Barry’s smokehouse queens have been spreading the BBQ love at The Pumphouse for nearly a year now – but are they still the business?
If there’s anything to be learned from the apocalyptic maelstrom of heartbreak and doom that was 2016, it’s that a lot can change in a year.
We’ve gone from the first black President to the first orange one. We’ve lost Bowie, Prince and George Michael. Freddo prices have skyrocketed, and show no signs of slowing. The world has gone stark staring mad.
Sam and Shauna of Hangfire Southern Kitchen have seen their fair share of change too. This time last year they hadn’t even finished building their first bricks-and-mortar restaurant in Barry. Since then they’ve been pretty much booked solid from opening night onwards, published a cookbook, been on telly a bit and hung out with Cerys Matthews.
Business is clearly still booming – even in the traditionally lean month of January they’re pulling in the punters to such an extent that the easiest way to get a table on a Saturday night is to hop into a nuclear powered Delorean and nip back in time three months.
But time is not always kind – that’s why my favourite shirt doesn’t fit anymore and my knees sound like rice krispies if I stand up too fast. After almost a year is Hangfire still consistently knocking out top notch Southern barbecue with a Welsh twist? After all, it’s not unusual for a restaurant to lose a little lustre after the first few months (examples will remain nameless, at least until I’m a bit pissed).
This weekend, me and @scruffyduke decided to trek over to deepest, darkest Barry to find out how Hangfire are faring in the run up to their first birthday. The things we put ourselves through for you people, eh?
There’s time for a swift cocktail while we wait for a table (a Hurricane to be exact – main ingredients rum, rum and a bit more rum), and once we’re installed we get the party started with some Smoked Wings. It’s good news right from the off; the meat falls obligingly off the bone, and the glaze makes even Hangfire’s stellar range of homemade sauces redundant here.
There’s a choice of two different glazes; ask for some of both, as they’re worlds apart – the Louisiana hot wings taste big and brassy as a New Orleans jazz band, while the Kansas City variety hits all those classic smoky sweet barbecue notes.
For starter number two we went with the Cheeky lil’ Pies – after all, meat and pies go together like… well, meat and pies, which is to say really bloody well.
Given the usual gut-busting portions on offer at HSK I was a bit wary of going down the pastry route, but was aggressively overruled thanks to @scruffyduke‘s Northern sensibilities.
They’re actually more like pasties or Spanish empanadas than pies. Stuffed with tender ox cheek and served with a pot of rich, beefy dipping gravy, they’re a bit of an unexpected treat – packed with meaty flavour and much lighter than you might think. Top tip – hang on to that gravy for later, because literally everything tastes better dunked in it – especially the brisket, which was the obvious choice for main course.
Brisket is the single best thing that you can make using fire and a cow, and Sam knows more about cooking it than most. So it comes as no surprise that it’s pretty much perfect. Glossy black bark? Check. Textbook pink smoke ring? Check.
It’s tender to the point of ridiculousness – a stern look is enough to slice it – and avoids the dryness that inferior imitations sometimes suffer from. That said, it works best slathered in plenty of rich, thick barbecue sauce (what doesn’t, other than trifle?).
But as good as the brisket is – and there’s certainly not been any perceptible drop in quality since last year – it’s the burnt ends that really steal the show.
Black as Welsh coal, but as soft and yielding as warm butter, the double-smoking process breaks down the fat so perfectly they’re practically self-saucing. But you don’t want to miss out on that homemade espresso sauce – the two pair so well they’re in danger of eloping before you’ve finished your chips.
Special mention must also go to the ribs, which came as part of @scruffyduke‘s Pit Boss Plate – they’ve somehow improved, while the pulled pork is a reminder of why everyone got so obsessed with the stuff in the first place.
Despite reaching wafer-thin-mint levels of fullness, we somehow squeezed in a bit of dessert. An impressively (mercifully?) light pumpkin pie with lashings of cinnamon cream was enough for two to share, but choose your dining partner carefully or it’ll end in violence.
So what’s the verdict? Has Hangfire stood the test of time? Clearly, unless you have severe reading comprehension problems, I think it has. It would have been easy for Sam and Shauna to take their eye off the ball by now. As the hoary old cliche would have it, a year is a long time in the restaurant business, so you could understand if they’d started to cut a few corners or go through the motions a little bit. Instead, and to their credit, you can still taste the love and enthusiasm in every meaty morsel.
The service is still excellent too – many of the staff have been there since the start, and they totally get the Hangfire vibe. Combined with epic food, that blend of knowing the menu inside out and making every punter feel like they’re special goes a long way to explaining why folks like us keep coming back.
Kudos ladies – you’re still smokin’…
Is Hangfire still a roaring success in 2017, or has it become a damp squib? Let me know in the comments below or over on Twitter at @fuudblog