“Changing was necessary. Change was right. Masklin was all in favour of change. What he was dead against was things not staying the same.” Terry Pratchett, in Diggers.
January 25th is coming, and it’s coming way too fast. If I had the money and the time to spend every single night going out to dinner, I would spend the whole of January at The Smokehouse Sorrento, before it closes its doors for good in less than a month.
Run by delightful people David Stringer and Elizabeth Blane, The Smokehouse is our favourite restaurant in all the world. We found it when I was heavily pregnant with my daughter, who is nearly 9, and we basically stopped going anywhere else in Sorrento from that night onward. The food is just glorious, which is a useful quality in a restaurant, but it’s not just about the food.
It’s about walking in the door to be greeted like long lost friends, even the first time you go there. It’s about every allergy and intolerance being catered for not simply ungrudgingly (which is often the best you can hope for elsewhere), but with a wholehearted determination to make your meal not merely safe but actually delicious. They seem to have this fundamental belief that everyone deserves not merely to eat, but have a really awesome meal.
If you have coeliac disease you tend to resign yourself to simply keeping fed, and sometimes even that is too hard. (On a recent trip to the US, when asked if the chicken in a salad as gluten free I got sneered at – the friends I was with were outraged on my behalf, but I barely noticed. I was used to it.)
At the Smokehouse, though, you have choices. The pasta dishes can be done gluten free. The gf pizzas are just amazing. Nearly all of the mains are gluten free, or can be done that way. And it turns out that nearly all the desserts have gluten free versions which are indistinguishable from the real thing.
Years ago one of the desserts on the menu was a chocolate mousse cake that was on a pastry base and therefore not gluten free. Every time I made a booking David would carefully set aside a portion of the mousse for me while making the cake, so that there was a gluten free mousse waiting for me. It got to the point that I didn’t even have to ask. When I once decided not to have mousse because I couldn’t manage a whole serve, David provided me with a tiny serve of mousse, complete with cream and a mint leaf, to make sure I didn’t miss out.
There are little things, too, like conferring seriously with the kids over which colouring sheet they would prefer. Like remembering my food allergies and pointing out which of the specials is safe for me. Like happily altering any dish to make it safe. Like making spiders and milkshakes that kids and adults alike find irresistible. Like a house-made hot chocolate blend that is just incredible, that I rarely order because I am too full of mousse to manage anything else for days.
Sometimes taking kids to a restaurant is a sore trial both for them and their parents, but for the last 9 years our kids have clamored to go the Smokehouse, and we get into severe trouble if we try to leave them behind and have a night there on our own. Our whole family is going to be devastated when there is no more Smokehouse to visit.
Going to the Smokehouse is like visiting beloved friends. Friends with an amazing winelist and extraordinary talents in the kitchen.
So whether you’ve never been before, or know it well, go to The Smokehouse Sorrento before January 25th and enjoy the best restaurant experience of all time. And cry with me on January 25th when we say goodbye.