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The BBQ Shack at the World’s End pub in Brighton has been getting a fair amount of buzz on the back of Observer writer and top foodie Jay Rayner’s piece about it in July. Rayner narrates chef John Hargate’s pit training in Texas and subsequent victories in the British BBQ Society’s annual competition, and his enthusiasm makes clear that, unlike the mediocre grilled meats more often misnamed as such, here is some proper barbeque. I’m not a true connoisseur of the smoked-meat arts but any time you hear that someone is an expert in a very specific form of food, you know it’s worth following up. The World’s End is also helpfully located across the road from the Duke of York’s cinema, so we combined our culinary trip to Texas with, somewhat mismatchedly, Arrietty, the new animation from Japan’s Studio Ghibli.
The first thing to say about the BBQ shack is that the ribs are glorious. Thick, intensely smoky yet with complex layers of flavour, they are some of the best ribs I’ve had. I grant you, I am not Texan and have surely missed out on many hole in the wall ribs experiences, but I have eaten some pretty authentic BBQ in the Midwest and the South, and these ribs stood their ground and then some. They are hickory smoked and doused in a sauce that is as sweet as it should be to match the smoke but in no way too sweet. The sauce is also not excessive. It is not about the sauce, it is about the meat, and the laquering of sauce reflects a careful understanding of that fact. We monstered through those ribs and would, given the opportunity, have eaten a whole other rack.
The other things we ate were also very good, but here a few caveats creep in. The pulled pork is described on the menu as North Carolina pulled pork, which seems odd since the chef is adamant that what he does is Texas BBQ. I expected pork advertised as North Carolina style to come with a vinegar sauce. Instead, it came with an apple-tomato sauce similar to the rib sauce, albeit lighter. As I say, I’m no expert and it is fully likely that this preparation is dead on Texas-style pulled pork. But I think I prefer the North Carolina style pork I’ve had in the States: the vinegar-sugar sauce keeps the meat moist and the piquancy balances the rich meat. Here, I felt that smokiness became overwhelmingly dominant and the meat was ever-so-slightly dry. This is really a matter of taste though, as the pork was still made with obvious care and devotion.
We went with rice and pinto beans for our sides and these were pretty good too. To be honest, Mr Lemur and I are not the best judges of Western-style beans and rice because we keep wanting them to be Latin American beans and rice and they’re just not. They look like Puerto Rican beans but they don’t taste the same, and that’s always a bit of a disappointment to me. But this is hardly the fault of the BBQ Shack, and for Western beans and rice, these were perfectly lovely. Maybe a touch undersalted but generally lovely.
From the first mouthful, it’s clear that John Hargate is a chef who knows his barbeque and who does seriously good things with meat. His ribs are one of the best things I’ve eaten all year. Now, if I could just persuade him to add some kind of collard greens to the menu I’d be in complete BBQ heaven…
BBQ Shack in World’s End pub, 60-61 London Road, Brighton BN1 4JE