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Dukes Brew & Que [London]

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Trekked to Dalston to try what Timeout gave 4/5 stars and might have referred to as the best BBQ in London (don't even know if I read their article).

Place is ex-pub, but feels quite light and airy inside. I happened to go on a freak sunny day so the sunshine was flooding in, and the outside tables were full and hopping.

Waiter was Italian by way of Wisconsin and was just about the sweetest waiter I've encountered in all of my meals out, anywhere.

We ordered:

Beef ribs: In pictures they were beef-back ribs, but ours came as short-ribs. They were definitely smoked (evidenced by pink-smoke ring), but unfortunately, for about 2 hours too short as the ribs were still very tough. I found the actual smoke flavour strange -- the smoke imparted some acidic notes which I didn't enjoy; I suspect they weren't using the correct wood in their smokers (i.e., hickory or mesquite). They were then basted with BBQ sauce.

Seasoned fries: Typical skinny fries, though bite was on the dense side. I don't love seasoned fries, but these were fine - I would have preferred about 75% less seasoning as I found them a bit overwhelming.

Fried pickles & okra: Breaded in cornmeal rather than batter (a la meat liquor). Came out very crispy. Okra was better than the pickles (i actually enjoy the ones are Meat Liquor and didn't really love these).

Mac'n'cheese: Typical London m'n'c; baked without sufficient bechamel so more of a mac'n'cheese block than what one gets served in Southern BBQ restaurants in the US (which is usually very creamy).

Home-made BBQ sauces were alleged to be Kansas City and South Carolina styles, but were both really horrible. Kansas City is usually a sweet tomato based concoction while theirs was overwhelmingly bitter. South Carolina is famed for their pork BBQ which is served with mustard based sauces- theirs was like a spoonful of Grey Poupon.

Beers: First has a Paulaner from Munich which is an OK lager; my fault for ordering. Next had their stout which was recommended to go with beef ribs (by a non-beer drinking waiter). Was actually quite nice, and is brewed on premises.

Would I go back? No. Did I enjoy my meal? Not really. Does this place serve authentic BBQ? Maybe, but a shitty incarnation. This might be blasphemous, but I quite like Bodeans for their take on crappy chain BBQ (they serve what you might find at Dallas airport), and would rate this far below. I give them props for actually smoking the meat with an imported smoker, but if you don't serve good food I don't care how much effort you make. I went to Pit Cue in Soho recently and really enjoyed my beef ribs (though hated the place as it was super tiny and very rushed), despite them not being perfect they were at least quite tender and flavourful.

If I wrote aforementioned Timeout article, they'd get a 2/5.

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  1. Based on a limited sampling of their menu on a recent visit for a special beer and food tasting event, I'd probably give the food a 3 out of 5 and only then because they served us a delicious miso cod dish which was created especially for the tasting and is not normally available. Odd. The goats cheese starters were mediocre, the brownie dessert was poor. I liked the beef ribs we had well enough, they were not tough, though I'd not describe them as fall-off-the-bone either. I did like the flavour. Not close to the best ribs I've had but decent and the prices seemed OK. Liked the vibe and their cellar manager was a fantastic host too.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Kavey

      Have to say i agree. went there a few weeks back. Atmosphere was nice. Service was quite good. Beef ribs were tough and definitely needed a few more hours of 'slow and low' cooking. Flavours were average. Think they must have been rushing to meet demand. The Mac N Cheese was disappointed. could have done much better at home. I'm a big Pitt Cue Co fan, and those guys win hands down.

      1. re: foreignmuck

        Love to hear what you think about the beef ribs at Bukowski Grill in Brixton Market.

        1. re: limster

          Limster, i've never been to Bukowski grill. Do you rate it? WiIl have to check it out next time!

          1. re: foreignmuck

            Love the beef ribs. Other stuff in the realm of good to pretty good e.g. A recent burger with very good wild mushrooms. But always good to have more hounds chime in!

