Before we begin…
I sat down to write this post a few weeks ago, on the day of the Champions League final in Cardiff. I had come home after a lovely day out with my family, and quickly drafted this post about my delicious lunch at Hang Fire. The plan was to get the text together on Saturday, and polish & publish it on Sunday.
When I woke up the next morning though, the first thing I saw on my phone was the news about the London Bridge terror attack.
Having moved from London so recently, this hit hard. I had been in Borough Market exactly one week earlier, catching up with my Aunt, wandering around the market stalls, and trying as many freebies as possible. Knowing this horrendous crime had been committed in one of my favourite spots in what was, until very recently, my hometown, it seemed frivolous and silly to post about food. So I decided to wait and share the post in a few weeks.
Less than two weeks later came the absolutely chilling news about Grenfell Tower, with its stories of those who survived and those who so sadly did not. Those who lived through the horror and those who were unable to escape. I had passed this tower many times; on my way to work and when visiting a friend who lived in the neighborhood. That this could have been prevented is unspeakably awful. Again I decided to wait.
Less than a week later, I woke up to the news of the Finsbury Park terror attack. Another hired van deliberately driven into innocent people, worshippers leaving a mosque, where I understand that there had been a celebration that evening of the life of Jo Cox MP, as part of the Great Get Together.
London, Manchester, the UK. It’s been an awful month. I wish I could just give the whole of the UK a hug.
I don’t know how many more mornings in my life I will wake up to utter tragedy and senseless loss of life, whether caused deliberately or though complacency or negligence.
I don’t really know how to put in words what I feel about all of this; but what I do want to say is, thank you. Thank you to our police, our firefighters, our doctors, our nurses, our paramedics, our wonderful overstretched NHS, to those who ran in to help, to those who threw pint glasses and skateboards and whatever they could. To those who donated their clothes and belongings and rooms in their houses and their time and money. To those who condemned these acts, to everyone who believes and shows and embodies the fact that love trumps hate. To those who even in the times of their worst loss imaginable urged us to come closer together as a community and not to let this beat any of us.
So, frivolous as it may be, this blog is one of my ways of connecting with my new community in Cardiff; but this post is sent with all my love to London.
3 June 2017
Today was a very exciting day. Today, I finally got to experience the deliciousness that is Hang Fire Smokehouse…
But before we get started on that, let me back up a bit. My mum and stepdad are over visiting me from Australia so I’ve been saving up lots of lovely Cardiff touristy things to do when they were over – we’ve been to Castell Coch, eaten at The Classroom and Pettigrew Tearooms, meandered through Roath Park and attempted to visit Cardiff Castle (thwarted by football!). But of all the things I wanted to do, Hang Fire has been at the top of my list since moving here at the beginning of the year.
Southern American BBQ has long been a love of mine, albeit one that has probably not come from a particularly authentic source and I must admit, I don’t remember this kind of food being particularly widespread in my youth. As an Aussie I’m not too bad with the traditional turn-and-burn BBQ, but haven’t ever really attempted the slow-and-low style cooking which brings out the tender deliciousness of ribs or brisket. I do remember visiting Tony Roma’s on a trip to Disneyland back in 2004 and while I’m sure I’d had ribs before then, it made enough of an impact that when they finally opened up a restaurant in Sydney, I drove there specifically for the ribby goodness. After that, whenever I saw ribs on the menu, that was my decision made. Even recently I’ve been eating ribs in Cardiff Bay…
Then came the pulled pork revolution; you know the one I mean, where all of a sudden, pulled pork was everywhere – in buns, topping burgers, as a side, as a main. Some good, some not so good, and usually smothered in sweet smoky sauce to cover up blandness or dryness.
Things changed for me when I bought my dad a copy of the Pitt Cue Co. cookbook for Christmas one year. It was a bit of an accidental purchase – I had wanted to buy him a different book on making all sorts of food from scratch, but it was out of stock and the Pitt Cue Co. one caught my eye. He’d been perfecting his wood-fired cooking techniques and I thought maybe the BBQ would be a nice change of pace… well, let’s just say that every time I go back to Canberra now we end up around a table creaking under the weight of ribs, pulled pork, slaw, corn on the cob, and about a bazillion homemade sauces. I think it’s fair to say that he enjoyed the cookbook! It’s fun, sociable and delicious food that everyone loves eating and can be joyfully shared.
