Just one street over from the world’s most famous shop – Harrods – you will find a restaurant committed to serving Chicago style grub. Because it’s Knightsbridge, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is not a shack. Founded in 1982 by Bob Payton as ‘The Rib Shack’, his dream was to bring authentic American ribs to London. Now based in Knightsbridge since 2008, they continue to make this dream a reality and have maintained some of the original fanfare including the Bobby and Barbie Q signs on the toilets – you’ll be forgiven if you need a second to work it out, I did – and the ‘bone appetite’ bibs they make you wear, as well they should.
Split over two floors, Chicago Rib Shack offers a choice of a comfy, cosy, family dining experience downstairs, or upstairs there is a cooler vibe; half the upper level is a dining area of booths and tables, with screens that show movies and sports during the day, the other half is a bar front, where guests can enjoy one of the shack’s great selection of American beers or sample one of their selection bar snacks, many of which are straight off the a la carte menu.
And their selection of imported beer is impressive and not just from the States, though these are its big pulling point. Anyone who thinks American beers are weak hasn’t tried a Goose Island IPA from Chicago. It’s a 5.9 refreshing IPA with a flowery aftertaste. But for a lighter, beer, much more in keeping with the steretype that we Brits have created for American stock, there is the Honkers Ale; also from Chicago this is a light but smooth ale with a hoppy taste.
While there are plenty of beers to make your way through from all over the US of A, The Shack is also a cocktail bar. My first of the evening is their dark caipirinha. Blackcurrant is added to the standard cachaca, lime and brown sugar to give a deliciously sweet twist to this rather sour Brazilian classic. This seems to be the trend at The Shack, taking classic cocktails and giving them a little twist, changing the colour and the taste. The Lychee Blue, contains Blue Curacao to give it a luminous blue colour and a sweet almost aniseed taste, which I thought counteracted the sweetness of the lycheee; but then I’m not a gin cocktail kind of guy. Much nicer was the Pink Mojito – crème de mure and Cranberry give it that pink twist to produce a much sweeter, fruitier take on the classic.
For starters, a quesadilla; that great Mexican dish that has been integrated into the American kitchen and made their own. Soft floury tortillas, toasted with cheese and other accompaniments to produce a deliciously savoury, melted cheese tortilla sandwich. Unfortunately this was not the dish I was served. The roasted vegetable quesadilla is advertised as containing ‘roasted vegetables and melted cheese served in a thick tomato sauce with garlic mayo’. There was no tomato sauce and the vegetables were red onions, and in great abundance. Aesthetically it looked flat, burnt and without any charm. Biting into it with a loud crunch the quesadilla broke like a cracker in my mouth. The second bite is better but only because it contains cheese and onion – lots of red onion – but the cheese is rubbery and cold. It was only on the final bite, in the very centre of the quesadilla that it was anywhere near what it should be, but by then it was done.
Not dwelling on this we moved to the mains and licked our lips at the thought of the ribs. Surely carrying the name of a food in your name means that is something you do better than the rest. We were not disappointed. Three giant racks of Chicago Rib Shacks three varieties of ribs are served on a platter. The short but thick, meaty beef ribs are on top. The beef literally falls off the huge bones and shreds under some light pressure from the knife. It’s succulent, juicy and a little chewy, but in a satisfying sense. This is really tasty meat, served dry, allowing us the chance to taste the flavours of the meat and the 25 year old secret spice mix and then mix with our desired amount of barbecue sauce.
Next down are the St. Louis Ribs. These are a different kind of rib; long, thin, pork ribs that you pick up at eat like a man. But the result is the same, tender meat that pulls away from the bone with a little pressure from your teeth – you don’t need to yank it, which means you won’t need an uncomfortable conversation with your dentist after this meal. The smokiness of the meat really comes through with this meat, more so than with the beef.
Finally we have the classic baby back ribs. Smaller but in bigger supply, these are the most common form of rib served in American diners. They should be meaty, tender and full of flavour. They are all those things and more. The rack easily tears apart in my bare hands and the meat slides off the bone. They’re smothered in a little too much barbecue sauce for my taste, but that’s forgivable when the meat is this tasty.
Accompanying this was two of the shack’s signature dishes. The Onion Loaf is exactly as the name suggests, a loaf of onions. It is served up like a loaf of bread and looks like someone has merged a batch of 40 onion rings to form a cuboid. The batter is salty and crunch, which serves as a direct contrast with the incredibly sweet and soft onions. My biggest complaint with onion rings is that you bit into the ring and the whole of the onion comes out leaving with a second mouthful of just batter. But with this load the onions are so soft – without being gooey – that they tear apart with each bit. It’s a unique twist on the onion ring, but it is a substantial dish. A serious love of onions is a must. Then there is their ‘Other Bits’. Basically they’re just tiny pieces of fried potato; they don’t look like much but there’s nowhere for the salty, seasoned flavour to hide. Choose them over the fries and you won’t regret it.
For dessert they have a cheesecake of the day, which on this particular day was a toffee cheesecake he served up was just that. A sticky, chewy layer of toffee forms one side of a sandwich with a crunchy digestive base that holds together a thick creamy vanilla centre. The Chicago Rib Shack also has an excellent selection of pies, including classics apple, cherry, banoffe and my personal favourite key lime.
Whether you’re looking for a cool way to start the evening with a cold brew from across the pond accompanied by some tasty, indulgent ‘bar snacks’ or a relaxed and or vibrant dining experience, The Chicago Rib shack has an answer for all. Go for the ribs and you can’t go wrong in this shack.
A three-course meal at Chicago Rib Shack will cost you from £20 – £35 excluding drinks and service charge. From January they will be offering superb discounts on food with 50% off on Mondays, 33% off on Tuesdays and 25% off on Wednesdays.
Chicago Rib Shack is located at 145 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7PA. For more information or to book a table visit http://www.thechicagoribshack.co.uk/#!home/
And if you are a fan of Chicago Rib Shack and believe it to be the best American Restaurant in London remember to register your vote when the polls open on 25/11/11.