    2. Interesting write-up. I thought the beef ribs were fantastic. Mine were beef back ribs. Real beefy smoke flavor. Fall off the bone is not the way ribs should come out. There sould be a chew. On the other hand, I thought their pork ribs were underdone. Too much chew. I agree with most of your review. The sauces and sides were meh. Beer and tequila selection is good though. As for Pitt Cue...I've only tried it once and, except for the cocktails, was thouroughly unimpressed with food and service. Makes me want to go back to see if I had an off night or if the excitement around this place is more self-manufactured hype.

      The acidic notes you tasted may have been them either experimenting with a different wood (mesquite is horrible in a smoker) or they added fresh wood near the end of the smoke and the ribs picked up the acrid, bitter flavor. That can ruin any decent BBQ.

      Thanks for the review.

      3 Replies
      1. re: amini1

        Glad you enjoyed the review.

        I know how beef ribs are supposed to be served, and like you, I don't enjoy fall-off-the-bone beef ribs -- the beef has a more uniform texture so a perfectly smoked rack should be more like a soft steak rather than a pulled pork texture. These were awful tough and almost inedible.

        I'm not sure I agree that adding wood near the end of a BBQ can add an acrid flavour as I frequently smoke ribs and add wood constantly throughout the cooking process. In fact, when I grew up my parents owned a BBQ restaurant and if you've ever seen a commercial smoker you'd know they add wood all day as different meats take a different amount of time so it isn't really possible to ensure that new wood isn't added at the end of a smoke.

        Do you have a smoker in London? I'd looooooooove to pick one up some time, but unfortunately, my living in a flat sort of precludes me from having plumes of smoke drifting into the air all night long. I dream of buying a pellet smoker here, perhaps my next place will have a garden flat?

        1. re: brokentelephone

          I have 2 Big Green Eggs here. My kids have become so addicted to pork ribs that I'm asked multiple times a week to make them. Since it's an impossible weekday cook, Sundays have to do. Smoked chicken wings are another favorite that I'm surprised all but Bodean's haven't picked up on. I make my own buffalo-ish sauce and bleu cheese dressing. I would have a lot of trouble giving up my Eggs and living in a flat.

          As for the acrid smoke flavor, I have no idea what smoker setup they have there but I do know it's possible to give meat that awful bitter flavor by "over smoking" so to speak. It may be that proper commercial smokers virtually eliminate this by proper ventilation but too much heavy smoke causes a creosote buildup on the meat.

          1. re: amini1

            OH i see what you mean, re: too much smoke.

            Pellet smokers are a revelation -- no more tending to the fire, just perfect BBQ temp all day/night long.

            I think Bodeans used to do smoked wings but perhaps they just stopped and replaced them with deep fried ones.

      2. Totally agree. I was so disappointed with this place. The ribs come out looking amazing but after one bite into tough meat you are put off. I understand that they shouldn't be falling off the bone but people were gnawing and pulling at the tough chewy meat all around us. Sauces were pretty rubbish too. As for Mac n Cheese, when is anywhere in London going to figure out that they are doing it all wrong.

        4 Replies
        1. re: plummonk

          Could it be the cheese they use?

          1. re: zuriga1

            I think so most of the time -- they're mad for cheddar here, but i think a good mac and cheese needs a bechamelish type base with a mixture of a melting cheese and a flavourful cheese.

            1. re: brokentelephone

              The best mac and cheese I've had since being here was at a small pub on the road from Leatherhead to Guildford - a real 'local.' What I remember is that the top was crispy and well done and lots of times in England, they don't seem to do anything like that and leave it one, big gooey bunch of pasta. Maybe that dark top hid the color of the cheddar, which is too white!

              1. re: brokentelephone

                The mac n cheese at Hawksmoor is our family favorite in London. They use Stilton and Ogleshield and its pretty amazing, So good in fact that my wife, a lifelong vegetarian, now joins me for dinner there in spite of all the meat.

                The recipe is also in their cookbook which I've followed at home w/o the Ogleshield and using cheddar instead

                Dave