I first heard about the Oxford Smokehouse after some of my work colleagues visited its sister restaurant; the Chequers Smokehouse in nearby Witney.
Returning with rave reviews, I took one glance at the website – where you are instantly greeted with a huge picture of some sumptuous looking beef rib meat – and I knew that I had to get my next burger fix there as soon as possible.
You aren’t able to book a table online, but we called the restaurant on a Saturday morning and were able to get a table for that lunchtime. Given that only two other tables were taken when we arrived, it’s quite likely that you’d be able to show up and be seated without too much difficulty.
Much of this may be down to its location. On what was a horribly wet day, we trekked the almost-two-miles from Oxford train station, across the city and down Iffley Road to the Smokehouse, based on Marston Street. Set back from the more vibrant Cowley Road, it seems that this place is still a bit of a hidden “gem”, in comparison to the established Atomic Burger and Big Society.
A bit soggy but very hungry, we sat down and took a look through the menu.
There were seven different burgers on offer at the Oxford Blue Smokehouse (one of which was a vegetarian option). I have to admit that, despite being a big burger lover, there were a number of other options which sounded equally, if not slightly more appetising, particularly the “From the Smoker” selection – including a 14 hour beef brisket, and a rack of ribs smothered in a house BBQ sauce.
But, on a dedicated mission for Beers and Burgers, I decided to order “The Big Pig” burger; toppings including cheese, bacon and pulled pork. Hannah opted for “The Big Texan” burger, which was to come with cheese, beef chilli and onion strings.
While we waited I ordered a Flying Dog Pale Ale.
Hannah ordered a Fordham Route One – another Pale Ale.
Of the two beers, we decided that the Flying Dog was the better choice. Hannah wasn’t keen on the Fordham Route One, finding it a bit too heavy and hoppy for a lunchtime.
It wasn’t too long until our burgers came. As you can see from the pictures, they were seriously HUGE.
Here’s me with The Big Pig…
And Hannah with The Big Texan…
There’s no doubt that these burgers are visually stunning; stacked high to the rafters with meat and the various additional toppings.
Whilst that’s all well and good, sometimes you can get too much of a good thing. These burgers were definitely testament to that.
Don’t get me wrong – I love my meat. But getting through these burgers was a serious challenge, even with a hungry belly.
There’s also the fact that, with SO much going on between the bread, it was virtually impossible to pick it up with my hands – only for the second time in our Beers and Burgers adventure (the first being at Oxford’s Browns Brasserie) I decided to use a knife and fork to get through the majority of my burger. I say decided – I didn’t really have much of a choice.
In fact, by the time I was halfway through, the bottom of the bun had almost disintegrated under the weight of the beef, pulled pork, cheese and salad.
Hannah’s Big Texan burger fared even worse. We didn’t get any photos of how it looked halfway through eating, but this burger was so stacked when it came out of the kitchen that it was already in a state which was impossible to eat easily.
Now burgers like this are a bit of a novelty, and the Oxford Blue Smokehouse are, with the huge meal sizes, clearly trying to make the experience of eating there as “American” as possible. And there will be many who enjoy this kind of challenge.
The thing is, in my opinion looks need to come second to taste with food like this, and unfortunately the burger was also a bit bland in flavour.
The pulled pork in my Big Pig burger was far more noticeable than the beef. Surely accompanying toppings, even if something as mouth-watering as pulled pork, should be there to help complement the flavour of the beef patty, not overpower it.
In summary, I think with a bit of refinement (particularly making the burgers a bit easier to eat!), the Oxford Blue Smokehouse has the potential to start challenging some of the more established burger joints in the city.
However, at the moment it falls slightly behind, both in terms of flavour, and also the fact that it’s targeted towards those with HUGE appetites, meaning it’s quite a niche offering.
I wouldn’t mind returning to try some of the other items on the menu at some point, but I’ll be avoiding the burgers for now.
The Oxford Blue Smokehouse can be found on Marston Street, Oxford OX4 1JU. This review took place on 20/02/16. You can visit their website at http://oxfordbluesmokehouse.com/.