Looking for a to get down and dirty in the Deep South? You’ve come to the right place. In a dark, wood panelled room in Soho sits a wall of skulls. Surrounded by faux gas lights, the poor unidentified creatures stare solemnly down at the diners. On worn chopping board sits their flesh, arranged in huge smoked slabs staring back at them. A wall of old photographs stares back, complete with rust streaks and old hobo fingerprints. Beneath those haunting photographs is me, halfway through my St. Louis Cut Ribs, wishing I hadn’t wasted valuable stomach space by eating at Nando’s just three hours earlier.
Don’t go to Red Dog Saloon full. Don’t go half empty. Don’t even go if you’ve eaten within the last two days. Ideally I would suggest a starvation diet of a week or more to fit in the mouthwatering, monumental portions. I would also suggest suitable attire. I opted for a sleeveless denim jacket with metal studded shoulders, though a plaid shirt and bolo tie would do just as well.
American food is trendy these days, and Red Dog Saloon brings together all the big-hitting classics of the Deep South under one roof, together with all the authentic decor you could ever want. My companion and I drew our attention away from our skull guessing game just long enough to order a veritable meat feast. First, however, I opted for a classic margarita. Salt-rimmed, delicious, alcoholic – in that sense, I guess it really is vintage Americana. If you’re not in the mood for a margarita though there are more options, including Lone Star lager (another ‘authentic’ Kansas export), Bulleit Rye whiskey or tequila shooters.
It wasn’t long before our order began overwhelming the table. The margaritas were pushed to the side to make way for buffalo wings and fried catfish. I love buffalo wings. The crispy skin, smothered in hot sauce dipped in a cooling blue cheese sauce is as close as chicken can come to godly in my opinion. Perhaps I feel like this because I came to them late in life and therefore have the same zeal for the tasty treats that a born-again Christian does for God. These particular bufallo-y treats were as crisp as the first fallen leaves of autumn, but significantly more edible. The creamy blue cheese dip cooled the saucy little buggers down perfectly. Without doubt the second best buffalo wings I have ever had, only behind my revelatory first experience one early evening in an urban forest.
The catfish was unfortunately not as memorable. A lovely crispy coating did little to hide the flaccid excuse for a fish hiding inside. It was actually pretty tasty, but hampered by the texture. The fish never seemed to make contact with my mouth. In fact it gave so little resistance my teeth eventually turned on each other in frustration.
It as at this point we return to me, hunched beneath that rust-ridden memory, reminiscing about my regretfully full stomach. Half of a half rib still sat before me. It pained me to leave the blackened, melt in the mouth, hickory smoked slab unfinished. Sitting next to the chopping board in a thin mess tin was a thick, chunky bowl of chilli. Made up of brisket and pork it was an unbelievably delicious side to the ribs and was supremely dip-able for a bowl of thin cut fries.
Considering the state of near complete collapse that was upon me, I may be judging the ribs too harshly when I say without the chilli to add a punch of flavour there wasn’t a lot going on. But it really was a shame. The ribs were cooked to perfection, as was my companion’s brisket, falling off the bone at the merest suggestion that you wanted to eat it. It dripped with tenderness. It was, however, criminally under seasoned and under sauced. The sauce I could solve by choosing from the three options on the table, but it just isn’t the same if the beast isn’t marinaded to death and then cooked in another sloppy helping.
I am by my own admission no lover of sickly sweet bbq sauce, but there are so many other more delicate options. I can’t help but think that Red Dog Saloon are simply trying to avoid alienating any of their customers, and in doing so have missed an opportunity to totally rule London’s BBQ scene. The quality of their meat is easily good enough. But, if they’re going to represent Kansas in the UK go the whole hog – don’t hold back. We left satisfied and wistful, vowing to return with emptier stomachs.
Red Dog Saloon
Tel: 020 3457 6930