When I got married a few years ago, and my family came over from Australia, the one thing dad wanted to do was go to the original Pitt Cue Co. in central London. After waiting an hour and a half for a table in the teeny tiny (24 seater) restaurant, we were finally seated and I had my first ‘proper’ experience of a more authentic style of Southern American cooking. I don’t remember the detail of what we ate (if only I’d had a blog then to remind me) but I do remember it being delicious – enamel plates piled with sticky pulled pork and refreshing slaw; dense treacle-y rye bread, salted and dipped into thick black beef dripping; fork-tender crumbed jowl which fell apart when you looked at it; all topped off with delicious cocktails such as the Sidetruck (a Sidecar swapping the cognac for bourbon), one I still make regularly at home.
So you can imagine my excitement when I arrived in Cardiff and found out that there was a proper Southern American BBQ place with an absolutely stellar reputation. From what I know of Hang Fire (and please do correct me if I am wrong!) it was set up by Shauna and Sam, who travelled to the US to uncover the local secrets and bring these back to the UK (jealous, any?). Originally served as pop up street food, the legend of Hang Fire grew, before the restaurant in Barry was finally set up. I’ve seen a few food blogs who had pondered whether the quality of the food would be able to be maintained once the restaurant was established; while I can’t comment on what the food was like in the early days I know that the unanimous view was that the restaurant has gone from strength to strength and is a firm favourite of the Cardiff food bloggers. So after waiting for a bit of a special occasion to finally make the trip out to Barry (and booking quite far in advance!) I finally made it myself to the Smokehouse…
On entering the restaurant, we were cheerfully greeted by no less than three people, and shown to our table and offered drinks to start with. There were lots of lovely options on the menu; being a warm day I was contemplating a local cider but decided instead on the Baton Rouge, a rhubarb-scented gin & tonic, served in a deliciously large copa glass with plenty of ice.
Our very lovely waitress took us through the menu and explained that as we were new to Hang Fire, they recommended we include at least some of the smoked meats in our order as this is the local specialty. Enough said! Both the Returning Cardiffian (RC) and I immediately went for the Pit Boss, a tasting plate including ribs, pulled pork, brisket on Texas toast, Pit beans, slaw, pickles and fries. Mum opted for the Brisket & Burnt Ends; Dave, the lunch burger with extra salad.
The Pit Boss was served on a paper-topped tray, giving plenty of space for adding dipping sauces – there was BBQ sauce, espresso BBQ sauce and South Carolina mustard sauce already on the table. Ribs, which I have come to think of as being sauce-smothered, were sans sauce and topped instead with a dry rub, with a delicious crust on the meat which was super-tender inside, pulling cleanly and easily away from the bone.
The pulled pork was absolutely falling apart with tenderness, with a light coating of the traditional smoky-and-sweet BBQ sauce (I may have added a wee bit more). You could literally just pull it apart by nudging it with a fork. It was perfectly fatty and moist with a delicious smoky flavour.
Now, brisket isn’t something I’d previously had much of before and I wasn’t really sure what it expect. It came out as two slices, perfectly pink across with a dark ring around the edge, topping a thick slice of lightly toasted bread. It was exceptionally tender and went well with the espresso BBQ sauce. I also managed to sneak a bit of the burnt ends off my mum’s plate which was even better – again fork tender, falling apart and all caramelised smokiness.
Of course, the meats were the centrepiece of the meal but there were also plenty of sides. However, due to the limitations of my stomach, I didn’t go much beyond trying the excellent crispy fries and the pot of Pit beans (that’s valuable meat space!). But I did finish off the coleslaw and house pickles; the slaw was well balanced (read: not too onion-y) with a light tangy dressing that cut through the sweetness of the meat and sauces. Similarly, I really enjoyed the contrast of the pickles; I really am not a pickle person (every McDonald’s burger must have pickles removed before eating) but there were delicious, fresh pickles of cucumber, onion, celery and probably other veg as well that I ate without identifying…
After the meats came desserts…. I have long been coveting Hang Fire’s pecan pie via their Instagram feed
The problem was, all the desserts sounded amazing! Along with the pecan pie was a chocolate brownie (always a winner) but unusually, grilled peaches with salted caramel sauce and ice cream. I couldn’t decide, so whilst the RC was in the loo, I ordered us a slice of pie and the peaches to share (wife’s prerogative). The peaches were a refreshing touch, tender and sweet, coupled deliciously with the caramel sauce.
But oh! The pecan pie! I didn’t know that pecan pie could be like this. Caramelly, buttery, and topped with pecans, the short crust was topped with a warm filling of I-don’t-know-what-but-it-was-amazing (and full of butter and brown sugar). I was tempted to take the remainder of the pie home with me…
I think it’s fair to say I’ll be back (possibly tomorrow).