I don’t really remember where I first heard about The Ribman, aka Mark Gervaux. I imagine it must have been not long after moving to London in 2011, as I remember making the trip from my flat in Camberwell to his stall at Brick Lane’s Sunday market. Whenever it was, and however I came to hear about him, I’m glad I did.
What I didn’t know at that time were the layers to his craft. As far as I was concerned, I was off to go and get some really tasty meat, eat it, and that was basically it. That’s how it is with most places. And let’s get one thing clear – the meat he makes is fantastic. I don’t know if it’s a phenomenon that has a name, but when I eat a really good meat dish, there’s this tingly mouth sensation I get, this explosion of the senses, it goes far beyond just tasting nice, it seems to emanate from the very roots of my teeth, from my cheeks, the roof of my mouth, saliva glands going into overdrive. This is a party with no door policy, everyone in that gob is invited, and they all want to get down. This is the sensation I get from The Ribman’s rib meat.
The main thing he serves is pretty straightforward – a rib roll. A big white bun stuffed full of pork rib meat, pulled from the bones and smothered in whatever sauce you prefer – either BBQ, or his own Holy Fuck sauce. More on the hot sauces later… It’s unfussy, unpretentious, and pretty much impossible to eat as a sandwich! I could try to describe how he makes his rib meat, but all I’d be doing is paraphrasing this video, so here you go. The standard goes for £6, or if you want to go all-in, you can get an absolute monster for £10.
Those of you who watched the video will have seen him making his hot sauces. I’ve said enough about the rib-roll, and these sauces deserve their own time. His signature sauce (the brilliantly name Holy Fuck) is just a magnificent example of how to do it. For starters, it is devilishly hot. Those who are not acclimatised to properly spicy condiments will struggle to get past this heat. Those who are, they are in for a treat. Holy Fuck is one of the best hot sauces I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling, a wonderfully fruity complexity that you have to treat with the respect naga jolokia and scotch bonnet chillies deserve. Go over the top and you will be coughing and spluttering, get it right and you have an evolving experience in your mouth that takes you through to a warming, satisfying finish that stays with you long after you’ve finished eating, waves of chilli hitting you as your mouth discovers little pockets of chilli that have hidden away!
As well as this signature (which he once did as a frankly sensational bacon Holy Fuck, apparently sadly never to be repeated), he also makes the even hotter, and even more brilliantly named Christ on a Bike and Holy Mother of God, as well as an excellent Japanese influenced variant, Fuck Yuzu (which I think is probably my overall favourite). Christ on a Bike has 3 times the naga chillies as Holy Fuck, and Holy Mother of God is hotter still, so be warned – they will blow your head off! Many of London’s burger joints have taken notice – Ribman specials have been spotted in the wild at numerous outlets, either featuring his sauces or meat. The Honest Burger Ribman Special was fantastic in particular, but in truth there are few dishes that aren’t improved with a dash of Holy Fuck – it utterly transformed a Chicken Parma Burger at MeatMission, and I’d love to see someone do something with Mac & Cheese and his sauces… Maybe deep fried balls of Mac & Cheese with a blob of Holy Fuck in the middle? Come on people, lets make this happen!
Less celebrated than his sauces are his rib rubs. I’ve never actually used these for the prescribed purpose, although I hope to give it a whirl this summer. However, I have found a handful of uses for them, and tbh I could happily use it as a substitute for salt & pepper. A personal favourite is to cut sweet potato into wedges, lightly oil them, sprinkle liberally with the Holy Fuck rib rub, and then roast. They are fantastic served hot, even better when reheated a day or two later as they take on an extra crunch, and work brilliantly cold in salads and packed lunches. I also almost always chuck a nice big pinch in with a bowl of mixed nuts and seeds for giving a healthy snack some fire! I’ve not tried the standard rub, just the Holy Fuck one – I find the rubs a gentler heat than the sauces, with some more sweetness in there. The chilli seems to glow from your tongue, and isn’t as prone to hitting the back of your throat with a sledgehammer if you overdo it!
Speaking of hammers, as you might have noticed from the logo, Gervaux is a committed West Ham fan, and seems to be loving life in the Bilic/Payet era! He can be found knocking out his rib rolls at The Boleyn Tavern on match days, although I assume he’ll be heading elsewhere with the move to the Olympic Stadium that is on the way next season. He’s also a very engaging and entertaining Twitter user, and commendably forthright about the liberties some street market companies take with their traders – it’s good to have someone as prominent and respected as him holding the less fair operators to account given the explosion in popularity of street markets across London in recent years.
As you can tell, I’m a big fan, and I’m happy to offer my whole-hearted recommendation for what The Ribman is selling!