Sounds familiar, in fact a bit like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Except you don’t have to get up and queue for the food. Bonus.
The Smoke & Dough experience isn’t unique, but it isn’t awful either. Ignoring all the fancy talk, what you actually get for £20 in the evening is a set menu with two courses (kids under 3 free; 3 to 10 years is £6.99) If your idea of heaven is mountains of food and you don’t care where it came from or why it’s so cheap, then you’ll probably love it here.
For me, the starter sharing platter was a flashback to a miserable Saturday job as the salad bar supervisor for a well-known pizza chain. A bread basket featured focaccia, pizza, cheese twists and, inexplicably, the top half of a burger bun.
Individual bowls were laid out before us like a kid-friendly version of the bushtucker trial. Sweetcorn, olives, beetroot, quinoa, salsa, guac, hummus, one slice each of chorizo and pepperoni and finally a green salad with one cherry tomato, halved. Homemade coleslaw with mustard, raisins and red onion was the best thing on the tray but we were determined not to eat too much of anything before all of that meat which lay ahead.
“Imagine the washing up in this place,” pondered my dinner date, watching a server juggle away the bread basket, two trays and ten bowls. I can’t help but wonder if a restaurant has something to hide when they serve food on black crockery. Give me a plain white dinner plate from Wilko any day.
The main course could have fed us twice. All of the different meats arrived together and fully cooked, served in a big metal tray on to hot stone that continued to cook it even more.
Lamb chops were tender and full of flavour, as was the sirloin steak, but they were the only things that we actually finished. Chicken wings are all about the sauce but these had no zing or BBQ depth about them. Pork belly wasn’t crispy, both chicken skewers had dried out and what I think was slow-cooked brisket of beef had a curious texture.
Smoked pork sausage and mini burger patties were nibbled and then left on the hot tray to carry on sizzling in their own fat. They say that revenge is a dish best served cold, but it felt like this American-Italian supper was never going to give up. Like the Mafia.
Side dishes were equally hit or miss. Mac n cheese, skin on chips and green beans in garlic butter were all bloody lovely. Onion rings were a bit squishy but that’s probably my fault for smothering them in a lukewarm peppercorn sauce. Mashed potato was deliciously creamy but not hot enough. Corn on the cob, overcooked and bland.
The highlight of my visit was an Evertonian delight, the boozy blue ‘Scouser’s cocktail’ with Liverpool gin, blue curacao and passionfruit liqueur (£7.99) which took the awkward edge off being seated at the biggest table for two I’ve ever encountered in my life. My dinner companion was so far away, they had to text me to ask the waiter for the bill.
I asked our host if the company had any other restaurants. He mentioned Jimmy’s at the O2 Arena in London (ed: not Jimmy’s opposite the Bombed Out Church) and said this was their first place in Liverpool. Smoke & Dough was founded by Sachin Bajpai and Deepak Bahuguna and a quick internet search shows that Bajpai worked for none other than the Red Hot World Buffet company in 2012, when the brand won the Asian Business Awards Restaurant of the Year.
Three years after that, he and his brother Sal drew on their combined experience to go it alone. 2019 and Sachin and Deepak are now trying to convince me that their international bottomless BBQ is a unique new experience. I have no doubt that this latest venture will be packed out with crazed shoppers for the next few weeks, but I think I’ll only be back if I can grab another cocktail on the terrace in summer.
It’ll be like déjà vu. Again.
Smoke & Dough, The Terrace, Liverpool ONE L1 8JF
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Antipasti starter 6, lamb chops 8, steak 7, chicken wings 5, pork belly 3, chicken skewers 4, beef brisket 4, smoked sausage 3, burger patties 4, mac n cheese 6, skin on chips 9, green beans 8, onion rings 7, mashed potato 5, corn on the cob 4
Magnetic charm from the boss but staff looked a bit lost
Will be better when it’s busy