Monday, 15 April 2013

Reds True Barbecue, Leeds

The origins of 'real' barbecue - the cooking meat in the smoke of a charcoal fire, rather than directly over the flames - are debatable. It probably came from the Caribbean, introduced to the New World by Spanish explorers, and quickly took off in the Southern States of America soon after the pig had been introduced. Soon there were smoke stacks popping up all over the lower US as 'cue took hold.

While we have a long tradition on this Isle of smoking fish, seafood and even cheeses, barbecues here have always meant charred sausages and raw chicken. There have been many ersatz places - usually with a faux cowboy theme, selling boiled ribs basted in sugary sauces and bottles of Bud, such as our visit to Leed's Rib Shakk last Easter. But, for most Londoners it took the opening of the Pitt Cue Trailer under the Hungerford Bridge in 2011 to finally show us the delights of meat with a proper smoke ring.

Soon, Pitt Cue found its own bricks and mortar gaff in the centre of Soho and was awarded best newcomer in the 2013 Zagat Guide. Suddenly it seemed our meat lust had been unleashed as dozens of other 'cue joints clamoured to open in its wake. I've even smoked my very own Roscoe's Root Beer Ribs.

One of these pretenders is Reds True Barbecue in central Leeds, opposite the aforementioned Rib Shakk. Not only do they have the slow cooked meats served in chipped enamel dishes, and a selection of craft beer and bourbon with pickle juice chasers, they also have a no reservations policy, too. 

Luckily we were in town early with my uncle John, a man who loves meat possibly more than any one else I know, and who was quite happy to brave the biting winds and join the Ewing and I at the front of the queue. As it was a Tuesday lunchtime, I wondered if we may have been a little over cautious by arriving before their noon time opening; but as the doors were unlocked a cluster of about twenty people had built up behind us, and within fifteen minutes of being seated there was already a waiting list.

The menu at Reds, unlike Pitt Cue's brief single page, is a comprehensive tome. Normally this is a sure fire way to set off the warning sirens, and a nightmare with someone as indecisive as the Ewing. While it's probably a bit too sprawling overall, essentially it all comes down to smoked meats, grilled meats, sides, and a selection of (mostly meaty) salads and sarnies.

Pleasingly there's a roll call at the back of the menu, listed under 'the Believers', of all the producers that supply the restaurant. Everything that they can source locally, from the meat, bread, cheese, eggs, salad and ice cream, comes from Yorkshire (with the tatties from over the border in Lincs).

Each table is furnished with a rack holding a variety of sauces that would make any condiment lover's heart beat a little faster. All homemade, except for the 'Judas ketchup' at the end, they showcase all the great American 'cue styles; from the mustard-based sauce of South Carolina; to the vinegar-based sauce of the North Carolina; to the most familiar, smoky and sticky Kansas City incarnation.

Having sampled them all, I can attest that they're all worthy - although the Triple 8 hot sauce, while tasting good, was disappointingly wimpy, heat-wise. If you're really craving more capsaicin, then they do offer a chance to pimp your ribs with their 'Epic Unholy Sauce' for an extra pound. 

Like the food, there's also a big list of drinks, ranging from whiskey 'boilermakers' to craft beer chasers, as well as a good selection of wines and cocktails. If you're up for a party then buckets of Dixie lager and growlers (six pint jugs of Brooklyn Ale) are available. We were rather more modest in our choices, sticking with Anchor Steam Beer and Anchor Steam Porter, with its rich toffee and liquorice notes.

Something I was also keen to taste was the Snake Dog IPA from the Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland, whose cans and bottles are designed by peerless Raph Steadman. Weighing in at a fearsome 7.1%, and listed on the menu as having 'a tropical, almost Um Bongo nose', how could a child raised on 80s packed lunches resist. They weren't wrong with their desciption; this power hopped beast has a massive aroma which is quite intoxicating, before you've even had a sip. The flavour is a little more restrained, with a grapefruit-bitter edge. A very fine IPA indeed.

Booze free options include a very nice, and not too sweet, housemade sweet tea - made with Yorkshire tea no less - and a tart housemade lemonade.

I sampled a feasting plate with a half rack of St Louis ribs and a Texan hot link sausage, accompanied by mac and cheese and sweet potato fries. The meat fell from the ribs with a surprising ease, perhaps a little too easily for my liking, but the smoke flavour was nicely judged and the bbq sauce slathered over them sweet and tangy. The hot link, a smoked pork and beef sausage that's a speciality of the Lone Star state, was wonderfully garlicky, with a good lick of heat.

Initially sides seemed a little bland, with the fries on the soggy side and the macaroni cheese a bit toothless, but as the flavour of the smoke from the meat grew, it was good to have some carb-y comfort blankets to offset the spice. A shout out for the pickles, too. The addition of the sharp and crunchy cucumber spears almost made it feel as if I was getting one of my five-a-day.

The Ewing's Donut Burger; two chargrilled patties topped with cheese, bacon and Red's special sauce. Monstrous or genius, depending on your perspective. As only a few errant blobs of sauce and crumbs remained at the end, the evidence firmly suggested the Ewing was in the latter camp; and from the couple of bites she (un)happily shared with me, I have to agree.

While I'm not sure I could have dispatched the whole creation without it becoming cloying (the piquant burger sauce certainly helped), the springy, fresh donut was rather like a good brioche, and was far preferably to many a sub-par bap I've been presented with. If you remain unconvinced, then their other burgers come with a 'glazed artisan bun', which sounds rather good, too.

All hail the majesty of Uncle John and his Bucket O'Bones. The menu didn't lie, this was literally a metal garbage pail stuffed with a selection of various different bone-in delights - including burnt ends, beef ribs and babybacks. Although he generously offered them around, apart from the Ewing snaffling a couple of bones, he gnawed his way through the entire thing. And then took down a mini loaf of cornbread, a dish of barbecue pit beans, and a taste of all our other other sides..... Beat that, Adam Richman,

A special mention must also go to the amazing bbq pit beans; spiced beans with added onions, chunks of burnt ends and pulled pork, finished off in the smoker for four hours.

Although obscene amounts had already been consumed, the Ewing wasn't prepared to leave without at least sampling a slice of the peanut butter cheesecake. A layer of  peanut and cream cheese sandwiched between a chocolate ganache topping and chocolate biscuit base. I was rather enamoured with this, although the Ewing wasn't quite as convinced.

Uncle John didn't let the side down, enjoying a fudgy Mississippi mud brownie with a scoop of Yorkshire vanilla ice cream, while I decided to have my ice cream in liquid form, choosing the Reds Ultimate Shake. A combination of chocolate fudge with a slice of their 'award winning' caramel apple pie, all served in a glass pint bottle from a local dairy. While I enjoyed the unusual fruit and cinnamon-spiked flavour, the texture was disappointingly thin and lacking in both pie and ice cream. More like a creamy chocolate milk than the extra thick shake I was hoping for.

While it may appear to the uninitiated that Reds is just like any other mass produced faux Americana joint, it really does feel like a lot of love goes into the 'cue here. And that lovin' feeling they put into the food obviously extends to the staff, who were quite charming throughout our visit, even when the Ewing bowled straight into one poor chap in her eagerness to get through the door. 

While a shiny new restaurant in a northern town isn't ever going to be able to evoke the smoke on the breeze and piles of  post oak piled up outside a tumbledown joint in the Southern States, huge credit must go to Reds for having the enthusiasm and knowledge to pull off such a successful Yorkshire-American barbecue hybrid. However incongruous that might sound.

Reds True Barbecue on Urbanspoon

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