The Christmas Food Chronicles, Vol 3

The Christmas Sandwich, Blacklock

When I declared my intent to review as many leading Christmas burgers as possible, I had several people send me pictures and info about this one, and by gum, it was something to get the loins twitching.

I’d eaten at Blacklock once before, gorging myself on their delicious chops of lamb, pork and beef that they cook over charcoal, and so I had high expectations, which were only amplified by the pictures and descriptions sent my way.

To business. This sandwich is a beast. It costs £15, so it needs to be special to justify itself. “What’s in it?” you cry? Well, it’s there below, but I’ll type it out too – Chargrilled Norfolk Turkey Breast, sausage and onion patty, middlewhite bacon, greens and cranberry ketchup in a demi brioche bun, served with turkey gravy for dipping.

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We also ordered a whole heck load of other bits and bobs, including a whopping big piece of Prime Rib to share, at the bargain Monday price of £5/100g – our piece was, I believe, 950g or thereabouts. Apparently this is a normal deal here on Mondays, discounted prices on the meat that are more or less what they paid the butchers. The staff were all incredibly friendly and nice, although to give full disclosure I knew one of the waitresses, my companions knew one or two other staff members, so it was probably a lot more informal than for a regular diner. However, the atmosphere around the the whole basement venue seemed to reflect this very laid back vibe. Old fashioneds arrived at the table to much moaning and groaning (2pm on a Monday is pretty early to be back on the hard stuff!), but waste not, want not, down they went, and very lovely they were too.

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The conversation and company was lively enough that I have no idea how long it took for the food to come out, but it seemed very prompt. And you know what? The Christmas Sandwich was a thing of true beauty.

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Yes, there’s an Instagram filter on this picture

I’m going to talk you through this before dealing with the rest of the meal, because this was the star of the show. I mean look at it… its a beast. It’s also a beauty. So it has everything you need to turn this into a Disney film.

Happily, despite it’s enormous size, this is a sandwich that you can eat with your hands. I get really quite annoyed at the trend towards novelty burgers that no human could pick up and eat as a sandwich, and therefore require a knife and fork. That’s a failure of design and execution, straight off the bat. This required careful handling, but I ate the whole damn thing with my hands, dipping merrily away into the gravy.

I remarked during my review of the Honest Christmas Burger that the flavour combination wasn’t sufficiently “Christmassy” – no such concerns here. This hit most of the notes I listed in that review – sage and onion in the sausage patty, the cranberry ketchup gave the perfect note of sweetness, the bacon shone through powerfully, while the grilled turkey and turkey gravy made sure that the birds of the season did their bit. The combination of textures and flavours was just outstanding – savoury, salty, sweet. Charred edges on the grilled turkey, perfectly crispy bacon, the sausage patty in there… my God, what a creation. On it’s own it’s a bloody brilliant sandwich – with the gravy to dip it in? Wow. Just awesome.

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Hnnnnnnnng….

You’ll note on this picture how evenly spread the component parts are too – meaning each mouthful was a great combination of the various elements. The greens were fantastic too – giving a little touch of freshness in something that could have been overpoweringly dense. Even with such a packed sandwich, being dipped over and over into a gravy boat, the bun held together like a champ until the last mouthful, and wasn’t too sweet, as some brioche buns can be.

Have to spare a moment for the cranberry ketchup, which was a million miles better than any cranberry sauce/jam/pickle or whatever else I’ve ever had. Rich, sweet, some acidity in there, thick and sticky and oozing throughout the sandwich as I ate it, it was absolutely what this needed with so many savoury notes surrounding it. I really can’t emphasise enough how superb this sandwich is.

