Restaurant Review: The Hudson Smokehouse, St Helens

Now, I’ve been wanting to try this place out since it opened earlier this year because it has always looked like my sort of place from the street. If I’m honest to finally book a table I had to overcome a little snobbery over the location. Please don’t get me wrong, I love St Helens. It’s my hometown and it’s where Mrs Munkee grew up so I love it. It has a rich history of thriving industry and it feeds off the greatest sport on earth, rugby league and it is a brilliant town. However, St Helens isn’t known for its fantastic eateries and this place stood out like a sore thumb amongst a sea of Pound Shops and To Let signs.

Having said that the St Helens food image is never going to change if it isn’t able to attract new, trendy eateries like this so I want to be supporting food in my town.

 Rating: 7.5/10

First Impressions

I’m a big believer in the power of first impressions when I’m eating out; they set the mood for the whole experience. This is what I refer to as the MOFI (or moment of first impact). I don’t want someone falling over themselves to take my coat off my back or scoop Mrs Munkee up in a politely situated chair but I just want to be made to feel welcome and have the ambience set by my surroundings. The Hudson did this extremely well. The décor, music and general ambience really drew me in.

Imagine the scene: there’s floor to ceiling wooden panelling adorned with authentic road signs, overlooking subtly-lit, reclaimed wooden furniture and an impressively ornate and well-stocked bourbon bar with the liquor bottles bouncing the light back with interest. The toe-tapping music perfectly compliments the visual feast with a healthy helping of Southern Soul. Brilliant.

The only thing that would have enhanced my experience was if it was a little busier to create the buzz of chatter and banter. Unfortunately it was painfully quiet for a Sunday afternoon, which is a real shame.

Service

The service was fantastic. Our waitress was enthusiastic, helpful and knowledgeable. I couldn’t ask for anything more from a server.

Feed

This is the crunch for any Food Adventure: how good was the food?

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Menu

The menu was perfect in my opinion. It wasn’t so vast that it overfaced you but there was sufficient, well-priced, choice for most palates and appetites. I must also commend the drinks menu. Any beer list that contains Quilmes and Hoegaarden is a winner in my book!

First Course – Mac & Cheese Balls and Nachos

Mrs Munkee and I opted to share a couple of starters between us. The visual impact of both these dishes was fantastic. The Nachos were like garden trowels and loaded with salsa, guacamole and jalapenos. The Mac & Cheese Balls were a great twist on arancini and certainly were the size of satsumas as they should be.

The flavours in the Nacho bowl was spot on and the large chips were perfect for scooping without the risk of getting a handful of finger-staining salsa dip! The guacamole in particular was fabulous. It was the ideal creamy combination of avocado, garlic and chilli.

I enjoyed the Mac & Cheese Balls with a light, crispy coating and stodgy macaroni cheese. However, the middle of both balls was filled with raw cheese. If this had been cooked longer the molten cheese would have served the rest of the arancini perfectly.

Smoke House Classic

Once again, the visual impact of the dish was impressive. The tower of bread, meat patty and onion rings cast a shadow over a vibrant coleslaw and a bucket of beautifully coloured sweet potato chips.

The burger itself was simple but effective with just a lettuce and tomato garnish. The meat was well seasoned but did get a little dry towards the end of the plate and would have benefitted from some sauce in the bun to save my saliva glands.

The sweet potato chips were superb. Well seasoned, coloured and cooked to a very high standard. These golden batons were offset by a vibrant red cabbage coleslaw that cut through any residual grease with a smooth vinegary salad.

Overall Experience

I loved it! I don’t want to be too critical of the food because it was a quiet kitchen. However I really enjoyed the overall experience. The food, the drink and the whole ambience was brilliant and definitely what St Helens needs if it’s going to build a food presence that doesn’t involve beer and a burger for less than £5!

Verdict – in a word, soulful! I was enraptured by the Deep South Louisiana vibe. If those two minor food elements were rectified I may have been giving out my first Northern Munkee Bites 10 out of 10. Although it pains me to say this, if The Hudson Smoke House was in Northern Quarter in Manchester it would be winning award after award and thriving every night. So I guess what it needs is the people of Merseyside and (dare I say it) Lancashire to venture into St Helens and give it a try…you won’t be disappointed!

Northern Munkee.

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Pudding it into Christmas!

This week’s entry is inspired by a disagreement between my wife and I over the Christmas Lunch menu…
Now, just for a bit of context, I’d like to make the point that I am a proud Yorkshireman. I grew up under the White Rose and I will always have flat caps and whippets in my blood. I now live on the darker side of the Pennines in St Helens, which is where my wife hails from, and she is a proud Wooly Back. It’s safe to say that they do things differently over here so when it came to planning our Christmas meal this sparked a conflict of opinions. To Pudding or not to Pudding?
My thoughts are that Yorkshires are for Sunday roasts only; the Christmas dinner table is full of all the trimmings and doesn’t need a lardy pancake. My wife, however, believes that puddings are a natural fit to the meal. I can see her point but I still disagree so I wanted to turn to the world for support (or otherwise) on the subject.
So my question is: what is the pudding etiquette (or ‘petiquette’ for those who enjoy elision)?
Traditionally Yorkshires started their life serving a very different purpose. Most regions had their own version of this treat but it’s most familiar guise is in Yorkshire. They were designed as a fatty food to fuel the mine and mill workers in the county’s industries and would have been much bigger than the ones we serve today; they may have even been flavoured with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
The only direction I can find on petiquette was to do with height, as introduced by the Royal Society of Chemistry in November 2008 stating that a Yorkshire pudding can only be a Yorkshire pudding if it is at least 4 inches tall. Whilst this was quite interesting, it didn’t help my conundrum.
Growing up, I was aware that Yorkshires were eaten in different ways though. I had friends, albeit from deepest darkest Barnsley, who would enjoy the batter pudding as a separate course with a vinegar and mint sauce. I also know of many pubs who would serve in a similar fashion but as a bar snack.
So, after about 30 minutes of indignant e-research, I relented. There is no such thing as petiquette and a pudding is a pudding is a pudding. However I strongly believe that there is pudding treason (or ‘peason’ to continue the theme). So my wife and I, like all good teams, found a compromise. Which was: if you’re going to serve Yorkshires, do the history justice and make them and do it properly. They’re really easy and impressive there’s no need to buy any readymade monstrosities; Aunt Bessie is no friend of the Yorkshire!
To help save you from committing peason I’ve included my favourite recipe for beautifully fluffy homemade puddings passed down by the Yorkshire chef, David Greenwood-Haigh:

‘The secret to making Yorkshires, as they are fondly known, is to pour well rested, cold batter into slightly smoking hot fat and put immediately back into a really hot oven. It is as simple as that.

Ingredients

  • 20g Beef dripping
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 200 g plain flour
  • 200 ml milk
  • 100 ml water
  • freshly ground sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 225°C/425°F/gas 9.

Get a pudding or muffin tin and grease each of the compartments with the dripping.

Put the tray into the oven for 10 to 15 minutes so the fat gets really hot; you should be looking for a blue haze just above the fat.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs, flour, milk, water and a pinch of salt and pepper together in a bowl until light and smooth. Then pour into a jug.

**Northern Munkee tip: add in a couple of splashes of cider vinegar to your batter before you let it rest, it adds a great juxtaposition in flavours and it tastes bloody lovely!**

Carefully remove the tray from the oven, then share out the batter evenly into the compartments. Put the tray back in the oven to cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until risen and golden.’

Fore more recipes from David visit: http://www.coeurdexocolat.co.uk/recipes

Happy Christmas and have a brilliant New Year!

Northern Munkee