Red’s True Barbecue – A taste of the Deep South in East London?

Following the publishing of this review Red’s True Barbecue have been in touch. Therefore in the interest of a balanced view see below for a summary of their comments. 

  • Red’s have assured us that all items are cooked fresh, the only things in their freezers being ice cream and fries. We have corrected this throughout.
  • Their smokers are all wood-fired, with a dedicated Pitmaster in each restaurant, although they do look a bit industrial, hence the confusion. We have corrected our statement that they employ electric smokers.  
  • Red’s have stated that their St Louis Ribs are supposed to be dry by their nature. My allusion to falling off the bone being confusing has been removed, it must be taken to mean beautifully tender as opposed to falling directly off the bone like braised or boiled ribs would. Our further comments on the ribs still stand.  

Red’s attention and customer service has been most impressive and Ben and I have been invited back to have another go to make sure that our experience was a one time blip. 

Throughout life there are moments and events that you look forward to with excitement. As the day approaches, getting closer and closer, it builds and builds and builds to a point where it consumes you. Every waking moment is spent thinking about what is going to happen, how great it is going to be. Whether it is a wedding, your team in the cup final, your big debut performance, we all feel it and it is a wonderful part of being alive. But excitement has a way of letting you down, often it is unfounded, never living up to your imagination’s top billing. I wish I could say that this was my experience with Red’s True Barbecue. I wish I could say that I had over hyped it and I was only disappointed because of my imagination, but I can’t. Red’s True Barbecue fails to live up to its hype, which in my opinion it has no reason for in the first place.

Red’s True Barbecue sells itself as being the saviour to the UK’s barbecue restaurant market, the one place where you will be able to get perfectly rubbed, marinated, smoked, low and slow meat. Their purported trip to the southern United States each year to learn from great Pitmasters creates an expectation of perfection.

As is the custom these days restaurants often like to create a contrived authentic ambience, to make you feel as if you have been transported to wherever their purported influence is. Red’s is no exception, the space full of neon signs shabby chic tables and low lighting. 

On being seated, still very aware that we were in Shoreditch, Ben and I ordered a portion of buffalo wings whilst we perused the menu. They arrived on our table in a customary blue rimmed enamel dish. Whole chicken wings obviously deep-fried covered in a thin slightly orange sauce. We were apprehensive, a great buffalo sauce should be coat the wings and be thick and full of colour. One finger dip confirmed our hypothesis, an unremarkable thin chilli sauce. Altogether the wings were lacking flavour and were not helped by the bland milky blue cheese sauce.

Red's True BBQ Buffalo Wings
Disappointing buffalo sauce with bland blue Cheese dip

The next dish we ordered was the mac and cheese balls. We have had these at a number of venues, the offering from Chicken Liquor being a particular highlight. On first impressions they looked fine if not slightly anaemic. One bite confirmed that they would be as disappointing as the buffalo wings. The batter was an enigma, unbelievably hard on the outside and almost undercooked and chewy on the inside. The mac and cheese itself was awful, soft macaroni with bland uninspiring cheese sauce that did nothing for the flavour or texture.

Red's True BBQ Mac and Cheese Balls
Unfortunately lacking a big cheesy punch

For main courses, hoping to seriously kick this meal into gear, Ben and I ordered as much meat as possible within 2 dishes. Settling on the Dry Rub St Louis Pork Ribs and the Pit Burger consisting of brisket, two patties, bacon and pulled pork. The Ribs arrived first and the immediate impression of a decent bark on the outside piqued my interest. On cutting into the meat a significant smoke ring was present, all good signs. Unfortunately the meat itself was dry, in the 5 minutes it took to see off a couple of the dry chalky ribs my beer disappeared. The brown sugar sprinkled on top seemingly as garnish only attempted to hide a multitude of sins, mainly that the ribs were seriously lacking in flavour. A great low and slow rack of ribs should be wonderfully tender with a bark full of flavour. This was wide of the mark by some distance.

Red's True BBQ Dry Rub St Louis Pork Ribs
I don’t know what happened here, overcooked maybe, but not how they should be

The Pit Burger was the last chance and unfortunately it fell down, literally falling over due to it’s ridiculous height. There was no way to eat this burger as one normally would, the height making it impossible to get a bite with all of the layers. So due to being forced to break the burger down to eat it, I will break it down to it’s component parts to write about it.

The onion ring sitting on top was among the worst I have had, slippery and bland, the only flavour from the oil that had seeped into the batter and onion from inadequate frying. The pulled pork was unremarkable and I wonder why people insist of putting average pulled pork on their dishes, as if that makes it somewhat special. The brisket and bacon were slightly better than the rest of the dish with the brisket at least being soft, though relatively flavourless and the bacon being well cooked and nicely sweetened. The last item on this dish was the patty, an absolute travesty, thin, overcooked, rubbery and once again disappointingly flavourless.

Red's True BBQ Pit Burger
The potential to be a great treat, but the ingredients and execution were off the mark

Red’s True Barbecue promised so much and their marketing materials entice you into believing the hype. I can only assume that given its start in Leeds rather than the more discerning tastes of the London market that it has been able to get away without being exceptional at what they attempt to do. Red’s need to take a good hard look at themselves and the product that they are offering. Clearly expanding quickly, and having not eaten at their original Leeds restaurant, I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they have underestimated the difficulty of replicating their product. The reason for Byron Burger, and Honest Burger’s unprecedented success is that they have vehemently controlled the quality of their product and expanded slowly. Their menu’s have remained small and simple, growing naturally as they test the market to see what their customers want. The menu at Red’s is already larger than both, and I fear will continue to grow with distinctly average food. This may be acceptable outside of the capital, but with the access we have to brilliant barbecue, such as The Blues Kitchen just down the road, the boys at Red’s need to seriously step up their game.

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