 

The rest of the meal stood up as excellent in its own right – superb prime rib that practically melted in the mouth, and had all the flavour you’d hope for from such a cut of beef. Delicious side dishes across the board, the stand-out probably the 10-hour ash roasted sweet potatoes – apparently they chuck these in the embers at the end of the night and they are ready the next day, and they are delicious, the perfectly cooked flesh complemented with lovely seasoning and the charred skins giving great texture and flavour. The courgettes with Doddington cheese were a delight too – thick cut but succulent and juicy, and the cheese adds some oomph to a vegetable that lacks much of it’s own character when up against more extrovert foods! The barbecued baby gems hiding behind someone’s hand there (I’m still ironing out some kinks in my reviewing haha!)… I could take or leave them to be honest, but one of the group bloody loves them, and he’s one of the best managers in the hospitality game, so his opinion is worth more than mine!

All in all, there was little to fault in this whole experience – from the corny 80s rock anthem blasting away inside the front door where you take the steps down into the restaurant, the friendly welcome, knowledgable staff, but most importantly, the absolutely bloody brilliant food. The Christmas sandwich really was outstanding, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s too early for a coronation, but this will take some beating – if you want to know just how highly I think of it, well, take a wild guess where I’m going for lunch just 7 days after eating the one I’m reviewing here…

Christmas Sandwich – 9.9/10

Christmassyness – 9/10

Steak – 8.5/10

Sides – 7.5/10

Service – 8/10

Overall – 9/10

 

The Christmas Food Chronicles, Vol 1

Simply put, I’ll be eating and reviewing as many Christmas-related items of food as I can lay my hands on in the coming weeks in the gaps between probably the busiest month of my life, while trying to avoid becoming a total blimp.

Up first – the Honest Christmas Burger.

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I’d wanted to start elsewhere as my most recent burger review was a rather unflattering take on their pizza burger, and I was concerned that if I didn’t enjoy this then it would seem like I have it in for them, which I don’t (the Tribute is one of the best burgers in London).

But due to logistics and time constraints, this was the sensible choice, the Soho branch, just up from the theatre where me and my friend were off to watch some comedy later that Sunday night (God bless Leicester Square Theatre‘s work-in-progress events, where I’ve seen Vic & Bob, Stewart Lee and Jack Whitehall, all for about £15 each).

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Happily, it looked almost exactly as advertised, which was huge progress after the Pizza Burger Incident. The cheese oozed satisfyingly out of the huge slab of deep-fried camembert when I picked it up and aimed it towards my hopeful mouth.

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Generous blobs of thick, sticky cranberry sauce tumbled out and into the tray. I bit in, and while it was pretty tasty, the overwhelming flavour was the cheese, which almost entirely buried Honest’s excellent patty, which was done exactly as I like it, the perfect medium-rare, as requested.

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Flavours dominating others is occupational hazard with novelty specials in the burger game, and I’m certainly not saying it was an unpleasant flavour. However, I would have to say that other than the cranberry sauce, there wasn’t much about the combination I was getting that screamed “IIIIIITTTTTT’S CHRIIIIIIISTMAS” in the manner my tastebuds had been hoping. The bacon was a little lost in the mix too, smothered in an unashamedly gluttonous cheese-fest.

Christmas cheese is of course a huge part of the festive experience for many people – my family included. I’m often tasked with bringing several hundredweight of dairy up to the seasonal get together because of my proximity to Borough and Broadway markets. But if you asked me to name the definitive Christmas cheese, it would be stilton. And if you asked me to name the flavours that characterise Christmas, you’d have sage & onion stuffing, pigs in blankets, turkey, chestnuts in that list alongside cranberry sauce, with deep-fried camembert not really anywhere near my radar – maybe I’m out of the loop on that one, but that’s my perspective anyway.

The rosemary fries were standardly brilliant and generous in portion-size, Honest really do put a lot of burger joints to shame with that side of things. We tried their Christmas cocktail too – combined with the burger and fries that was a bit of a meal-deal-steal at £16, the cocktail featuring cranberry, maple syrup and bourbon, and suited the experience nicely.

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All-in-all, I’d class this as a good burger, but other than the cranberry sauce, not really a very good Christmas burger.

I have a laundry list of places I’m aiming to try out – Lucky Chip, Blacklock, Mac & Wild, Patty & Bun, Meat Liquor off the top of my head for starters – but if you have any London-based suggestions feel free to add a comment below and I’ll try to include them too!

