Little Smoke – a new Noble Inns venture with a focus on native and rare breed meat – is a must-visit for City-based carnivores. Founder Scott Hunter gives us the lowdown
Words Elysia Agnew
We love the concept of a restaurant that specialises in working with whole animals. What else can you tell us about Little Smoke?
We have a blackboard in Smokehouse that we use for all the steaks, chops and big cuts of meat from the various animals we butcher. This supplements the a la carte menu but has become incredibly popular over the years with guests even calling before service to find out what we have for the night and asking to reserve certain dishes. Little Smoke is essentially a restaurant dedicated to the Smokehouse blackboard, a nose to tail barbecue restaurant if you will. We source and butcher the best rare and native breed animals in the country and then do as little to the meat as possible.
The prime cuts are cooked over charcoal and the secondary cuts go in the smoker with English Oak. You wouldn’t think it if you saw all our menus, but I eat mostly vegetarian food and I liked the idea of having vegetarian sides rather than the usual suspects so we have a very strong selection of mostly vegetarian small plates to go with the meat. The wine list is 100% from small family growers and co-operatives of small family growers as I like to work with companies like ours at every opportunity and believe strongly in supporting small businesses.
What makes Little Smoke unique from your other ventures: Smokehouse, The Pig and Butcher and Princess of Shoreditch?
Little Smoke has no a la carte menu. It is a fairly small restaurant with an even smaller kitchen and in order to serve food to the level we and our guests expect, we simply couldn’t do an a la carte menu. The entire menu is written on the blackboards and as there are limited numbers of each cut the offering is different every night as we work our way through the animals.
How do you balance your time between all the restaurants under the Noble Inns umbrella?
Poorly! I try to dedicate a day a week to each site but struggle to do so. I tend to get drawn to where I think the issues are or where we have a big project ongoing. The nature of running your own business also means you have a lot of red tape and admin to complete. I like getting my hands dirty and try to avoid as much of this as possible but unfortunately you can’t ignore all of it. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a team of very talented and passionate people. The reason we are successful is very much down to team effort!
How do you source your produce and create relationships with independent farmers?
Through word of mouth mostly. A farmer who specialises in rare breeds and has top welfare standards often knows other farmers with equally good standards and similar breeds. The nature of what we do with whole animal butchery means we can work with farmers that most restaurants can’t as we will often buy a farms yearly supply and don’t just want the prime cuts. We then keep these relationships going through old fashioned values and courtesy.
Your daily-changing menu is a huge draw, where do you get your inspiration and ideas from?
Both come from anywhere and everywhere. Eating out and seeing what’s going on in the industry plus regular trips abroad to our favourite food destinations keeps us on our toes and provides us with inspirations and ideas.
At the end of the day good food is good food and the bigger the flavour the better as far as I’m concerned! Little Smoke draws a lot of inspiration from South America for the meat and the middle east and northern Africa for the vegetarian small plates.
What is the vibe inside Little Smoke?
Very similar to all our places. Dark, cosy and fairly informal with a playful soundtrack!
What can diners look forward to at this new restaurant?
An interesting take on the traditional steak house or smoke house format and the best meat the country has to offer!
Your favourite dish?
My favourite dish at Little Smoke would be a pork t-bone with a couple of the vegetarian sides. Specifically the burnt & crunchy sweetcorn, chipotle & apple salsa verde and the roasted sweet potato, feta, harissa, crispy garlic & almonds.
What was your route into the industry?
Like many people I fell into it while working part time as a student. That was in the mid to late nineties and the industry was very different to the one we work in now. Back then it was rare for people to aspire to work in bars, restaurants or kitchens. I worked behind the bar and enjoyed the interaction with people from all walks of life.
After a few years I decided to take it seriously and progressed through the ranks and ended up running bars and restaurants in the City and West End. I was always adamant I wanted my own restaurant and possibly a small group, so saved as much as I could and in 2007 took the plunge. I sold my flat, used every penny I had (and didn’t have for that matter), found an investor and spent a year working at festivals and events while trying to find a site. We took over The Princess in 2008 just after Lehman Brothers went bust and the markets went into free fall. I remember being told constantly what a bad idea it was to buy the pub and that we should walk away while we could…