From inside and out, Red Dog Saloon looks exactly like what it purports to be, a Saloon. Completely decorated with chipped wood panelling adorned with bull skulls, road signs and other paraphernalia from the South of the ol’ US of A, the façade is what you might expect to find in a diner on a dusty road in the middle of nowhere-USA.
In a place like this beer seems like the appropriate drink and they carry a great selection of American beers including Sam Adams, Anchor Steam, Dixie, Goose Island and Brooklyn East IPA, all reasonably priced at under £5; great value for an imported beer.
Equally good value is their margarita. Served short, they have the perfect amount of alcohol and fall between sweet and sour. Frozen or straight up, they do a mean margarita. And if you’re taking it soft they offer the obligatory milkshake and may be the only place in London where you can get iced tea and root beer together!
Starters are a giant plate of Buffalo wings with a big bowl of blue cheese dip. The wings are large and covered in a crisp skin cooked in that southern style we know and love. Then smothered in a sticky, tangy sauce glaze that made me lick my lips and want to ask for a big bowl of it and a private room for me to drink it in. I would have taken a bowl of the blue cheese too, so fresh, so creamy, so good!
The owner originally planned to open a burger restaurant, but all this changed when he met a barbecue champion. That was a fortuitous meeting, as the burger that we were served was not up to the high standards that are now available in many gourmet kitchens in London. While it was certainly meaty, it was far too moist and easily fell apart. I like my meat rare, very rare, but for a burger this was a little too rare. The cheese was too runny and the lettuce reduced to mush under the delicious burger juices. I’m a big believer that if you can’t eat a burger in your hands then it’s not a burger. Quality of meat aside, this was a messy mouthful that lacked the flavour of many competitors out there.
But that doesn’t matter, because Red Dog Saloon may just serve the best pork ribs in London. While I think a burger should always be a hand food my feelings on a rib can be the contrary. If the meat is falling off the bone then it’s an excellent rib. The pork literally came away from the bone with little more than a light flick. There is a sweet, crispness to the outside of the meat, which is close to being crackling. And the hickory-smoked flavour comes through every inch of the meat. Served with Red Dog Saloon’s imported Kansas city sauce on the side, you get to experience the ribs in all their plain, hickory smoked glory and smothered in as much sauce as you like, which is a rare treat with restaurants quick to smother their meat in sauce.
But things have not always been so rosy at Red Dog; opened five months ago it has been a case of trial and error for the diligent staff to get this kind of food out of the kitchen. For the first three months, problems with their imported smokers meant that they were reduced to a menu comprising of little more than burgers and booze.
It is a testament to the commitment and passion of the owner that Red Dog is not just still standing, but now producing mouth watering meat to the only standard he believes it should be available. It’s his first foray into running his own restaurant, but he is no stranger to food, proudly proclaiming, “the only work I have ever done is food”. His philosophy that fast food should be basic but of the highest quality ingredients is present throughout the establishment, from the décor to the delicious dishes to the presentation, which is stripped down to the bare minimum; food is not accompanied by salad or garnishing – if you order ribs, you get ribs. So those who fully subscribe to the belief that you take the first mouthful with your eyes, perhaps base your judgement on your second mouthful when dining at Red Dog.
The desert menu is short but very sweet indeed. Keeping the selection basic like everything else at Red Dog, they offer a comprehensive selection of flavours of iced cream from favourites like strawberry to ones as imaginative as butterscotch mixed with ginger and lemon and pineapple, which they call Cold Fusion! Also on offer is an American staple, the Brownie, and a pie of the day, which happened to be cheesecake on the day I went (they’re clearly not taking the word pie too literally). But for a pie or cake, or cheesecake as it were, it was bland, lacking texture and the sweetness of a strawberry. It was also lacking the digestive biscuit base, which for some people is unforgivable. I am one of those people.
Their Sundae lacked presentation; the whipped cream had melted entirely by the time it arrived at the table and the sundae was reduced to a runny sticky mess of hot fudge, ice cream, whipped cream and pieces of brownie. While it did not look like much it tasted just like all good sundaes should, rich, creamy, sticky and yummy. That said, you do get to choose your three flavours of ice cream allowing you to be as experimental as you like. But for the £7 asking price there are bigger and better ones out there.
If you love ribs then you must try the ones at Red Dog Saloon. Having overcome some setbacks, it is still clear Red Dog is not yet the finished article but it is a burgeoning business run by a passionate owner. If he can bleed his passion into his food – as he slowly seems to be doing – then this is a restaurant that in no time at all will really be setting the standards for American food in London.
A three-course meal at Red Dog Saloon will cost you from £20 – 35 excluding drinks and service charge.
Red Dog Saloon is located at 37 Hoxton Square, London, N1. For more information or to book a table go to http://www.reddogsaloon.co.uk
If you are a fan of Red Dog Saloon and believe it to be the best American Restaurant in London, remember to register your vote when the polls open on 25/11/11.