We wanted a huge bowl of the pulled pork
From the outside, Dukes Brew and Que wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Jeeves & Wooster, squeezed between a building wrapped in scaffolding and a council estate in Hackney-but-still-the-rough-bit Haggerston. The juxtaposition is evident inside as a throng of well dressed 9-to-5ers mob the bar, leaving the local drunk looking bewildered. Poor bloke, he only wants a pint of fucking bitter. Later, when he bowls up to bar for another scoop, the front of house will try and give his tiny table by the window away to a trendy young couple, and he will not be best pleased.
That’s the thing - it is a boozer, with most of the crowd queuing at the bar for one of the impressive selection of beers here solely for that reason (our pale ale loving compadre was ecstatic). But it’s also a restaurant. An arguably good balance. And yet, we are still a bit disconcerted since the FOH lady chooses to ignore us and we find our pre-booked table on our own and wait a good ten minutes before the waitress decides to give us the time of day. In short, it looks like a pub, but it’s definitely a restaurant. Not much space for those just there for the sauce.
The menu is a bit odd for somewhere touting itself as a barbecue place - there is a lot of steak going on, and a burger. And the only pulled pork available is housed within in ‘sliders’. They’ve also committed the cardinal “mission statement” sin as you can see from the picture above.
We ordered everything vaguely barbecue, and a burger.
Let’s start with that burger. The patty was thick, moist and packed a distinctly barbecue flavour, almost as if it had been smoked itself, which was quite novel. The sauce with it was fresh and spicy sweet, and the bun did a stand up job housing the lot. Yep, it was a barbecue burger, of sorts, and whilst not mind-blowing, it wasn’t bad. It did taste a bit like a frankfurter though, which some of you might find some disconcerting.
On to the ribs. The pork were pleasingly big, pink and chewy. The beef ribs were heavier on the gristle and didn’t quite have enough fat to keep them as palatable, or enough sauce to keep them moist.
Both of them however were criminally sweet, and we have a theory about it. Duke’s clearly have some kind of Memphis-style house rub they’re applying to all their ribs, be they cow or pig. We think that once they’ve been smoked, they’re re-dunked into the rub and flash-grilled so the sugar caramelises just before they’re sent out. Now, this is a problem. The dark sugary bark does indeed look really good, but there is an overwhelming caramel taste and smell to both types of rib.
Worse than that, the flash-nature of that grilling means you get the odd grain of sugar stuck between your teeth, which gives it that shuddering granulated sugar crunch that is far from pleasant. We’re fine with sweetness in ‘cue, but the sugar itself should not be identifiable by texture.
All is not lost though. The best thing by a country fried mile were the pulled pork sliders - dinky little gems of moist pulled pork topped with a zingy slaw, served in a brilliant dinky brioche bun. We all agreed a big daddy version of one of these would have been epic. Unfortunately, the fact that you only get three of them in a mains serving is ultimately too stingy.
We wanted a huge bowl of the pulled pork and it’s just not an option on the menu.
The sides were fine, the only disappointment being the mac ‘n cheese. The pasta was topped with lots of rubbery grilled cheese without any real evidence of a proper cheese sauce. Macaroni with cheese if you will. Amateurish.
They’ve clearly done their USA BBQ research too, they’ve got the rolls of greaseproof paper right, but the menu feels focus-grouped to death (steak, steak, steak). Duke’s guys - do what you know you can do.
Duke’s is going to draw inevitable comparisons with Pitt Cue Co (which we will be reviewing soon): everything is served similarly, on similar trays, with a similar slaw side, with that familiar New/Old Filament Lightbulb Aesthetic.
But we’re not going to bother - the subtlety and complexity of Pitt Cue’s flavours, crossed with its significantly lower cost and more convenient location really doesn’t warrant one.
- Rob & Simon.