By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
London, at the moment, is witnessing a continuous increase in popularity surrounding American comfort food. The last few years have witnessed an uncountable amount of pop-ups becoming permanent that propel the trend even further, and there are now more gourmet burger stands, vans and shops than we can keep up with. And there’s no sign of the trans-Atlantic food craze calming down at anytime soon. What’s most exciting, however, is the growth in barbecue restaurants opening across the city.
First launched in 2012 by business partners James Douglas and Scott Munro, bonded through a shared love of multi-regional American barbecue, Red’s True Barbecue first opened in Leeds, and then outposts in Manchester, Headingly, and Nottingham were soon to follow. Now, three years later, Red’s has become a successful Northern institution, and has finally opened a London restaurant, located right in the heart of Shoreditch. Opened primarily as a no-bookings venue, it’s only a matter of time before Red’s will join the likes of MEATliquor with queues longer than the collective running time of The Godfather Trilogy. The main difference, however, is that Red’s is completely unpretentious, and the meat is far better. Inside, the restaurant is fun and casual, clad with plenty of bare-wooden tables adorned with the whole range of Red’s own brand BBQ sauce set out in rows, representative of the sheer amount of variation that the menu has to offer. There’s also an impressive bar space downstairs that’s heavily inspired by Twin Peaks.
As expected with a barbecue restaurant, just a small amount of vegetarian dishes are on offer, while the main focus here is on the smoked meats. Burgers range from classics through to the restaurant’s signature donut burger, yes a burger that substitutes bread for two glazed donuts. Snacks and starters include the likes of house-made beef jerky and ox cheek that’s served with a shot of bourbon to be swilled through the accompanying smoked bone canoe once the tasty marrow has been devoured. Nevertheless, the meat plates, alone, do provide a portion size that renders anything else completely unnecessary. Delivered to the table in trays the USDA black Angus and burnt ends tray is a thing of real carnivorous beauty – and an absolute steal at £16.50. Strips of tender, smoky brisket are externally black yet pink and delicious on the inside, served atop a slab of bread with pickles, jalapeños and pearls of French mustard. The burnt ends are a less tender than preferred, but the depth of flavour is incredible, perfectly accompanying the Kansas City BBQ sauce. As if all of this wasn’t enough, the dish is also served with either two “humble” sides or one “divine” side. BBQ pit beans from the latter option are an absolute must-try – featuring strips of left over meat and slowly cooked at the bottom of the kitchen’s meat smokers.
My companion, on the other hand, decides to create her own meat tray. Opting for the pulled pork, which also packs plenty of satisfying flavour, more burnt ends, and a sticky brined chicken breast that propels the humble bird to a whole new level of excellence. Needless to say, we’re both uncomfortably full towards the end of our session: fortunately the staff members are kind enough to box-up any leftovers to enjoy later. There is a selection of desserts on offer, but they’re really unwarranted following the hulking main dishes. Instead, a round of ‘Picklebacks’ are in order: a shot of Bourbon that’s chased with the residual juice from a jar of pickles. In fairness, the drink is far tastier than it sounds, and the pickling juice, in fact, neutralises the burn of the whiskey. The lingering finish isn’t too different from the taste of an alcoholic Big Mac from McDonalds (surprisingly one of America’s first ever barbecue restaurants) – what’s not to love? It seems only a matter of months before Red’s restaurants start to blanket the rest of the UK as their meteoric rise continues even further.
Red’s True Barbecue can be found at 54-56 Great Eastern St, London, EC2A 3QR.