It’s hard to express the delicious experience we had at Cardiff’s best pop-up restaurant, but smokin’ is a word that springs to mind. Every Thursday and Friday between 5 and 9pm, the Lansdowne Pub is taken over by Samantha Evans and Shauna Guinn’s Hang Fire Smokehouse, awakening the soul of southern- style BBQ through the “holy trinity of good times”: good food, good music and good beer. Once through the doors, we were transported by the sweet and smoky aromas, southern music and welcoming atmosphere that consumes this charming, local establishment on a weekly basis. The Lansdowne is Cardiff’s Camra Pub of 2014 in fact, and its marriage with this exciting venture is a match made in heaven.
Inspired by Sam and Shauna’s six and a half month American road-trip, from California to the Carolinas and “everywhere in between”, everything feels authentic. There they learnt the art of southern-style BBQ, a passionate and soulful way of life that invalidates Britain’s BBQ culture and hypnotizes each who get to experience it. Sam and Shauna’s zeal is intoxicating and we guarantee you’ll be amazed by what they have to offer.
It’s best to arrive before 8pm to be guaranteed a meal: “Once it’s gone, it’s gone. The food takes days to prepare and seconds to eat and everything is made from scratch – there are no shortcuts”. The result of their hard labour is a mouth-watering menu, inspired by Texan BBQ, where slow smoked meat is brought to your table for you to sauce with their trio of homemade sauces: sweet and classic ‘Kansas City BBQ’, uniquely delicious piccalilli and mustard hybrid ‘South-Carolina Mustard’ and my favourite, the ‘Texas Espresso BBQ’ and its bittersweet aftertaste.
But the sauces aren’t the main attraction. The menu is filled with meaty delights and “the only smoke house thing used to cook all of the meat is smoke – no grilling, no frying, no microwaving. All smoked”. 18-hour pulled pork, 14-hour brisket and 9-hour ribs, as well as half chickens and wings are all on offer but ‘The Hang Fire’ offers a variation and comes with two sides. It oozed sweet, smouldering vibes: tender, juicy pulled pork, sticky wings and smoky brisket, which is at its smokiest when its red ‘smoke ring’ is thick round its outside. Everything was bit into with ease and pleasure and went deliciously with every sauce. I loved the communal, casual feel to the whole experience: hands across the table, a bit of this with a bit of that, variations and combinations. It’s not only delicious, it’s fun.
The sides were beautiful: perfectly seasoned crisp yet fluffy fries were wonderful when dipped in the meaty BBQ beans, with its subtly spicy kick through its thick, sweet body. The house ‘slaw, which changes weekly, was a refreshing vinegary break from the sweet, smoky, meatiness of the meal and the moque chouz creole corn’s soft-crunchy texture and warming, comforting depth stood out amongst the rest.
It’s vital to turn up early. We were too late to sample their Memphis dry-shake ribs and burnt ends, also known as meat candy, which is twice smoked brisket that inspired the saying “need no teef with our beef” due to its melt- in-your-mouth texture which I’d imagine is as delicious as it sounds. We also missed out on their American-style desserts, which are made by a lady called Ira, from key lime or pecan pie to chocolate brownies.
The pub is a perfect setting for the venture, and the manager Binki Rees has put together a delicious choice of drinks to go with your BBQ experience, from smoked lager to sweet bourbon. I was truly amazed by the picklebacks, the two shots, one a sweet bourbon and the other a pickle juice. The idea is to down the bourbon first followed by the pickle juice, resulting in an unexpected sweet and sour sensation, each complimenting each other perfectly, and a perfect amuse-bouche before your meal.
“In America BBQ really is a culture, a complete way of life. Not really is it a community based food, it’s a real family affair. People eat BBQ for breakfast!” This heartfelt communal atmosphere is this pop-up’s underlying drive, whilst great food, music and drink take the spotlight. Sam and Shauna are clearly driven and passionate about food, and their experience is a reflection of this. “It’s food from the heart. BBQ is like the American soul food, the history goes back to black slaves in America buying cuts of meat, digging a hole in the ground, smoking them low and for a long time”. They should be proud that they’ve taken this feat to Wales and delivered an experience that is like no other in Cardiff.
American food culture boasts opportunities for innovation that don’t exist in Wales. Nevertheless, I’m happy to say that they’ve succeeded in bringing a piece of this culture with them. When asked what they had planned for the future I was pleased to hear that their future lies with the Lansdowne, as well as continuing their catering and hopefully bringing back their authentic ‘Wiener Wednesdays’ which I’m extremely eager to attend.
I don’t believe in over-indulgence when food is this good, and although I was weighed down afterwards, the soul, atmosphere and passion of Hang Fire is truly uplifting. American BBQ is on the rise in Britain and it’s great to see a particular branch of that trend burn brightly in the heart of South Wales. There really is no smoke without Hang Fire.