This week’s review is about Hickory’s Smokehouse in Hutton, a restaurant that I was jubilant to finally visit, as the food on their website looked and sounded amazing. I think I might even have got a whiff of herby smoke through the screen, although my window was open so it could just have been my neighbour who is very keen on herbs and partial to a Camberwell Carrot.Advertisement
Despite it being a Tuesday evening the large restaurant was packed with couples, families, and children, giving it an upbeat, noisy atmosphere. We were shown to a table and given a bag of popcorn to share by a cheerful waiter who skillfully managed to replicate American Southern hospitality without the banjos.
As the American South is legendary for its squealing piggies, huge food portions and a penchant to deep fry anything they can’t pin down on a barbecue, we skipped the starters and went straight to the mains.
I ordered the Go Big or Go Home burger for £21.50. This is described on the menu as three toasted buns, two prime-beef patties, a Southern fried chicken fillet, streaky bacon, magic-dusted pork collar, a hash brown and three slices of American style cheese, plus lettuce, tomato, pickled red onions, pickles and Hickory’s burger sauce with coleslaw and fries. There wasn’t any salt or pepper on the tables, so I gave a “yes, please” when asked if I would like magic dust seasoning on my fries.
My plate of food wouldn’t have looked out of place on an episode of Man v. Food, with the burger skewered to the board with a steak knife, which is just how they’re served and not because they knew why I was there. The fries were good – fresh, crunchy and hot – though they could have done with some salt as only the top few benefited from the extremely light sprinkling of magic dust.
The beef patties were juicy, with a good char on them, and the smokey pork collar had lots of woody flavour, although it was a little dry. The Southern fried chicken fillet was also dry, and hard bordering on uncomfortably spiky to eat, whilst a pale, mushy hash brown looked like it’d recently had its arse handed to it by the chicken for spilling its Budweiser.
I’d never had a Scooby Doo sized burger before, so it was on me that I didn’t consider the downside of one that was stacked so high with different items: it was so tall that it had to be disassembled to eat, which made it impossible to get all of the flavours and textures together.
The ratio of pickles, tomato and Hickory’s burger sauce – which might have added oomph and a little moisture to the pork, bacon and chicken – wasn’t enough. It could have been saved by some table sauces and more seasoning but, despite requesting them several times from different members of staff, they only arrived a short time before we’d finished eating.
It’s only a small oversight from each of the waiters who were otherwise whizzing around working hard and doing well, but it resulted in our food getting colder and no less bland as we waited, making it less enjoyable than it should have been when we finally gave up and ate it without.
My companion ordered the Chicken Fried Waffle at £14.50: A freshly made waffle topped with Southern fried chicken and maple candied streaky bacon.
All items were present, with a generous pot of syrup beside a light, fluffy waffle, but the amount of chicken and bacon was disappointing. Again, the chicken was dry and overcooked to the point of some blackness at the ends, and it was perched on the lonely expanse of waffle like a Mr Man’s hat. It was underwhelming enough to behold, especially next my perky burger, that if the noise of sad trumpets was a facial expression, the man sitting opposite me was parping it like a boss.
Unfortunately, we weren’t asked if our meal was alright until it was being cleared, despite most of my food and some of my friend’s being uneaten, and after we’d requested the bill. When we mentioned that the portion of chicken was very small, the waiter agreed and told us that had been mentioned a few times before.
When the bill arrived, it had a £7.50 tip automatically added onto it. There was also a £1 charge for the seasoning, which wasn’t mentioned when we were asked if we wanted it, and as there was no sign of salt and pepper on any of the tables we figured that was just the way it came.
Previously I’d have assumed that charging £1 for such a minuscule waft of powder would hint that the descriptor “finest Colombian” was missing from the front of the words “magic dust”. But it was just seasoning, which would be more acceptably priced if it was brought to the table in a tiny pinch pot or a couple of sachets so customers could at least add enough for their taste.
There were many good things about our evening meal. It wasn’t disastrous, just disappointing for the price considering the small portion size of the chicken, the lack of attention by the kitchen for how the food is sent out and the patchy service that made it impossible to remedy any problems on the evening of our visit.
However, the packed restaurant and rave reviews by other customers indicates that Hickory’s is getting far more things right than it got wrong on my visit.
This also became evident in the response by the management to feedback that was requested from me after my visit. I didn’t mention in my reply that I’d been there to review the restaurant, so the unexpected phone call that I received was one that would be given to any customer who wasn’t entirely happy with their experience. It was a friendly exchange, with the manager making every effort to find out what went wrong and how it could be put right, which was all that could be asked from a restaurant.
For those reasons I’d give them another go, especially when the weather warms up, as the outside seating booths with complimentary blankets look fun. Next time I’ll steer clear of the chicken and the Go Big burger in favour of a regular beef burger with just a few trimmings, or the slow cooked brisket, because I think that’s where the flavours of a smokehouse will shine through the most.
Have you gone big in a Smokehouse instead of going home? Let us know how many more hours of Community Service you’ve got left to do in the comments.