We all know Smoke Works. It’s been a Cambridge institution for some time now, offering American style BBQ food and a great selection of beer on tap.
I haven’t been since my first visit to their Free School Lane venue in 2015. The restaurant really impressed me back then despite the disabled access which was restricted due to the historic limitations of the building, so I was really excited to see how far they had come in this time.
Upon entering, the place looks fantastic. A real gritty American style BBQ with lots going on. I have always thought that this would be the ideal place for a birthday event as it has a great bar, long tables, and a lively vibe.
The menu came with all the things you’d expect a BBQ place to serve. Ribs, wings, sausage, loaded fries, cole slaw, etc. Prices are about right and the menu was easy to understand.
They had some superb beers on tap too, including some of my favourites such as Juice Rocket by local brewery Three Blind Mice. I also noticed Big Bang Theory by Nene Valley. There was also Roadkill New England IPA, Smoke Vurks by my favourite Brewery Brew Board, and Neck Oil by Beavertown.
I went with what I knew and had a Juice Rocket by Three Blind Mice. I must admit, this tasted better than my visit to Drayman’s Sons a few weeks ago, which means they do great work in looking after their beers.
We went with some smoked “mac n cheese” fritters which came to £6.50. This came with an absolutely lovely BBQ dip. I thought they were really meaty, a good size and perfect to share between two people.
It’s worth noting at this point that the staff here were simply excellent. They were some of the most attentive staff I’ve met in a long time and were overly polite and energetic.
Smoke Works uses a switch system where the table can call for help by flicking a switch. I really liked this system, especially considering the staff were at our table almost as quick as the light switched on. We really couldn’t fault the service!
After slaving away at their “Mac n cheese” fritters, I decided to quench my thirst with a Big Bang Theory by Nene Valley. This is a perfectly balanced pale ale which is versatile enough to go with any of the food served at Smoke Works. I’m not sure if this was selected intentionally but it’s a great addition to our meal.
Everything at Smoke Works had been exceptional to this point, with the service, the beer, the interior, and the overall atmosphere of the restaurant being second to none. However, as the mains came out we couldn’t help but feel like the food was not meeting the standards of everything else.
My wife decided to go for the chicken burger with fries. This was by no means a bad meal but she felt underwhelmed by it. She also felt the garlic sauce was “not very garlicky”.
I went for the ribs and wings combo. This came with an absolutely fantastic coleslaw with a very succulent corn on the cob. The ribs lacked any serious meat which was disappointing. The wings were quite anemic too but were saved by a lovely spicy sauce.
Reading this, you may feel like I’m being too harsh but there was nothing wrong with the meal. Personally, I feel the restaurant is a victim of its own success by offering absolute sensational service, a brilliant atmosphere, and a superb selection of locally sourced craft beer. In order for the food to keep up would have to be extraordinary but it felt average. It was a disappointment set by the high expectations of the experience.
Not only does Smoke Works do so much right…but does it absolutely perfect. It just falls flat on the one thing it’s set out to do, BBQ. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Daniels Dips Sauce hot wings and ribs but I can’t help but feel like they didn’t quite meet the expectations they set for themselves.
I still absolutely recommend this restaurant. It’s the perfect place to start off a night out or have a party but if you are a foodie looking for a high end BBQ then I can’t help but feel like there could be better alternatives out there.
There is no doubt I’ll be back in the future and I can’t wait to do so!
Thanks for reading!