The sudden popularity of barbecue food in the UK a couple of years ago led to three BBQ restaurants opening up within a short period of time (Rub, Jim’s Smokehouse and Red’s True Barbecue). People I know who particularly love the American BBQ food regard Red’s to be the best of the bunch. We’ve visited a couple of times in the past and weren’t completely overjoyed but the dangerous combination of a killer hangover and a £10 off voucher convinced us we should give it another go.
The first thing you notice on entering the restaurant is the decor. It’s predictably done out with exposed brickwork, exposed piping, cage fencing, neon signs and mismatched furniture – seemingly at the expense of a logical seating layout, you’re packed into small areas like sardines (there’s nothing like another man’s arse squeezing past your head while you eat). This style may be to some people’s taste but I think it’s overdone and boring. Plasterers all over Nottingham must be weeping at the lost trade.
The menu offers customers many different meat dishes, all cooked low and slow on the BBQ. There are burgers, customisable platters and sandwiches, but I opted for a tray of beef brisket and burnt ends which came with onion, jalapeños and mustard caviar served on a slice of bread. I picked the skin-on fries and the slaw as my two sides. I remember our first visit to the restaurant we ordered the mixed platter and found the brisket to be my favourite meat so this pick was a no brainer. Emily meanwhile picked the pitmaster sandwich with fries and mac n cheese.
The first thing I noticed when my plate arrived was the amount of meat piled on the plate – the portions are very generous! The second thing was my dismay when I noticed the whole meal was served on top of a paper tray liner. This seems to happen at all BBQ restaurants and means when the dish consists of meat and sauce it all turns to mush and you end up eating paper mache. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t use some of the money they saved from not finishing the decorating to buy some plates (God, I’m old).
The brisket itself was generally really nice. I find brisket varies from restaurant to restaurant – sometimes it comes thinly sliced like roast beef and other times it is more like beef stew soaked in sauce. This version was thick cuts of beef which held together well but were easy to bite into. The reason barbecue food is cooked slowly for hours is that traditionally it uses the cheapest cuts of meat. The slow cooking was more out of necessity than taste as its the only way to make the tough meat edible. This meant that some bits of the brisket slices were pure fat and gristle which obviously isn’t great. The meat that was there though was tasty and the onion and mustard caviar worked well with the smoky flavour of the meat. The burnt ends were also amazing. They were chewy and meaty but not overdone. Last time we ate here we ordered the burnt ends and it was like eating charcoal as they were cooked to a cinder. No similar issues this time, they were perfectly cooked and delicious.
The slaw meanwhile was adequate without being amazing and the fries were great. Is there ever a reason to serve any fries other than skin-on?!
A real highlight of the meal was the range of table sauces that were supplied.
Unlike the artificial, sugary goop that us Brits have been subjected to over the years, authentic BBQ sauce is thinner and tangier with a genuine smokiness. When you add these ‘proper’ sauces to the meat, there’s no competition and it’s amazing. There were other tasty sauces such as BBQ mustard, ketchup and hot sauce. I have mentioned in a previous review that Emily’s only fault was her aversion to all things mustardy, so my jaw hit the floor when Emily exclaimed dramatically that she actually liked the mustard BBQ sauce. Her one fault now removed, I have no choice but to declare her completely and utterly perfect. (Disclaimer: this section may or may not have been edited by said girlfriend).
Emily’s sandwich was an absolute beast, she was really happy with her menu choice and it looked very impressive when it arrived. A brioche bun didn’t even try to contain the massive amounts of beef brisket, pulled pork, jalapeño smoked sausage, slaw, cheese and frickles (fried pickles – lol).
The brisket and pulled pork were beautifully smoky and cooked to perfection – Emily won the brisket lottery with no fatty bits at all. The smoked sausage was a delightful addition, adding a spicy, porky hit of sausagey goodness. You absolutely cannot attempt to eat this like a normal sandwich – it’s a knife and fork job. It seemed to keep going forever, an unending pile of delicious meat! The mac n cheese was just ok, the pasta was overcooked so it was really cheese mush but the flavour was good.
Another round of applause for Red’s – if you can’t finish your gargantuan meal they let you take it home in a doggy bag. Good for us as we didn’t really come close, then we had Red’s leftovers for tea! Yay!
Overall, this was a great lunch. Emily in particular wasn’t expecting to enjoy it so much but we were really impressed and a new respect for the previously dismissed American BBQ trend was found. There were a few niggles (paper mache for lunch, anyone?) but it was tasty and one we recommend. Our £10 off voucher meant the bill was only £12 each which is great value, especially considering the portion size and doggy bag. I’ll just make sure that on our next visit I take my own plate.