I’m hardly a war journalist, but I do make little sacrifices here and there in pursuit of interesting burgers to write about – yesterday was one such little disaster, when faced with a menu seemingly full of delights, at a restaurant I’d been wanting to try out for some time, Red’s True Barbecue.
Yesterday, I did something I never thought I would, and can say with complete certainty will never do again. I had a doughnut burger. Typing that out, I feel like an idiot. What did I expect? I have a thoroughly British palate – if I treat myself to a cooked breakfast, the condiment I reach for is tomato ketchup (sorry, brown sauce advocates). The one thing that never, ever crosses my mind is “You know what this deliciously savoury mess needs? Syrup!”.
So why on earth did I think that sticking a double bacon burger between 2 glazed doughnuts was something I might find enjoyable?
Well, basically, novelty value. I eat more burgers than is probably healthy. Now, I realise that sticking them between deep fried sugary dough isn’t a great way to make them healthier, but it does vary things up a little. I saw something online about a charity offer, a one-day-only buy-one-get-one-free doughnut burger event with a mandatory donation built in to the price. I have a couple of friends who I’ve been saying I’d go to Red’s with for months. The visit scripted itself.
So in we went, early evening on a Monday. After a little bit of strangely awkward and complicated to-and-fro with our waiter about some free beer vouchers my friend had been emailed (which we were told were only valid after we’d spent £10, so we should scan at the end of the meal, which is fair enough in order to prevent abuse of the offer), we ordered. It was decided to get 2 of the doughnut burgers to share, with some BBQ and sides to complement things.
And so this arrived. Times two. I’d love to say it looked appetising, that it was a glorious mess. But tbh, it filled me with dread. In there you’ve got 2 beef patties, smoked peppered bacon, cheese and dirty sauce, served between those two glazed doughnuts, sprinkled with what they call “frickles”. I’d prepared appropriately – lunch had been a vegetarian affair, worth about 250 calories to my daily intake. A lap of Victoria Park had been run, weights lifted, 30 minutes pedalled on an exercise bike. I had plenty of spare calories to play with for my dinner, and here they all were, in one rather scary looking Frankensandwich.
We got to business. As there were 2 sandwiches, and 3 of the group eating, we sliced them in half, which in truth made them much easier to manipulate mouthwards. The first thing I noticed was the burgers were definitely at the “well done” end of the spectrum. This to me tends to mean one of two things – either they’re overdone, or they’re done just right as the meat isn’t of the quality where they can be served pink. Given that this was a BBQ place, I’d hope it was the former, and that they mince their own beef onsite. My friend who has eaten there plenty seemed to think that these were not cooked to their usual level, and I’ll take him at his word!
What can I say of the burger? Well, I would say I will never eat such a thing again. The patties seemed to be of good quality meat, if overdone to my tastes. The bacon was excellent and pleasingly crispy, and the cheese suitably molten. The dirty sauce was intriguing, and something I’d like to try in a different context. Somewhat like a peppercorn sauce, maybe some garlic going on in there. But why on earth had I thought that sticking this lot between doughnuts would be a pleasant thing to experience? They had a cloying, almost caramel flavour. The glaze was soon all over my hands, and any pleasure I took from the traditionally “burger” parts of this meal were cancelled out (and then some) by the overwhelming sweetness of what it arrived between. Every mouthful was completely dominated by that aspect of the burger. When you are dealing with such big, bold flavours as these, and they are struggling to get a word in edgeways, you know it’s a completely imbalanced package. But then, that’s not really the point is it? It’s novelty island writ large, more about social media shares than a delicious dining experience, and I feel a little bit ashamed for being part of the machine that helps this trend rumble on.
Reading around online, there’s talk of this being a 2000 calorie burger. When I think of the things I could eat for that sort of calorific value (so many slices of pizza…), and how many laps of Victoria Park I’ll have to run to cancel that out today, it makes me want to shed a tear. What was interesting was how this sugary, stodgy feeling stayed with me through the evening. I was halfway to meeting a friend for some drinks after leaving Red’s, and decided to turn on my heel and head home, so intense was the feeling of an insulin-fuelled food coma, and I didn’t rid myself of the unpleasant aftertaste and feeling of sickliness until I woke up this morning. I wanted something to cleanse my palate last night when I got home, but God knows what would have worked in the context. A bowl of Marmite perhaps? And this after only eating fractionally over half of a doughnut burger, with a fair amount being left unfinished by those sharing them.
