Tonight I ate at the newest place in Loughborough. I’d been aware that Fenways was coming for longer than most. As the previous marketing manager for the Orange tree group it’s been in the planning for a while and although I no longer work for the company, I’m pleased to see that it’s up and running. And, thanks to co-owner Pugsy’s eye for detail and the hard work of the entire team, it looks bloody awesome inside and out.
Die-hard Gingey fans will remember when I used to extol the virtues of my all time favourite restaurant in Leicester – The Smokehouse upstairs at The Obar. When it closed down in October 2015 I was totally gutted.
Fortunately, after a period of mourning which lasted from October 2015 to yesterday, 13 April 2017, I am happy to say that I am now in full recovery mode. Yep—you guessed it—Fenways is a bar and SMOKEHOUSE. Guessed right again, folks… Liam Watson, head chef and mastermind behind The Smokehouse is also the head chef at Fenways! Yaaaayyyyy!
We arrived tonight to a very busy restaurant and were seated at the bar which runs around the front of the open kitchen. It’s always a brave choice to go for an open kitchen and shows real confidence. We enjoyed watching Liam and Martin (2nd chef at The Smokehouse and head chef at Cured, Brewdog) run a busy service with efficiency and skill despite some teething problems with waiting staff and a backlog of orders.
The Fenways food menu is undeniably meaty although there are veggie and vegan options available. There is a great selection of burgers to choose from which I’m sure will appeal to the masses but for me, with memories of The Smokehouse running around my mind, I went straight to the ‘house-smoked’ section of the menu. This is where Liam excels. Juicy cuts of meat flavoured with house rubs and interesting accompaniments. Everything is home made here too – from the BBQ and hot sauces to the cornbread and meat rubs.
Dave ordered the 14-hour house-smoked pulled pork with cornbread, slaw and house pickles. Sadly the slaw had run out so he had a side of sweet potato fries instead. I went for the 12 Hour house-smoked beef brisket with spiced red cabbage, house mash, devilled gravy. Between us, we also shared some rib tips (phwoar) to start plus mac n cheese and fried pickles. Yeah, I know. Greedy bastards.
The meat was all beautiful and took me right back to that first time I tried Liam’s pulled pork in 2013. Unlike the mass produced crap you get at places like Rub in Nottingham… the pulled pork is not smothered in sickly BBQ sauce. That low n slow smoked flavour really comes through and the meat is just so tender. The brisket was equally delicious with charred gnarly edges and soft, melt in the mouth meat in the middle. The mash, gravy and red cabbage perfectly balanced the beef and the portion size was spot on, in fact, I struggled to finish it!
I expected the fried pickles to be gherkins but actually, found that they were celery! A most welcome surprise for both texture and taste although I think perhaps a dipping sauce would have worked well – e.g. blue cheese or a spiced mayo.
Although I was designated driver tonight, the drinks menu looked good. Dave had an Aperol Spritz followed by a lovely glass of red (Barossa) and the cocktails also look great. That’s no surprise when you consider that the general manager here is my friend Andrew Darch, the guy who opened and ran The Kelso for the last 4 years. He knows his shit, that’s for sure.
There’s no denying the fact that there have been some teething problems at Fenways this week. I just hope that they don’t get too badly hit as a result. The service was far from perfect. It was slow and a little chaotic and there were clearly diners there tonight who were unhappy with their experience. However, I know that this place is going to be brilliant. I say give these guys a chance. They are new, they are doing something completely different and they are going to get it right, I know it.