It was a Saturday evening in Cannock and we were sat at a table in a United Reform Church.
The Grade 2 listed building, established in 1824, in Stafford Road is now the home of Holy Smoke Bar and Grill, which offers an intriguing menu with traditional Caribbean dishes, steaks, whole rack of ribs and more.
As we sat waiting for our main course, I wondered if I’d lose my faith in food or be left singing its praises, praying for more.
If our welcome was anything to go by, the signs were positive.
The highest compliment I could pay is that, having enjoyed meals at a number of restaurants in the region, the customer service at Holy Smoke was at the very top.
You could tell staff had a passion for the restaurant, food and venue. They engaged pleasantly and made you feel at home.
They were particularly nice to my daughter, Eleanor, nine, and, throughout our evening made it a relaxed dining experience.
The vibe inside the restaurant was great too. There was a chilled music soundtrack and fellow diners all seemed to be really enjoying themselves. Some appeared to have visited on more than one occasion, which is always a positive sign for a restaurant, in building up a reputation.
I loved the fact the owners had respectfully retained many of the church’s features which meant that, between courses and chatting, you could look around and admire, for example, the original organ and the pulpit.
Having abstained from drinking alcohol for the evening, I was a little disappointed as I spotted some delicious sounding cocktails were available to try.
Any excuse for a second visit, I say!
Having perused the menu for a starter, I was tempted by both the house jerk wings and saucy ribs but, thinking about possible mains I might have, I plumped, instead for Scotch Bonnet King Prawns.
These came beautifully presented, five in total, breaded and drizzled in a mango flavour.
The prawns were juicy and wrapped in a delicious coating while the flavours of scotch bonnet and mango worked amazingly well together. It was a real crowd-pleaser.
My dining partner, Amy, kicked off her meal with the loaded nachos. There are three options, including vegan and gluten-free toppings, and she picked the three-bean chilli. It was a perfect consistency; not too runny but still had enough ‘sauce’ to coat the nachos.
This would have been enjoyable enough, but as well as the enticing mound of chilli, every plate comes stacked with fresh, home-cooked salsa on the top, along with an indulgent helping of guacamole, sour cream and grated cheese. It had just a pep of spice and was a little bit messy, but absolutely worth it for the flavour.
For my main, I was, as always, tempted by the steak options, of which there were plenty, but instead I opted for the Hunters Barbecue Jerk Chicken.
The chicken breast was smothered in jerk barbecue sauce, melted cheese and two rashers of bacon and was served with skin-on fries and house slaw.
This dish, on arrival, had a delicious aroma to it and the chicken was succulent.
I loved the smokiness of the bacon, which really came through in the dish, and the jerk bbq sauce gave it a real kick. Great flavours, well cooked.
Keen to try something different to the usual meals we eat when out and about, Amy opted to have the Caribbean Twist – an authentic mutton curry served with rice and peas, dumpling and plantain (a starchy, unsweet variety of banana) that had been sliced at an angle and fried.
Although the taste was pleasant, she wasn’t keen on the texture, but this in no way diminished her enjoyment of the meal.
It’s not a type of meat we tend to eat that often these days, but the mutton curry had been slow-cooked, which brought out all the deep flavours of the meat and left it soft and tender and falling off the bone.
It definitely left her thinking about trying other cuts of meat in future. She was concerned it might be a little too hot for her as she’s not a fan of eye-watering spices, but this dish was all rich seasoning and a comforting, gravy-like texture with less of the heat.
The ‘rice and peas’ (actually rice and beans) had a hint of sweetness from the coconut milk and the mix of spices meant this was a million miles from the boiled rice you might cook at home. Real soul food.
For dessert, Amy picked out the praline brownie.
The brownie was gluten-free and felt like an incredibly naughty pudding. It was so gooey and fudgy it practically melted in the mouth, and with a praline-flavoured icing on the top, it was a decadent treat.
She wished she could have eaten it all over again.
A stickler for a good pudding, I was wooed by the Chocolate Guinness Cake and Gin and Tonic Lemon Cheesecake.
But our warm hosts recommended the key lime pie and, to be honest, this had already caught my attention.
It was full of zest and the the biscuit base was delicious.
It was served with vanilla ice cream. Needless to say, even after two previous courses, no morsel was left on the plate.
Incidentally, while enjoying our food, my daughter enjoyed a kids meal, well priced at £4.95, for under-12s.
This included a main – jerk wings, burger, mac and cheese, or chicken nuggets, along with a glass of squash and two scoops of ice cream.
Children (as well as adults) might also be tempted by a number of milkshake options –chocolate oreo and nutella milkshake particularly caught my eye for another visit.
All in all, this was great food, quirky surroundings, relaxed vibes – by the end of the night, all three of us had big smiles on our faces. There was only one thing to say at the end – ‘Holy Smoke, that was good!’