To be fair, the rest of the meal was decent, with some strong highlights. The brisket and burnt ends were thoroughly enjoyable, with the brisket positively melting in the mouth, and the burnt ends being a crunchy counterpoint with good flavour. The sauces provided at the table were all excellent, the fries pretty much done to perfection.
The deep fried pickles were really very good indeed. I’d never been a massive fan of the ones from Meat Liquor – which are flat strips in batter. These ones are a half pickle, a whole one cleft in twain from top to bottom, which means that they retain a happy crunch after deep frying. The creamed corn wasn’t to my taste, and apparently is a new recipe that isn’t as good as the old.
The onion rings side was an odd one. We got 1 onion ring. We definitely asked for onion ringS. We clarified this when this sad, lonely, overweight ring arrived with no company, and were informed that it was because they thought we’d ordered it as part of the free accompaniments for the burger, which seems odd to me – I would have thought a portion is a portion is a portion, the same size whatever the context. They brought us one more ring, and the bill showed one English pound for this reinforcement. There were 3 of us eating. A portion of onion rings is listed as £2.95. I don’t really understand what happened there. TBH, there were a series of communication breakdowns with the waiter from start to finish.
Which brings us to the end, which was nearly as messy as the burger itself (incidentally, they provided wet-wipe napkins to clean our hands, which was very necessary!). I had known about the 2-for-1 burger deal, the free beer offer was news to me on the day, but certainly very welcome. Yet when it came to that moment and we proffered our voucher codes to redeem them, we were suddenly informed that the small print said it was one beer per table. The small print didn’t say this. This hadn’t been mentioned at the top when we said we had these vouchers. The waiter basically said “hey, what can I do, I’m just a waiter? You want to speak with the manager?”.
Now, I’m not a big complainer at restaurants, but likewise I don’t have that very British terror of “making a scene” that many do. When he came over, he again said “small print”, we pointed out the absence of what he was claiming. He was a little ruffled and flustered (which I think was the restaurant starting to fill up for the evening rather than a reaction to us or anything we were saying or doing), and shot off, came back with a new bill which he chucked on the table with few words, then ran off again, firmly clobbering the chair next to me into mine. With this they’d taken 1 more beer off the bill, despite 4 vouchers being redeemed within the group. Now, this whole episode in and of itself isn’t that big a deal to me, but I think worth mentioning – I was left with a feeling of “is this offer trying to trick people through the door?”
I was going there whatever, the free beer offer was unknown to me until minutes before I arrived, so my indignation was barely existent, but I was struck with how poorly they handled a pretty simple situation, and this was in stark contrast to a story my friends had told me about a visit one Sunday breakfast when a manager there had observed them wait too long for their meal, and without prompting knocked a substantial amount of their final bill. So it’s not like they don’t know what great service is, it’s just that this time was a bit of a chaotic mess, and it did leave me with a 2nd funny taste in my mouth – one free beer per table is a really weird offer to advertise (especially when you don’t actually mention that stipulation anywhere), and is going to lead to odd, awkward moments like this.
All that being said, I enjoyed the BBQ enough to say I’ll probably be back at some point given the location, within walking distance of where I live. The service was a bit erratic, which is a bugbear of mine – cooking great food is hard, being organised, friendly and polite simple by comparison, and there’s really never a good excuse for getting that aspect of a restaurant wrong. Even if it’s stupidly busy and things take a long time, a friendly word and some management of expectations goes a long way – last night was a hodge podge of confusion, misunderstandings and errors.
The doughnut burger however… I highly recommend that you never, ever order one.
Red’s True BBQ Doughnut Burger – 2/10
Brisket & Burnt Ends – 7.5/10
Overall Experience – 5.5/10