Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Red Rooster, Shoreditch

Please don't think that this review is the result of the fact I've not had a truly terrible meal for a while and I'm short on some kind of slating quota. I never want to have bad meals - nobody does. Quite the opposite; I spend most of my life trying - with considerable success, considering the numbers involved - to avoid them. But no matter how cautious and vigilant, you only need to let your guard down for a second to be in trouble. A bad meal is always out there somewhere; they creep upon you, stalk you like jungle cats, getting closer and closer as you wait naive and oblivious until at the last moment they strike, and you can only struggle helplessly as they tear at your soul and your wallet.

The problem with a lot of bad restaurants is that while seemingly caring little about what ends up on the plate they often manage to scrape together enough money - somehow - to employ people who can write a good menu. And the Red Rooster menu reads well - well enough, clearly, for one to assume a decent dinner there wasn't outside the realms of possibility. An interesting international melange of influences, ceviche, gravlax and fried chicken sat beside jerk pork, clam chowder and a cheeseburger - London has seen Southern US soul food before (most recently and most successfully at the late, lamented Lockhart and Shotgun) but this seemed something genuinely new, reflecting the fascinating (and well worth reading up on) background of head chef Marcus Samuelsson. The point is, we thought it was going to be good. Otherwise why bother?

Worried by the potential size of the £58 main course we had our eyes on (more on that later) we decided to share a starter of what we'd been led to believe was a Red Rooster classic - fried chicken and waffles. What arrived was a small, butterflied thigh piece, topped with chilli sauce and pickle, on top of maple waffle. The chicken itself wasn't bad, just boring - watery and plain and desperately needing more spice and seasoning. The waffle was cold and chewy but otherwise OK with a nice maltiness, and the chilli - sorry, Rooster - sauce was best described as "wet". Pickle was bizarrely good, though, so there is that.

OK, so far so bland. The "famous" Red Rooster fried chicken wasn't even the best in the East of London (certainly not with Chick'n'Sours a short bus ride away) never mind the Western Hemisphere. So perhaps the main course would redeem the place? Well, no. No, it really wouldn't. For an astronomical £58 you get three "bonemarrow" dumplings which tasted of little more than suet, a strange bed of frozen [SEE EDIT BELOW] peas, corn and chopped asparagus, and on top a two-bone piece of beef (very) short rib, I'm guessing no more than 400g or so including the bones.

We dutifully carved our miniature rib roast into two, and tried it. It was chewy from not having been cooked long enough, but to be honest I don't mind a bit of bite from a rib roast. What I do mind is paying £58 for a piece of beef so completely underseasoned - literally not a hint of salt - and underpowered that it hardly could pass as beef at all; this was a desperately poor quality bit of cow. If you had been presented with this strange pan full of frozen veg and mystery meat at a dinner party, you'd dutifully eat it, murmur quiet appreciations and quietly decide never to return, but to be asked to pay £58 for it in a hotel restaurant in Shoreditch is insane. This apparently is their signature dish, the name "Obama ribs" reflecting some kind of connection with the ex-president from which he'd be best advised to distance himself.

In a desperate effort to claw some positives from the evening I should point out that the house aquavit that came with the bill was very decent, all staff were lovely and smiley, and our waitress in particular seemed to genuinely be interested in learning that £58 is quite a lot to pay for a couple of mouthfuls of beef. And though the table they had initially given us was terrifyingly close to a live band, they quickly and happily reseated us in the conservatory when requested. But really, these are things that we should be taking for granted in a London restaurant in 2017; I'm doing them a favour for even pointing it out.

We noted with some alarm that another of the main courses - a whole fried chicken (£55!) - comes to the table adorned with a lit firework. Had our dinner been better - a lot better - this could perhaps be appreciated as a bit of naff but guiltily enjoyable theatre, a gimmick but not without its charms. However in the context of our dreadful evening, it felt like a distraction technique - that they hoped somehow people would put up with paying astronomical prices for clumsily presented, sloppily cooked food as long as was camouflaged by enough TGI Friday's flair. Well, it may have worked in Harlem but I'm afraid this is London, and up with this kind of shit we will not put. Red Rooster doesn't deserve this prestigious spot on Curtain Road and I hope this vast space is very soon put to better use. I wonder if Chick'n'Sours are looking to expand?


[EDIT: I've been assured by the PR that the peas were in fact fresh, not frozen. I'm sure I'm no expert but my friend with whom I ate the above meal still swears they were frozen. Take your pick.]


Angie SilverSpoon said...

I remember watching Marcus Samuelsson on Top Chef, shame his UK restaurant doesn't deliver.

Patrick said...

I saw someone who works in restaurant PR raving about the Obama ribs on Instagram yesterday. Weird!

newmiyamoto said...

Chris, I said the EXACT same thing about the veg under the Obama ribs. The mixture of peas, sweetcorn and withered looking broad beans is definitely from the frozen veg section of Brakes or bidvest. My rib was also undercooked and bland though a little larger than yours. The lack of detail in the preparation of the food was hugely disappointing. A duck starter consisting of spiced cubes of duck was a crap shoot with some pieces being tender if a little dry and others chewy and sinewy due to improper trimming.
Strangely, the desserts were really quite accomplished, balanced dishes. They felt very out of place and rather oddly were on a menu of their own only produced when we asked for it.

Hidi99 said...

Went there last week and have to agree. I liked the Duck and Waffles and my princess cake dessert was lovely, as were all the staff. But hugely overpriced and the burger I had for my main was a disaster. Dry, very rare (which I didn't mind, but I think they should mention how rare it is going to come out) and my fries were inedible. Very hit and miss and sorry, maybe I am getting old, but I had to use my phone to read the menu, it was so dark at my table! Like you said, give me Chicks and Sours anyday!

ELL said...

looks like frozen peas and corn to me. doesn't sound like a terrible meal just not great but shockingly overpriced. I mean it's wetherspoons standards at soho prices and who'd be happy with that?

Unknown said...

well, its all depends on each one flavour and mood when they are dining, well I heard and dined in it was amazing , especially the vibe n food, I felt like my mum treated me for something special occasion.

matthew said...

short ribs are about £6/kg. How can they possibly justify that price for such a cheap cut of meat. Fine if it's fillet, or wing rib or something.