REVIEW: ACME FIRE CULT X JAMESON BLACK BARREL
It’s very rock ’n’ roll, but we like it.
There is a moment tonight, when the opening chords of Pearl Jam’s Animal tumble out of the black stack-speakers surrounding our terrace seating, just as I push my fork into a 60-day dry-aged Beef Chop and a Jameson Black Barrel Cherry Mint Julep is delivered to my table.
It is the Holy Trinity of good times: Whiskey, rock music and smoked meat. A perfect partnership crafted over decades of back yard barbecues and day-long smoke-outs, from the leafy gardens of Britain to tailgate parties in car parks across America.
Acme Fire Cult, in the hipster heartland of Dalston, wears its influences on its tattooed sleeves. Between the exposed brickwork, there’s a lot of black. The walls, the windows, the floor, the staff uniforms and even the wooden pergola above our heads are as black as night, as is the 40FT Brewery taproom which sits opposite and forms part of the Acme Fire Cult story - the two joining forces to collaborate in the old car park of a dilapidated office block.
We’re surrounded by street art, both on the walls of the office block and also inside the restaurant, where local artist Nathan Bowen’s scribbled figures lend a rare splash of colour.
En route to the toilets, a makeshift merch stand sells wares that could belong to a rock band, offering various metal-inspired Acme Fire Cult logos on t-shirts which come in one colour only and match the wall behind them. Inside each toilet cubicle, framed magazine covers scream the names of Charles Manson and the Branch Davidians.
There is a stage of sorts, too: A log-filled platform puts a trio of bearded, tattooed chefs in the spotlight as they perform in a cloud of smoke that seeps out across benches full of diners.
Its London-by-way-of-Brooklyn industrial chic styling makes you feel as though you’ve settled down for dinner in an iron forge, and the clinking of skillets and wafts of hot, smokey air from the kitchen do little to dispel that notion.
It’s also the only place we’ve ever eaten that considers Metallica to be background music, and we’re as surprised as anyone to discover that it works.
But if this sounds like your stereotypical BBQ joint, you’re wide of the mark. Acme Fire Cult breaks the mould by not offering plates overflowing with mountains of meat that would test the belt buckle of even the most experienced competitive eaters. This certainly isn’t a Texan steakhouse or a Big Easy style celebration of gluttony. In fact, for all its testosterone-driven styling, it’s the delicate flavours and - whisper it - vegetables that take centre stage, and it’s all the better for it.
We’re here to try the Acme Fire Cult x Jameson Black Barrel tasting menu, which consists of three courses and a dessert, expertly paired with whiskey cocktails. And it’s the first of those courses - a Grain Mash of grilled corn ribs with Fireside Polenta, Malted Barley, vanilla, Ancho Chilli-Butter and Crème Fraiche that sticks in the memory.
It comes hot on the heels of a gloriously fiery Ginger Sparkler - Jameson whiskey with ginger beer and sparkling wine - which is a perfect aperitif, and the rich creaminess of the polenta is a beautiful partner for the spicy crunch of the grilled corn.
The unique menu is a collaboration between two live-fire chefs - Acme’s Andrew Clarke, and Keenan Higgs, owner of Dublin’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Variety Jones. And while it was Higgs who introduced the Jameson element from his hometown, Clarke has long championed the link between food and drink, using by-products from the 40FT Brewery, such as yeast and spent grain, to make ferments and hot sauces.
Our advertised smoked chalk stream trout is substituted out today in favour of a Butterflied Gilt-Headed Sea Bream, which comes recommended from every member of staff we meet, and it’s easy to see why. Crunchy, light skin covers a perfectly moist meat that falls away at the touch of a fork and the tanginess of sun-dried tomatoes and a drizzle of lemon juice are all the flavouring it needs.
We’re three courses in before any meat arrives and when it does, it’s accompanied by a Black Cherry Mint Julep which, if truth be told, is a little overpowering, even against the smokey richness of a Beef Chop with Smoked Ox Cheek and Bone Marrow on the side. But taken separately, the meat is as moist and flavoursome as you’d expect from a smokehouse like this, and the Toffee’d Margherita Onions are a gloriously sweet addition.
The Mint Cherry Julep certainly warns the tastebuds of a change in direction and after glugging the dark chocolate bitters and cherry syrup (mixed with Jameson Black Barrel, of course), we’re ready for The Cocktail, which - confusingly enough - is not a cocktail, but a Slow Roast Peaches ‘Old Fashioned’ Vanilla Panna Cotta with Whiskey-Citrus Caramel.
The peach is a masterstroke of sweet and smokey flavours and the whiskey caramel oozes into the vanilla cream that we mop up with a Malted Barley Biscotti.
There’s still time for one last cocktail - an actual cocktail, this time - and we’re served what looks to be a whiskey-driven espresso martini, but the Black Barrel Velvet actually turns out to be an almost ale-like concoction, light enough that we agreed it could be enjoyed by the half pint rather than the champagne flute before us. It’s a Stout reduction combined with Acme Spent Coffee Kombucha and a perfect way to end the tasting menu.
We traipse off into the Dalston night with Metallica ringing in our ears. There's still plenty of Whiskey in the Bottle for anyone wanting to visit before the pairing menu ends on July 31st. And as for that Grain Mash? The Memory Remains...
Acme Fire Cult, The Bootyard, Abbot Street, London E8 3DP Book Now