A new bar and grill is turning up the heat in Sunderland city centre.
There’s been much buzz around Holy Smokes - our news story about its opening was the most well-read online that day, racking up thousands of hits. And the venue’s own social media sites have become somewhat of a cult.
Why so much interest? Because this venue has thrown a curve ball into Sunderland’s eating scene, that’s why.
Yet another Italian restaurant opening would have passed without much talk, but dish up food in trash can lids, dim the lights like it’s an underground New York club, pepper the walls with skulls and you’ve got the recipe for a place that’s causing a stir.
So much so, that in the first few weeks of opening there’s been some nights when the kitchen’s run out of food. As such, it’s now advised you book ahead if you want to try out this new kid on the block.
Despite taking over the upstairs of the former Luma bar, on the corner of Park Lane and Derwent Street, you feel like you’re descending into a subterranean space.
The windows have been blacked out with graffiti, cages act as dividing walls and the music which is heavy with beats from the likes of Kanye West and Massive Attack is as loud as the neon artworks. It all helps to create an electric atmosphere that’s quite unlike anywhere else in town.
The food will assault your senses too: a supersize selection of meat in all its forms, from burgers to brisket. This isn’t a place for weight watchers, it’s all proper grub.
Even the names scream ‘don’t mess with me’ - pit meats (two meats and a side for £10), trashcan sharers (£18-£35) and real man’s ribs, which start from £10.
We chose from the bad ass burgers section. It’s a humble food that’s undergoing a renaissance of late thanks to ‘gourmet’ burger joints, but this place offers some imaginative takes on the staple dish, with creative monikers to match.
I was tempted by The Dirty Elvis (£10), which would make The King proud with its calorific blend of cheese, peanut butter and BBQ sauce, but The Deadliest Snatch (£12) won out.
It’s served on one of those canteen trays that seem to be overtaking plates in popularity at the minute, but it makes it easier for you to get stuck in. And that we did. I was presented with a chunky slab of crispy soft shell crab served on a bun smothered in a wasabi paste and American-style slaw. Though the crab was battered, it didn’t drown out the lighter flavour of the meat, while the wasabi added a kick to the meal.
As a side, we chose to share deep fried mac and cheese balls (£4) and burnt ass BB beans (£3). The latter comes served in a ceramic skull, and like everyone else who visits here, we couldn’t resist committing it to photo sharing site, Instagram.
It tasted as good as it looked: authentically American in keeping with the menu’s theme.
As if that wasn’t enough to catch your eye, the huge beers being served around you probably will. Pints, two of them at once, are served in steins here, starting from £5 for Coors are £5, £6 for Blue Moon and £7 for Flying Dog and Brooklyn.
If beers aren’t your bag, there’s also a range of cocktails at Holy Smokes, which operates as a bar as well as a grill. Most are priced £5.50, cheaper than other places in town, with options including frozen daiquiri.
Thanks to this smoking hot cocktail of urban decor and decadent food, it’s no wonder this new place is the talk of the town.