Red Dog Saloon has terrible reviews. Even easier-to-please-than-a-retriever Time Out only offered it two stars. But they must be doing something right, because it's constantly spilling out onto the streets, despite the Byron that opened opposite late last year, and I was determined to find out what.
Jay Rayner had a nightmare there – involving raw chicken wings and reheated ribs – but the thing that really angered him was that the owners have never even been to America. It's shocking of course, but I'm not sure that matters in the end. None of its customers have either. Being on Hoxton Square, on a Wednesday night it's packed with suits from Old Street who fancied an “adventure” and who ignore the American beer list and instead down Amstel and worry about their ties.
Nothing about the place feels authentic, even the cliche bulls' skulls on the wall, and sat outside at their Homebase garden tables, you could be in any Hoxton bar. In fact, the fact that the owners have never been to America keeps the message of the restaurant clear and concise. This is what Britain thinks BBQ food is.
So far, so bad. But things improved. There website looks spot on, the menu extensive and appetising. In true Man-versus-Food fashion they even have a spicy wings and an all-you-can-eat burger challenge. I always worry about these places, because its often a sign that they are burying poor ingredients by loading as many as they can into each mouthful. Remember that later.
We ordered a basket of their award-winning buffalo wings, which were genuinely excellent. Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, so spicy that breathing near them caused fits of coughing, and served with a beautifully rich blue cheese sauce. It was mess at its best, and even two lemon wet wipes couldn't quite clean me up afterwards.
I wish I'd ordered more than eight, because that was peak. For the main I plumped for the burger, simply because I wanted to see how they would compare to their neighbours Byron. The answer is not very well at all. My Bar-B-Q burger, aside from confusing the two recognised spellings of barbecue, was just a slur of mistakes in a slightly soggy bun. The pattie was dry, the onion rings raw and moist, the cheese virtually tasteless and the sauce slightly caked – like the spillages around the lid of a jar. As a whole it was satisfyingly trashy, but more in a 2am McDonald's way than a camp confession that the burger's next stop would be my thighs and I didn't two hoots.
In a neighbouring basket the chips were delightfully crispy, but so oily that by the time we were scrabbling around the bottom of the basket, the paper they came in (bizarrely branded “letsdough”) was completely see-through. My arteries constricted as I looked through the paper and saw my friend's face in complete detail.
If I were to be brutal I'd say you could get a burger just as good at your local Wetherspoon. That would be stretching things a little and to be fair I should go back and try the smoker part of the menu. But, the wings aside, it has offered me no reason to do so. Here's my advice – if you're hungry in Hoxton, get some wings at Red Dog, then walk the 20 metres to Byron. You'll thank me.