In October 2015, Leicester suffered a great loss to its bar scene when The Orange Tree Company’s OBar closed its doors. Not only did we lose a beloved bar outside of the hustle and bustle of the city centre that was one of Leicester’s first to focus on craft beers but we also lost a hidden gem in The Smokehouse. Situated upstairs at The Obar, The Smokehouse focused on barbecue style food in a cosy, romantic setting with friendly, passionate service, cooking locally sourced meats overnight in the smoker outside. 

The potential of the space at The Obar was a no brainer once head chef Liam Watson paid it a visit, he said: “it was a small intimate dining room that made the guests feel secluded, away from the city and like there was nothing else around. For a chef that’s a dream to work with, you have your guests’ attention completely.”

The trend of barbecue style smokehouse food was just taking off in London at the time, and after realised there was a gap in the market in Leicester and doing some research at restaurants such as Pitt Cue in London and Redz in Nottingham, Liam decided it was the perfect fit for the space above The Obar.

He said: “I took a bit of a crash course in how to barbecue but the style and ethos seemed so clear so early on. The core belief of the restaurant was the same from the first to the last night: good food from the smoker with American, English, French and pan Asian influences.”

So what’s Liam’s opinion on Leicester’s food scene which has flourished in the two years since the close of The Obar? Does he believe there is still a gap in the market for a smokehouse style restaurant? “I think the Leicester dining scene is as strong as it’s ever been with some amazing operators working very hard: King Richard, Crafty, The White Peacock. You don’t have to travel far outside the city to find some brilliant food and service but I was missing The Smokehouse and it seemed like fun to find out if other people were too.”

Now, after a two and a half year hiatus, The Smokehouse is back in the form of The Pop-Up Smokehouse; and opened up shop for two nights at The Rutland & Derby in April.

“I’d been looking for my own project for a while, all of sudden there was a venue willing to hold events, a team capable of producing a great night and the time to actually make it happen.”

Since the announcement on the restaurant’s old Facebook page, the response from old regulars was fantastic: bursting with excitement to once again indulge in The Smokehouse’s famous creamy mashed potato with garlic butter and meaty gravy, mouth-watering mac and cheese and succulent brisket beef.

“We were completely booked out for two nights within 36 hours of announcing them! I thought a few people would come for a bit of nostalgia, but it’s been so wonderful the amount of people who were happy we were back.

“I thought we could do one event, have some fun and move on, but the response has been so strong all of a sudden there are so many options open to us. I want to keep doing the kitchen takeovers as they offer such a free base of creativity where we can do anything we like.” 

Aside from the aforementioned classic dishes, The Smokehouse was known for changing its menu to suit seasons and developing the variety of meats, vegetarian options and desserts so that regulars always had something new to try each visit. This is also what we will expect from The Pop-Up Smokehouse – old classics and new dishes to try out.  

Liam said: “You will see the dishes that made The Smokehouse, especially at the start when people are having their first meal back with us. But as we go on the menu will develop as it always has, we have four or five new dishes for the first event in one form or another.

Keep up to date with The Pop-Up Smokehouse locations on their Facebook page and their website thepopupsmokehouse.com 

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Natasha is a 21 year old Journalism graduate from Birmingham. Interests include live music, food and drink, cats and The Simpsons.

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