Tuesday 27 March 2012

Dukes Brew & Que

If you can resist the urge to step into one of the always pleasant Vietnamese places that line Kingsland Road, there is a new bar and restaurant waiting for you on the street opposite Haggerston Rail station. Dukes Brew & Que is not in the most modern or desirable part of town, but makes up for this by placing some of London’s biggest trends front and centre – barbeque & craft beer. From outside it is dark blue and unassuming, with a few scattered tables outside for the smokers. It doesn’t change inside – it’s woody and rough, solid and basic, almost like eating in a large crate used in airplane shipping. This rustic slice of the US Midwest reflects the causal, homely nature of the food they are serving out of the hot and smoky open kitchen.
          They have given about 3 quarters of the room to the diners and only a narrow, stingy space for those wanting to down a few beers. This seems to be a little misguided, as on our visits there were more patrons at the bar than at tables, and the bar is something to be shouted about. Across a couple of visits it was stocked with some high end craft beer, from local breweries like Redemption to more famous names – Thornbridge & Brewdog from the UK, Flying Dog & Sierra Nevada from the US. Particularly good on our visit was Steelmaker from Thornbridge, a heavily hopped lager, and Snake Oil, a pale ale brewed in full view opposite the kitchen. The other beer from the onsite brewery (Beavertown) was adequate but uneventful, suggesting that we can expect very good things further down the line. The (roughly 50/50) mixture of keg and cask beers is good, and there are plenty of decent wines and spirits to keep everyone else happy. The bottle list is also full of great stuff – Kernel and Redchurch for some local colour, and a few of the much rarer American goodies for the more adventurous. Generous platefuls of crispy pork scratching’s were plonked in front of us as we drank, and the barman was quick to offer help in selecting what we wanted.
             This contrasts somewhat with a restaurant that is still trying to find itself (the website describes this on-going state as a soft opening – although usually in this circumstance prices would be significantly reduced) which is clearly apparent in the food.
            The menu is short and pleasingly simple – four or five sides, and a selection of the BBQ usual suspects to arrange them around – pulled pork, beef & pork ribs, chicken wings, steak, burgers. At around £10-£12 for the mains and £3-4 for the sides, you couldn’t classify it as cheap, but certainly affordable. The food arrived swiftly via good looking, pleasant staff, and two excellent sauces were placed in between us, with the menu insisting that good barbecue needs none, but they humbly offer them anyway.
            The side dishes were a mixed bag of quality. Macaroni cheese was generous and addictive, but was served lukewarm, and I have had better from amateur cooks. On the other hand the spinach and leeks were delicious, buttery and rich. Both of the crowd pleasers of BBQ side lore were a slight disappointment – the beans were overly sweet and felt both undercooked and under portioned, while the chips were gigantic wedges of potato which had good flavour but lacked the crispy/crunchy texture that contrasts so well with soft, yielding meat. Oddly, a few of the dishes were listed as pints or half pints, yet everything arrived in bowls, suggesting the ideas are ahead of the execution.  
          From the big plates; a great example of pulled pork was given a disservice by being served in two overly firm, bland buns as ‘sliders’ (they definitely needed the sauce). Not helping proceedings were token-gesture pickles and coleslaw looking tired and dull.   Pork ribs were bang on the money though – 3 huge piggy bits arrived looking like small bridges from a Homer Simpson dream sequence. There was epic amounts of meat, most of it having melded with its nearest piece of fat to create an exhibition of texture – crisp and charred, firm and chewy, soft and squidgy; some of the meat peeling clean off the bone, some clinging to its former home as though it knew the fate that awaited.
           There are too many good things going on here for this place not to be a success. One look at the brunch menu is enough to have me booking a return visit, and once the kitchen is into its stride I’m sure the kinks can be ironed out sufficiently so that the quality of the food matches the warmth of the atmosphere and the quality of the bar. It is a pleasant place to drink and eat, and with a few corrections could be a real gem.

Update: I have reviewed the full range of Beavertown beers here

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