Tony Naylor is a Manchester-based journalist who regularly writes for olive as well as Restaurant magazine and The Guardian.
Lee Eynon works at Cardiff University and lives in Cardiff, too. He loves both Mexican street food and pickled onion Monster Munch.
Hang Fire began in 2012 when co-founders Samantha Evans and Shauna Guinn (pictured right) quit their jobs to travel around America in search of the answer to one question: what is American slow-and-low barbecuing? Upon returning to Wales, the duo used their newfound knowledge to open a pop-up in Cardiff, winning ‘Best Street Food 2015’ at the BBC Radio 4 Food & Farming Awards.
As well as cooking at festivals, Samantha and Shauna retail branded sauces in local delis; recently published The Hang Fire Cookbook; and run newly-opened Hang Fire Southern Kitchen in Barry, their first permanent restaurant. The focus is, as expected, on meat: smoked wings, St. Louis ribs, brisket, and Carolina-style pork, to name a few options.
Our pro says…
Southern Kitchen has a warm, easy-going vibe and its staff – dressed in plaid shirts and jeans – are relaxed, chatty and well-drilled (*I was recognised). I was given time to browse the excellent drinks menu of small-batch gins and craft beers (including Hang Fire’s own creditable pale, Rocky Top, created with The Waen Brewery), and my questions about the meats’ provenance were fielded capably.
If the service is fine, however, the food could be sharper. It’s a huge leap from street food to feeding people in a restaurant, and Hang Fire’s learning curve has been steep – and busy. Perhaps it’s time for the team to concentrate solely on the food here, because I found it steadfastly okay – not bad, nice enough, but conspicuously lacking in fireworks.
The majority of items on the mixed Pit boss plate were adequate. The pulled pork was shredded with pieces of the ‘bark’ (its seasoned crust) correctly mixed into the meat, but its flavours (fruity BBQ sauce, hazy spiciness) were meek. The brisket had a sound beefy flavour and peppery edge but it didn’t go beyond that. Serving this, in parts quite dry, meat on toasted bread is odd.
Both the Pit boss and burger came with so-so skin-on fries and forgettable slaw. The burger patty, a seven ounce mix of chuck, brisket and hanger, was flavourful but not as moist as it could have been. That lack of lubrication was compounded by its peculiarly bready brioche bun and the use of a tangy but – in this context rather dense –
putty-ish hard cheese. It was a decent burger, but no irresistibly juicy beef bomb.
The sensational eight-hour-smoked St. Louis ribs, made from acorn-fed Spanish pork, was the one dish that dazzled. It hit that sweet spot, where heat, smoke, salt and a clever glaze combine to produce a long smooth glide of complementary flavours. You bite through their dark, treacly exterior into lustrously fatty meat. An assiduously spiced beef chilli on the Pit boss plate was a similar testament to the kitchen’s latent ability, if less exhilarating.
Our punter says…
Hang Fire Southern Kitchen is all about the home-style barbecue cooking of the Deep South, and the service also has an American-style warmth, albeit with a Barry accent. Our waiter gladly provided tap water when asked and happily talked us through the impressive range of homemade sauces. Co-owner Shauna also made a point of checking in with each table at least once.
The menu is a carnivore’s dream. There are locally sourced rib-eye and flat iron steaks, several burger options with barbecue add-ons and the obligatory southern fried chicken. Vegetarians have less choice with just a handful of aubergine and halloumi dishes.
For starters I went for frickles. The sweet and sour deep-fried pickles came in a satisfyingly crunchy batter, with a drizzle of tangy mustard sauce. For mains I ordered the Pit boss plate, a collection of Hangfire’s greatest hits: tender, sticky-sweet ribs, smoky pulled pork and juicy brisket served with a host of sides. There were barbecue beans (which were really a rich meaty stew); pickles with an unexpected punchy hit of fennel; a serving of crisp coleslaw; and a slice of Texas toast – basically garlic bread, cowboy-style.
The brisket was the highlight – covered in savoury jet-black bark from the restaurant’s smoker, and so tender that it fells apart on the fork. It really comes to life paired with the treacly smokiness of the espresso barbecue sauce.
Lil Devil is the house draft IPA from Cardiff’s Crafty Devil brewing. It’s satisfyingly citrussy and refreshing, and cuts through the rich barbecue sauces well.
The bottom line
Hang Fire is fun and affordable, but if it wants to compete with Britain’s best – say Pitt Cue’s BBQ or Patty Smith’s burgers – it has work to do. Total for one, excluding service: £37.15
Vibe 7/10; Food 6/10; Service 7/10; Total 20/30
Hang Fire Southern Kitchen had a lot to live up to, thanks to the hype built up by its previous pop-up incarnation. Fortunately, the food is as good as its ever been, and even better in the case of the brisket.
The décor – New Orleans with industrial touches to reflect the restaurant’s location – is tastefully done. Combined with the friendly, relaxed atmosphere and wood smoke in the air, it really adds to the experience. We’ll definitely be back.
Total for two, excluding service: £52.75
Vibe 8/10; Food 9/10; Service 8/10; Total 25/30
Photographs by Huw John Photography
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