‘Swedish chef brings Harlem soul food diner to Shoreditch.’ This isn’t a front page headline pulled from the April Fools’ edition of Hipster Weekly. This is real life. Because Marcus Samuelsson, who cooked for Obama as a 24-year-old, really has brought his Swedish-inspired, Harlem born Southern Soul Food joint to the belly of East London’s newest behemoth hotel, The Curtain.
Although the home-brewed-beard-moisturising affiliates will be drooling at the sound of all this, it’s actually not as try-hard-hipster as you’d think. They haven’t left their furniture out to rust, and the entrance isn’t hidden behind a washing machine in a dilapidated laundromat. The front door is on the street, like a normal restaurant.
Once you’re past that door, dinner here is an occasion. There’s live music on most nights and the big island bar in the middle can get pretty busy. It’s a chilled vibe though, and you can still have a conversation over the music.
The menu makes for exciting reading, full of big flavours and crazy ingredients. There’s meatballs and gravlax, fried chicken and waffles. New York, the city that never sleeps meets Scandinavia, the region that’s content regardless of whether you get a good night’s sleep or not. It’s a strange combo, but it’s intriguing: dishes like Obama Shortribs and Helga’s Meatballs really sound like something to get excited about.
This was in part why we’ve been so bloody disappointed when it comes down to taste. For all the excitement, the flashy sound system, the brilliant space, and the big-name-chef, the plates with the fun names go down like a lead balloon. The devilled eggs promise so much, but could fill the sandwiches in a primary school packed lunch. The £50 ribs are borderline tasteless, and the shrimp and grits should be avoided like the plague. There are a couple of plates we do like here - The Fried Yard Bird is delicious, the corn bread is pretty awesome, and they do a mean steak and chips too. But overall, the dinner menu is way too much of a minefield.
Brunch is a different story, and is certainly the best time to come here. The menu is far simpler during the day, and is highlighted by good eggs - not fucking devilled - and waffles. A gospel choir play live every Sunday and it’s a lot more fun than dinner. We’d go back for this.
With a great vibe but average menu, it’s hard to justify returning to Red Rooster for a full evening meal. Smokestak is just round the corner if you want some serious ribs, and you can get better fried chicken at Mother Clucker. Their fate for us rests on the saving grace of the London Gospel Choir, whose live performances at Sunday brunches are truly unique. It’s also a fun place for a drink before going out in East. But as a dinner spot, don’t be awestruck by the shiny hipster bravado.
We’re suing for misrepresentation because this is cake, not bread. It’s delicious. Thick but not crumbly and the jam is filthy.
DUCK JERKY THEY SAID. CHICKEN SKIN AIOLI THEY SAID. But there really is very little to taste here. Just the most expensive boiled eggs in Europe.
No soul food menu could do without it and theirs is topped with a satisfying bread crumb and crunchy greens. It’s fresh and not too rich. A solid mac ’n cheese.
Just not tasty enough. The gnocchi is a nice addition, but this just isn’t worth ordering.
Buttermilk-soaked deep fried chicken served with a hot sauce and sour greens. This is a really fantastic plate of food and is certainly the star of this dimly lit show. If you don’t get this, you lose at Red Rooster.
Served up high on a plinth like a ceremonial sacrifice to the god of meat and named after President Swag, these should have been the star of our meal. But the ribs themselves aren’t anywhere near as smooth as the ex president. The meat doesn’t fall off the bone and the sauce tastes like nothing whatsoever. There are better plates on this menu for less cash.
Charred on the outside, tender on the inside. It’s a quality steak. The chips are triple cooked in fat and really are perfect. We’d have got two if the ribs hadn’t sounded so good.