Northern smoke-power-house Red's hit London last year, first as a pop up and then as a fully fledged restaurant in Shoreditch. Finding truly good American-style barbecue in this city is a very hit and miss affair, some popular spots we have tried unfortunately turned out to not be very good at all, so we are always hesitant as fuck to try places for fear of disappointment. But when a bunch of friends suggested we go the Red's, we figured it was worth it for the ridonkulous Donut Burger at least.
The jokeshop concept of a Donut Burger is bombastic, but in essence it is a really only a bacon double cheese with a more doughy and hella calorific bun. The two glazed doughnuts mean that the initial clout in every mouthful is a familiar cloying of the sweet glaze and easy collapse of the soft dough. But then comes a wave of sweet smokiness from the smoked peppered bacon, and then classic undertones of the patties, cooked to a fine pink, and melted American cheese combination. The meat is soft and the cheese is gooey, a classic cheeseburger might be pretty decent here. And then the sweetness of the doughnuts push back again with a wave of the creamy dirty sauce. The battle of sweet with smoky all the way through is an odd but not unpleasant experience, like having a continual barrage of soft toys at your head. It is a stunt, and you would eat it purely for the sake of spectacle. Doubtful you'd need to revisit it.
We need to talk about barbecue. It unfortunately turned out to not be very good at all: The brisket was dry, chewy and lacked flavour and the bark was rock-hard jagged and exuded none of the smoky nuances you would hope from a nicely smoked cut. The bone dry pice of bread underneath was evidence enough of the lack of any moisture. The burnt ends were a chore for the jaw and smothered in so much sauce you couldn't have tasted the meat if you had wanted to. The pit smoked buffalo wings had a fine smokiness to them, but were also dry and lacking in any real trace of buffalo sauce or flavour. The gang we took are wing fans and they were disappointed-to-the-point-of-miffed. The diminutive portion size of the £20 Pitmaster Tray was also called into question (in a more 'Is that fucking it?' way).
The sides were pretty good though. The buttermilk slaw was sloppy and sour piquant where it needed to be and the greens were akin to those we've had at barbecues places in the States. So... there's that.
Red's has a very alluring menu with a large number of options, something to always be sceptical about in a traditional barbecue restaurant. Our opinion stays steadfast on this point, if you want the religious experience of American-style barbecue, get yourself on a fucking plane to America. Truly, this is one barbecue chain that could have probably done with staying up North.