You might want to stand a safe distance away today – there’s a chance I might explode. I am suffering from a surfeit of chocolate mousse and smugness. This is always a problem after I have visited The Smokehouse of Sorrento. I need gluten free and fructose friendly food, and my daughter needs dairy, citrus and tomato free, which together make dining out a challenging option, if it’s possible at all. We recently went on holiday to a resort in Queensland, and despite many preparatory phone calls, emails, and assurances that it would all be fine, the food part of the trip was a nightmare, with repeated poisonings and an utterly recalcitrant chef.
The Smokehouse, by contrast, is proof that there is a heaven on earth for those of us with complicated diets. Owner and chef David Stringer clearly loves food, and loves to share his delight. Many of his dishes are gluten free by default, and the famous smokehouse pizzas come in a gluten free option which, to be honest, I wasn’t sure was gluten free the first time I had it – it tasted far too good!
Many things I can order straight off the menu, but if I need an alteration, nothing is too much trouble. Last night I wanted to try the rabbit (please don’t tell my kids, who would be horrified at the thought. “Rabbits are friends. Not food.”), but it comes on a bed of lentils – a strict no-no in fructose friendly land. In many restaurants I won’t order something that doesn’t come fructose friendly by default, because it’s too complicated trying to explain and find an alternative – but not at the Smokehouse. David gives it careful thought and always tries to offer an alternative which is not only safe, but delicious. In the end I had the rabbit on a bed of roasted vegies (which usually come with another dish), without the beetroot. It was heavenly.
We go to The Smokehouse whenever we are in Sorrento, but that’s only a handful of times a year. Nonetheless, David knows my name, remembers that I am gluten free, and my penchant for chocolate mousse. The menu currently contains a chocolate mousse cake which includes a pastry base (and is not gluten free), so whenever I make a booking David puts aside some of the chocolate mousse for me, without the pastry, in my own special gluten free dessert. I don’t even have to ask. There is a range of desserts, several of which are gluten free, so he really doesn’t have to go to the extra trouble, but he does it automatically. You get the sense that David wouldn’t be happy if a customer left The Smokehouse in anything other than a state of blissful contentment.
It’s not just David who makes the Smokehouse such a delight – every member of staff gives the impression that they are thrilled to see you, and dedicated to making you smile – even if you bring a horde of ravening children with you. Show up at the door with small people and the staff immediately grab the textas and colouring sheets – and they carefully select the right pictures, conferring in very serious tones with each small person to make sure that they have picked the best possible picture. They make them feel so special and welcome that our girls adore the place, and always clamor to go there.
Of course, the food is magnificent. I am always encouraged to branch out of my conservative dining habits and try something new, and the results are invariably delectable. I must admit, though, I rarely have anything other than the mousse for dessert.
The only problem with the Smokehouse is its popularity – it’s always wise to book ahead. Once when we went there on the spur of the moment the only seats left were at a bar around the edge. I was heavily pregnant, and although I sat there quite happily, David was not content with the arrangement. Within about 5 minutes a table was magically arranged for us.
The Smokehouse is a wakeup call to other restaurants – it is possible to cater for strange dietary requirements cheerfully and well. It is so hard for us to find a restaurant we can all eat at, and so often it’s a huge drama to get things that we can eat safely. We wind up leaving many places feeling frustrated and unwelcome, as though we have asked the world, wrapped in a solid gold ribbon. Yet despite being the world’s most difficult customers, we always leave the Smokehouse feeling cosseted, smug, and full of chocolate mousse. It’s sheer, unadulterated, chocolate flavoured bliss. We’ll be back!