Restaurant review: Holy Smoke, Cork

Holy Smoke is the latest such venture, with talented young Kerry chef John Relihan, formerly head chef of Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa restaurant in London, at the helm.

Some few years ago, Mike Corcoran snapped the ringpull, took a healthy swallow, and then jammed the can of Guinness up the brined chicken’s butt before placing it on the grill in his backyard — and that, more or less, began my splendid introduction to the pleasures of barbecued food.

Chicago-born Mike ‘Pitmaster Mick’ Corcoran is a professional chef specialising in low’n‘slow BBQ — cooked over a brick-lined pit dug into the ground, hence the nickname Pitmaster. 

A great-great-grandson of an immigrant from Cork who settled in Tennessee, where Mike still has clan, he squared the circle by coming ‘home’ to Cork several years ago, opening a BBQ outlet in Clonakilty quite ahead of the curve.

Mike taught me to appreciate the elemental simplicity of fire cooking and to relish the sublime marriage of good meat and selected woodsmoke. 

But it will never be my everyday preference. 

With the original red-bricked, rounded ceilings of the former bonded warehouses, casual industrial chic was an obvious design choice.
With the original red-bricked, rounded ceilings of the former bonded warehouses, casual industrial chic was an obvious design choice.

A delicate flower, I ultimately prefer finer nuances of flavour and texture over the boisterous notes of BBQ and traditional American sides — accompanying dishes often high in carbs and low in imagination. 

All of which leads me to conclude, having reviewed a surfeit of BBQ restaurants over recent months, I am still catching up with a Cork deeply immersed in a localised version of a global trend.

Holy Smoke is the latest such venture, with talented young Kerry chef John Relihan, formerly head chef of Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa restaurant in London, at the helm. 

Part of the Mardyke entertainment complex, it sits to the rear of The Porterhouse craft beer pub, an open archway obviously designed to encourage a free-flow of traffic betwixt the pair. 

With the original red-bricked, rounded old ceilings of the former bonded warehouses clearly visible, casual industrial chic was an obvious interior design choice; naked ‘vintage’ lightbulbs dangle artlessly from red cabling and the room is sectioned with metal wire grills. 

Even at 5.30pm on a Sunday, the place soon fills up with a lively young clientele.

Our waitress advises BBQ Blowout (€24.50) served family style. 

It is more than adequate for grown-up No 1 Son and I, but the volume of food (Brisket Burnt Ends, Dry Rub Baby Back Ribs, Pit Smoked BBQ Chicken, Pulled Pork) still takes the breath away, rendering Dearly Beloved’s separate order of Pit Smoked Chicken redundant. 

Ribs are flavoursome and chewy while pulled pork is sweet and tender; brisket a beefy version of same.

Chicken, on the other hand, despite being “smoked over fruit wood for four hours and chargrilled under a brick”, requires a knife to make inroads into anticipated tender leg meat. 

The smoking translates as a sharp note in the flesh, spice never breaching the surface skin. We three adults take a bite apiece and don’t return.

Sides are a pleasant surprise, including crisp skinny fries, cornbread as springy as madeira cake, and a bright, clean Naked ’Slaw of celeriac, kohlrabi, and Granny Smith apple. 

The charcoal-roasted squash, roast harissa, yoghurt, and crushed hazelnut is commendable in ambition but disappointing in execution, with none of the caramelised sugars that come from slow roasting squash and constituent ingredients marrying.

Our two junior representatives opt for decent little cheeseburgers and top marks should be awarded for offering additive-free soft drinks. 

Considering the urban BBQ craze is greatly wedded to the modern craft beer movement, offering a solitary draught independent Irish craft beer on the drinks list seems to be rather missing a trick, especially with so many fine beers on tap through the archway. 

No 1 Son and I enjoy bottled Black’s Kinsale Ale before we three adults split an average Malbec from a bare bones wine list, understandable when you notice all other diners favour beer.

Service is pleasant though a tad more experience would have seen our otherwise obliging waitresses ask why we so obviously rejected the chicken, but an eye-poppingly low bill for such a volume of food and drink proves distracting.

It has to be said, we pass a nice evening and with yet another apocalyptic flood filling the city streets outside, Holy Smoke should prove a popular venue for ‘Irish summer’ barbecues.

THE TAB

Opening Hours: Wednesday/Thursday, 5pm to 10.30pm; Friday, 5pm to 11.30pm; Saturday, 4pm to 11.30pm; Sunday, 4pm to 10pm

The Tab: €96 (excluding tip)

The Verdict

Food: 6.5/10

Service: 7/10

Value: 7/10

Atmosphere: 8.5/10

Tagline: “…Holy Smoke should prove a popular venue for ‘Irish summer’ barbecues.”

Holy Smoke, Little Hanover Street, Cork, 021 4273000,       www.facebook.com/holysmokecork 


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