But not necessarily for the better
Update: 16/11/2016 – BBQ Whisky Beer have apparently rebranded themselves as Smok’d.
The amusingly named BBQ Whisky Beer was one of the best barbecue eateries in my original barbecue group test and it continued to impress on subsequent visits. After decamping to the Kentish hinterland for a spell, BBQ Whisky Beer has returned – this time, taking up a residency at the Grey Horse in Kingston.
First things first
I’ve always associated crispy ribs with the deep-fried dreck that passes for ribs from takeaways. That’s not a good association to have when chowing down on baby back ribs. The bark was crispy rather than woody and dense. This might not have been so bad, except the meagre meat on the bones tasted of little.
The same crispy bark showed up once again on the St Louis cut spare ribs – the kitchen clearly has an affection for it. An affection that I don’t share. The relatively large strip of fat hadn’t been rendered properly and only the strip of swine flesh closest to the bone actually tasted of anything. Its smoky gammon-ishness was very pleasing – it’s just a shame that it wasn’t more widespread.
Although smokiness and a lot character was largely absent from the beef short rib, it was still a moderately pleasing hunk of meat-on-bone thanks to its texture. Moist, fatty and tender beef was complimented with plenty of extant squidgy, gelatinous fat and pliable, unctous connective tissue. The oddly crisp bark made a repeat appearance.
The accompanying pickled carrots, gherkins and cabbage were merely okay, but they were still tart and sour enough to cut through the relative richness of the barbecued meat.
Going back for seconds
The baby back ribs were very similar to the way they were before, although the rub had imparted more of a fruity tartness to the pork this time around. It’s still not enough for me to recommend this dish, but at least it’s not even worse.
Pulled pork had a similar fruity tartness, suggesting a new standardised rub rollout across BBQ Whisky Beer’s menu. Although the pulled pork was relatively firm, the cumulative tartness of the rub became a little tiring and the lack of fat made for an ultimately unexceptional version of this barbecue classic.
I only occasionally have barbecued chicken. Although it retains smokiness more easily than other meats, it’s still generally less interesting to eat with fewer variations in texture and nowhere near as much fat and no connective tissue. The staid chicken here failed to live up to my low standards for the meat. It tasted little different from chicken cooked any other way, with little evidence of the purported rosemary garlic rub.
The unexpected star of my second and final meal at BBQ Whisky Beer was the ‘hot gut’ sausage. Although sadly not a spicy andouille or andouillette, its coarse, chunky, occasionally fatty texture and gentle smokiness were still eminently pleasing.
Although the crunchy ice of the cherry sorbet tasted like nothing more than an overpriced Slush Puppy, a scoop of cornflake ice cream was better. Largely unchanged from the cereal-flavoured ice cream that made up the cornflake sundae from one of BBQ Whisky Beer’s previous residencies, it did a good job of capturing the distinctively sweet and nutty taste of cornflakes in milk but with an added layer of refreshment. It’s still not quite as evocative as Hawksmoor’s totemic cornflake milkshake, but it’s not too far off.
As with life in general, London’s restaurant market demands that you adapt and evolve or be relegated to has-been status. BBQ Whisky Beer used to be good. Sometimes flawed, but still very good. Sadly, that’s no longer the case. It’s not only failed to advance the state of its art, it’s actively gone backwards much like The Joint. That’s nowhere near good enough, especially when Texas Joe’s sharpens the practice of traditional barbecue while Pitt Cue explores new, deliciously innovative heights.
Although there are some joys to be had at BBQ Whisky Beer, notably the hot gut sausage, there are few other reasons to eat here unless you’re a suburbanite who doesn’t know any better. And if you’re a reader of mine, then you do know better.
What to order: Sausage; Possibly the beef short rib; Cornflake ice cream
What to skip: Baby back ribs; Chicken
Name: BBQ Whisky Beer
Address: The Grey Horse, 46 Richmond Road, Kingston Upon Thames KT2 5EE
Phone: 020 8617 9860
Kitchen Hours: Monday 17.00-21.00, Tuesday-Thursday 17.00-22.00, Friday-Saturday noon-22.00 and Sunday noon-19.00.
Reservations: highly recommended on and around weekends
Average cost for one person including soft drinks and service charge: £35-40 approx.
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