Taste 7/10

Value 10/10

Christmasssyness 4/10

Overall score 7/10

 

You Put Your Left Leg In, Your Left Leg Out, In, Out, In, Out, Burgers All About

So, one of the fringe benefits of my job as a DJ is having my days relatively free. I obviously still have Stuff To Do, but the deadlines are often quite nebulous and regularly have to be self-imposed. As such, when I heard earlier this week that legendary LA Burger chain In-N-Out Burger were coming to London for a 4-hour pop-up, I was pretty sure that I would be there to check it out.

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In classic style I managed to accidentally get a little drunk at the gig I had the night before, but mercifully, the texts I sent to various friends looking for the next pitstop got negative responses, and no further drinking, dancing or debauchery took place. Although I did get my ass handed to me by my flatmate when I tried to play him on the new FIFA 17 demo before bed.

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The plus side of this poor planning was that I was goddamned starving on Wednesday morning. Coffee was purchased from my favourite spot (Pavilion Cafe, by the lake in Victoria Park), and then my burger buddy for the day arrived (the wonderful Ben Gomori of Turned On Podcast, who’s made an appearance in my Mixtape Monday series). Off we trotted, heading westwards to Swiss Cottage, where the pop-up was taking place.

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When we popped back above ground and wandered down towards the venue, we were met with a substantial, but not intimidating, queue. We took our place at the back of the line after stocking up on the essentials for a potentially long wait, and settled in. Arrival time was 10.15am or thereabouts, and the pop-up was scheduled for 11am-3pm. The venue itself seemed to be fairly large inside from what we could see, although strangely little effort had been made to transform the front-end, just one banner in the window, and various In-N-Out staff members in their distinctive uniform milling about, and then a counter inside that looked like some effort had gone on making it pretty close to how they presumably are stateside.

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The queue grew steadily as we waited patiently. Various baffled passers-by took photos and asked questions, numerous reporters and journalists came by to ask questions or livestream the thronging crowd of knobheads waiting hours in line for “fast” food.

I made my first appearance within Vice and marked it with a truly awful pun. Getty interviewed me on video, I have no idea if that was used, and frankly I hope I never find out [Edit – thanks to u/RichardJohn over on Reddit for finding this, turns out they not only used me, but I was the only interviewee used! http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/license/609839490%5D.

Wristbands were handed out, enabling people to chip off and come back at their allotted hourly slot – I was given gold, the 12-1 slot. The burger tab on these wristbands made it pretty obvious that we could only order one burger each, a mortifying realisation after having skipped breakfast.

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So far, I’ve said an awful lot without getting to the point. Well, here we go. After 2 or so hours of waiting, we approached the front of the line, and were greeted warmly by Eric, a genuine American fella. He was fantastic, and superbly dealt with the multiple late-comers who tried to blag their way in to get a shirt without waiting in line like the rest of us losers.

In we went, and order we did. Disappointingly, the only side available was crisps. I want to thank my friends on Facebook for asking me why a mere 91838172581 times. Apparently it was something to do with not being able to ship the fries over or get them right in the UK or something, but whatever it was, it was very disappointing to have ready salted crisps as the accompaniment to a burger you’ve queued several hours to sample. The prices were cheap as chips, ironically enough, £3 for a double double (two beef patties, two slices of cheese) which I had “animal style” (basically with a quite sweet sauce with grilled onions), a diet coke, and those bloody crisps. I was given a key-ring and a sticker, and decided to fork out £3 for one of their t-shirts, so the whole lot clocked in at a very reasonable £8! So clearly, this wasn’t an exercise in making money…

So down we sat with our drinks and goodies, and waited for the food to come to our table. One thing I was struck by was just how many empty seats there were given how slow the queue had been moving. They were clearly managing the numbers very closely to avoid any snafus with the service I guess. The food took maybe 5 minutes or so to arrive, with Ben’s being the first to land.

I have to say, the burgers looked excellent when they arrived at the table.

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EXTREEEEEME CLOSE UP!

