27 Apr 2012
Did I ever mention I am really into ribs? The greasy, sticky, sweet, finger licking BBQ kind I mean. Well I am, big time. So great is my weakness that it’s rare that I can scan past the words “ribs” on a menu without immediately putting the menu down and looking no further.
I once seriously considered dining at every rib serving restaurant in London in order to find the ultimate ones. Of course these were the days before my cravings for tasty meats could be sated by the likes of The Rib Man, Pitt Cue Co, Hawksmoor and other such fine meat-drenched establishments – when they appeared on the scene I felt the need to search no longer.
10 competitors descending upon a churchyard in Soho with nearly 1000 racks of ribs, all battling it out to win the glory of being crowned “Great British Rib Champion 2012″ (oh and £1000 + £1000 worth of Porsche Knives). But the best part is that lucky ticket holders get to taste all the ribs. I just knew my whole life had been leading up to this moment.
Having previously been to a similar Tweat Up event The UK Chilli Stand Off, I knew it was going to be good. We had been so very well watered and fed. So much so that we had to leave half way through our chilli tastings to walk off our bulging, full bellies. Unfortunately upon return we found that they had run out of most of the chilli. Gutting!
In the instance of Ribstock however I was absolutely determined to taste all 10 ribs. And nothing was going to stop me. Not the cold. Not the rain. And not even the irritating sore throat and cough from the cold I’d contracted.
And so taste I did! Here’s how it all went down.
The Line Up
- Andy Annat: Cherry smoked St Louis style spare ribs
- Redhook (Jeffrey Roxas-Green): Jospered ‘n’ Jaxxed Roxas Racks – Slow-cooked smoky British belly ribs
- Red Dog Saloon: Hickory & mesquite smoked St Louis style spare ribs
- Cattle Grid: Slow cooked, fast finished with Cattle Grid sauce
- Barbecoa (Sebastian La Rocca): Pit-smoked baby back ribs with coriander & chilli
- Lucky Chip (Ben Denner): Barbecue Pork Ribs
- Opera Tavern (Lukas Lakomiec/Ben Tish): Iberico pork ribs with PX, beets, almonds and new season’s garlic sauce
- Ben Spalding: Baby back Tamworth pork ribs glazed in a smoked Portuguese linguica sausage and chipotle sauce
- Cabana (David Rood): Sticky baby back ribs with spicy malagueta sauce
- The Rib Man (Mark Gevaux): The Rib Roll
First up to start serving was Barbecoa with their pit-smoked baby back ribs with coriander & chilli. These were tender little morsels, covered in a thick tomato-based BBQ sauce with a sprinkling of spring onion, coriander and chilli to freshen things up.
Ben Spalding’s rib of choice were also of the tender, fall apart, baby back variety. These were much smokier than Barbecoa’s with a very nice looking glaze of smoked Portuguese linguica sausage and chipotle sauce.
Red Dog Saloon
Red Dog Saloon smoked their spare ribs with hickory and mesquite and served them with a spicy whisky sauce. These had a smoky, licoricey flavour with a nice sticky glaze. Although spare ribs have more bite than baby back, these just peeled away from the bone nicely. The spicy whisky sauce had a real kick to it also.
Another St Louis style spare rib (but quite different from Red Dog Saloon’s) came from Andy Annat, the British BBQ champion. These came with a bourbon mist spray which I missed out on, but imagine would go beautifully with these smoky, sweet ribs. And when I say sweet I mean it – the sweetness of these ribs were intense! But that’s why I liked them so much.
Although considered the most “restauranty” dish of the lot and confusing some by resembling something that would be found at the Taste of London Festival, I absolutely adored the Iberico pork ribs from Opera Tavern. The flavour of the pork was gorgeous and despite having initial reservations about the almonds and beetroot, found it all came together beautifully with the meat, PX sherry and delicious garlic sauce. I was all but licking my plate clean and begging for more after this dish!
At the Redhook stand I couldn’t help be feel a little like we were being bribed for votes when they offered us not only a delicious hunk of belly pork rib, but also coleslaw, a tasty grilled king prawn and a bloody mary shot. All were delicious and the meat was lovely and tender.
I adore Lucky Chip’s burgers and now I know I love their ribs too. The quality of their belly pork ribs just shone and perhaps a little sous vide cooking prior to grilling may have contributed to their tenderness. With full fat intact I thought Lucky Chip produced the most outstanding, meltiest meat of the day. Apparently these melting morsels will be available at their SliderBar residence in the Player Bar, Soho when they open soon.
More extras came from Cabana in the form of coxinhas, a popular Brazilian deep fried snack consisting of shredded chicken, potato and tomato sauce in a crispy coating. These were a tasty and welcome addition. Unfortunately these baby back ribs were a tad dry by the time we got to them but they were quite different from the others with a mild sweetness and strong flavours of lime and chilli. They were served with a nice spicy malagueta sauce for dipping.
I used to frequent Cattle Grid when they had their Soho premises so I was already familiar with their ribs. I’ve always found these to be pretty classic as far as ribs go; sweet and sticky with crispy bits from the grill and the meat falling off the bone with little assistance required.
The Rib Man
Saving another “oldie but a goodie” for last is The Rib Man’s classic Rib Roll. Mark Gevaux’s ribs are slow cooked outside for hours until the tender meat falls off the bone, and is then shredded up and placed in a buttery roll. Add as much of his famous Holy Fuck hot sauce as you dare.
I can’t tell you how happy I was to have tasted all 10 ribs – some certainly weren’t shy on portion sizes and by rib number 8 it was getting quite challenging. But I must say all competitors did an amazing job of producing porcine delights with such a wonderful variety of delicious flavours and textures. I would be very happy to eat any of them again!
However if I had to choose my 3 personal favourites would be Lucky Chip for their quality of meat, Opera Tavern for producing something non-traditional but so delicious I wanted to eat it again and again and Andy Annat because I do have a soft spot for sweet, smoky meat.
But the Ribstock public voted and the winners were Redhook with 96 votes. Lucky Chip followed at a very close second with 91 votes. And third place, my old haunt Cattle Grid with 55 votes. (Incidentally Andy Annat followed very closely in fourth place with 53 votes.)
There was also a hot sauce competition with Cabana, Chef Jocky, Red Dog Saloon, The Rib Man, Young Turks and Tom Parker Bowles in the running. There was quite a good selection of sauces with very varying tastes. Some more more sour, some were more barbecuey. Tom Parker Bowles was awarded the prize although it seems some controversy and confusion currently stands on whether there was a mix up with the sauces. UPDATE 02/05/2012: There has since been confirmation from both Tweat Up and The Rib Man that there was no mix up and indeed Tom Parker Bowles was the rightful Hot Sauce Champion of the day.
It really was an awesome event and thanks to Tweat Up for doing a wonderful job of ensuring everyone had a fantastic time despite the weather. Thanks to The Rib Man, Mark Gevaux for coming up with such a brilliant idea and to the competitors for producing such tasty ribs. I believe all of Soho was perfumed with the beautiful scent of barbecuing meats that day and I would not be surprised if most visitors to Ribstock needed to go home for a lie down immediately after – I know I certainly did. Bring on Ribstock 2013!
UPDATE 04/05/2012: My pal Tech Devourer wasn’t fortunate enough to get tickets to Ribstock but instead managed to get into the alternative at Century Club. Check out his review of the Ribstock Corporate Box.