A quick look under the bonnet confirmed that there was something in them, but our cups were not runningeth over by any means.
Prefacing things a little, the timing of our visit at Red Dog Saloon was unfortunate. Rob had stepped off a plane from JFK merely hours before; a heady cocktail of jetlag and having devoured proper American fare just hours previously. We turned up sans appointment having been stood up elsewhere in Shoreditch by some guy that runs some other restaurant and we were both in a bit of a grumpy mood.
But before we get into it, let’s riff about context a little.
Hoxton Square in 2012 is pretty fascinating. Nearly everyone has a friend of a friend they used to work with who had “an amazing flat right on the square” in like, the nineties or something, which they had probably bought for a pittance. The running theme tends to be that this was a very long time ago, before we all went to 333 as clueless students and the lights were on at the Electricity Showrooms. In fact, before most normal people went to Shoreditch for any reason.
But now. Now. It’s a bevelled-edge shadow of its debauched piss-puddled pre-Barleyite self.
It has a lawn. It’s full of anxiety-ridden office workers and Pret flat whites. It even has a Byron.
Not just any Byron either, it’s probably their least-styled one, probably because they hadn’t a clue what to do with it since the geographical identity is so confused. On a balmy Thursday evening, it’s packed full of recruitment consultants in square-toed shoes: jackets off, collars open, sucking back lukewarm bottles of unchallenging lager.
There is not a hipster to be seen, since the reality is all those historic flats have been turned into pokey, un-airconditioned offices for, well, recruitment consultants.
Over the way from Byron, round the corner from the Breakfast Club, sits Red Dog Saloon, sounding a bit like one of those FMV coin-ops from the early Nineties. Its large outside deck boasts many of the plainly shod local workforce and their lagers. On first glance walking in, you can see the lazily curated Americana dotted around: animal skulls with horns on them, wood planked walls, ‘authentic’ black and white photos.
But stare around a bit more and you notice uniform tables, trendy low lighting, bottles of bourbon in those trendy wirecage cupboards: everything meticulously placed. It feels a bit clinical. We stand in front of the waitresses engaged in a conflab for a few minutes, waiting to see if we could grab a table, and were eventually met with a pair of doubtful grimaces. Looking around it was all kinds of empty. We’re talking one table of two in the whole of the upstairs dining area. All the tables were reserved you see.
Wow. Luckily we were able to grab a pew in the Rec Room.
Our pew turns out to be a carefully vintaged leather sofa and a coffee table downstairs in the largely uninhabited basement. Just by the loos. Onward to the menu then. It makes all the attempts to be as atypically classic Route 66 diner-bar as possible.
They even have succotash.
You want eating challenges? They’ve got two of ‘em. Although the Devastator was eyeballing us like an eager chugger, we wimped out and opted for the cheeseburger with pulled pork and brisket sandwiches. We couldn’t face the ribs after seeing a few portions leave the kitchen. There were some wings too, which we’ve since forgotten about completely. They were probably expensive.
A little while later we were confronting by three chunky-looking buns. We like big buns, but it appeared as if there wasn’t a lot else. A quick look under the bonnet confirmed that there was something in them, but our cups were not runningeth over by any means. Our burnt ends were small, suspiciously uniform chunks doused in a treacly thick sauce. The pulled pork was quite dry and sorry-looking, like someone had baked some standard ribs in an oven and then scooped the meat off with a tiny spoon, the accompanying BBQ sauce possibly missed from the order.
The cheeseburger wasn’t terrible by any means - the beef seemed pretty decent. But all three suffered from an imbalance between the filling and the bun. And these buns were a let-down - dry, cumbersome and unyielding. There is nothing sadder than a dwarfed patty, and this one looked suicidal. If you are going to serve buns that big (and charge for it), you have to fill them. Pile a ton of meat in and, quality regardless, you might just get away with it. Otherwise you just look accountant-level stingy. And RDS was leaning to the latter heavily.
The additional problem is that there’s a fucking Byron next door, so if your burger isn’t at least competitive then there’s no reason to even order it.
There’s wasted potential here. Post-Hoxton Hoxton BBQ doesn’t seem to work. It’s like Henley-On-Thames-ing a dive bar. It achieves, and ultimately stands for, nothing.
“Nothing more than a shitty chain wannabe, with the same amount of atmosphere.” says Rob, as we lean at the bar waiting for the guy to try and get the card reader to work.
Understandably, they are catering for a certain type of crowd here, but if they added some big screens downstairs and showed sports, and made it generally more Roadhouse-y, it might give it a better vibe. Like, even Big Easy has a good feel to it, and that’s in fucking Chelsea.
We probably need to go back to really give the ribs a thorough working over, so we’ll reserve full judgement on the authenticity of their BBQ fare. But, understandably we are reticent as all hell if the experience is as disappointing as this one was.
- Simon & Rob.