After they won the Newcomer Catey award, all eyes are on Aaron Webster and Remi Williams. James Stagg reports
Expectations are high for Smoke & Salt. Having taken on the shipping container in London’s Pop Brixton vacated by Kricket, which moved to a bricks and mortar site in London’s Soho before opening a second site in Brixton, chef founders Aaron Webster and Remi Williams have an established path to follow, even if they plan to plot their own trajectory.
The pair, who last week won the Newcomer Catey, met while working at the Gladwin Brothers’ the Shed in London’s Notting Hill, where they shared a passion for the now in-vogue preservation techniques such as fermenting, pickling, curing and brining.
“They were things we wanted to do but, due to menu constraints and the volume of people, we couldn’t do as much as we’d like,” Williams says.
So they started running supper clubs to share what they’d been working on. Their popularity gave the pair the confidence to strike out alone, first in a year-long residency at Islington’s Chapel Bar and now Pop Brixton.
Located in a 20-cover shipping container with a couple more tables on the terrace, there’s limited room to manoeuvre in the kitchen.
“We’re in a tight space at the back of the container, but the preservation techniques mean we can do the mise en place well ahead of service,” Webster adds. “There’s not as much charcuterie and curing as I’d like, but we’re doing as much with the space as we can.”
From here Webster and Williams, working with two part-time chefs, deliver an accessible six-course seasonal menu for £25 per person, alongside a brief à la carte offer with three starter options, three vegetable, three meat and three fish dishes, along with one dessert. Alex Winch, who met the pair at the Shed, takes charge front of house, and selects two white and two red wines, along with a range of seasonal cocktails that change with the menus.
“The menus change every two months, to ensure they are as seasonal as possible,” Williams says. “Some ingredients may come into or go out of season, so it can be changed in between too, but it’s a wholesale menu change, including cocktails and wine, every two months.
“With pricing we had to be competitive as we’re surrounded by street food traders. So we try to be accessible in what we are cooking.”
Webster adds that Smoke & Salt works hard to use only British produce. He adds: “For instance, we have a cornbread dish (Inghams Farm cornbread, English peas, charred onion, mint) which uses British milled corn from a supplier in Surrey who mills it and posts to us.”
They also use an organisation called Foodchain, which directly links chefs and suppliers. Right now a seasonal vegetable dish comprises cucumber, turnip and radish. It doesn’t sound like an inspirational combination, but the blend of braised and raw radish, grilled turnips and cucumber packs a punch of freshness and a variety of textures, set off by the acidic umami of the fermented cucumber dressing.
A market fish ceviche is served with rhubarb, scotch bonnet and broad beans to deliver a delicate flavour again enhanced by acidic undertones, this time from citrus, while barbecued monkfish comes on top of dressed sea herbs and sprinkled with powdered kombu.
Although dishes change every eight weeks, one that has stayed on the menu since opening is new potatoes with beef heart, chimichurri and Gorgonzola. The beef heart is marinated in chimichurri made with parsley, mint, coriander, spring onion, jalapeño, garlic, rice wine vinegar and olive oil, before being grilled.
“It’s a good way of using offal,” says Webster. “It harks back to when we used to do a lot of butchery at the Shed and use all of the animal.”
Only one sauce is evident on the intentionally light-touch menu, and that’s a bloody mary hot sauce that accompanies pig cheek and sourdough onion rings – with no evidence of butter use, other than the whipped offering available with introductory sourdough bread.
While Webster and Williams are constantly searching for new flavour combinations from seasonal ingredients, they’re also on the hunt for a permanent site.
“We’re trying to get the business plan and financials together, which is a challenge when we’re so busy,” Williams explains. “We’re targeting a bricks and mortar restaurant by early next year – and we’d love to stay in Brixton.”
From £25 seasonal menu
Sourdough bread and whipped butter
• Runner beans, smoked mussels and remoulade
• Market fish ceviche, outdoor rhubarb and broad beans
• New potatoes and beef heart, chimichurri and Gorgonzola
• Spring vegetables: cucumber, turnip, radish, sesame
• Pig cheek, sourdough onion rings with bloody mary hot sauce
• Banana and miso, chocolate tofu and banana custard
Smoke & Salt, 49 Brixton Station Road,
London SW9 8PQ