And now we get to the important stuff. The burger – yes, it was good. If I had to try and describe it in a very simple way – it’s like the best possible Big Mac you could make. Does it get a place in my top 10. Nope. Was it worth waiting 2-3 hours for? Not really, if I’m brutally honest.

But it was very good. I would happily eat these on the go at the right price, the sauce, the beefburgers, the cheese and the bun were all lovely and complemented each other well. The salad – well, the lettuce was fine, but the tomato was almost ice cold. It wasn’t a huge issue, but it definitely detracted from the burger in the final judgement. The animal sauce was really enjoyable – I may well have a crack at making something like that at home, having discovered various websites who think they have the recipe worked out.

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I’m glad I made the decision to check it out, as I’ve never previously really “got” this type of burger – I prefer thicker patties with them nicely pink in the middle. These thinner patties make for a totally different mouth-feel than the “gourmet” style big burgers that dominate London’s burger restaurants – often they are overdone to the point of being unpalatable meat-biscuits, but as you can see in the photo above, these are done to perfection, allowing them to remain moist and juicy, something which the melted American cheese and Animal Sauce only serves to amplify. Even as I write this out now, I’m starting to crave another one, so maybe they did make more of an impression on me than I realised – or maybe its just because I skipped breakfast again. The crisps/fries debacle… the less said the better, I don’t really understand how they can go to all the effort of this and not be able to put a proper side on the menu. And thank you to my friends for hammering that point home, relentlessly.

In truth, it’s a little unfair of me to compare In-N-Out to the top-end London “gourmet” burger places – its niche is as a really good, but really cheap, burger. A kick-ass McDonald’s. Five Guys occupies this niche in the USA too, yet is inexplicably (and totally unjustifiably) priced as a premium burger in the UK. £3 for a Double Double, animal style… now that’s phenomenal value. If they opened up over here permanently, with prices in that ballpark, they would absolutely clean up, and rightly so. If they were a tenner… just don’t bother, please. But seeing as the last pop-up was in 2012 (4 year cycle, this year in a Brazilian restaurant… I’m guessing that in 2020 they will take over a sushi restaurant…), its reasonable to guess that they are in no rush to head over to the UK – after all, they are still limited to relatively few states in the USA, which in itself probably plays its part in creating the aura that creates such daft queues as the one I was part of yesterday.

7/10

National Burger Day!

National Burger Day

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Lucky Chip know how to take a burger photo

It’s that time of the year.

That time of the year when I decided, on a whim, to attempt the triple chilli challenge at Meat Mission, and didn’t even finish my plate, let alone do it within 10 minutes. Yorkie Josh is clearly a freak of nature (he’s done it in not much above 2 minutes!). I could barely walk for the rest of the night, such was the bowling ball in my stomach thanks to my lack of adequate preparation (ie, maybe don’t eat 2 hours before attempting this challenge).

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The Triple Chilli Challenge – Chilli Cheese Fries, Chilli Dog, Green Chilli Cheeseburger

Its that time when burger outlets nationwide offer 20% off their wares. Simply go here, choose your restaurant, fill in the form for the voucher, print out the voucher from the email you get, go stuff your face.

Its that time when grown men starve themselves all day so as to eat a minimum of 6 of the burgers below at Hawker House.

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Its that time of the year where burger restaurants out-do each other with weird and wonderful one-day-only creations to moisten the palate and excite the loins of red-blooded men (and women, lets not be sexist here) across the land.

In short, it’s the most wonderful time of the year 🤗🍔

If you see someone at Hawker House with this t-shirt on, come and say hello, as it’s me! I may not be able to reply, as it’s likely I will have a burger in my fat face.

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When Novelty Burgers Go Wrong

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.

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Photo shamelessly stolen from here

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Brisket and Burnt Ends – the photo doesn’t really do this one justice, it was very nice. The “Mustard Caviar” is basically a mustard seed condiment.

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.

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Creamed corn

The onion rings side was an odd one. We got 1 onion ring. We definitely asked for onion ringSWe 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.

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Top, top camerawork from me here.

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