Grillstock in the dock

Today was less glamorous than yesterday, due to the fact that we were not in London, nor going to the theatre but we did decide to treat ourselves and go out for lunch en famille.  We had noticed that a new barbecue style restaurant has opened in Leicester. It is called ‘Grillstock’ and is apparently part of a newly established chain.

It was not a positive experience, and were it not for the excellent pudding and coffee we had next door at the St. Martin’s Coffee Shop the whole experience would have been dismal. As it was, I shall never be returning to Grillstock, but you can buy me a cake at St. Martin’s any day.

I was a little dubious about Grillstock from the start if I’m honest. Chain restaurants have a certain reputation for mediocrity, although there are also chains like Wagamama’s for example, or Byron Burger, or Pizza Express who get it absolutely right and restore your faith in humanity, so I decided it was worth risking it for a biscuit (a barbecue flavoured one). We like barbecue food, and have been a few times to Bodeans in London thanks to Mrs. Jones’ top notch recommending skills. We hoped for a Bodeans experience and not a TGI Friday’s experience.

We were to be woefully disappointed.

First things first, the look of the place is great to give credit where credit is due. The service is also great, and we were seated very quickly and efficiently by an incredibly friendly waitress. Our order was taken by someone equally nice, although he was not strong on what made up the ‘tasty sauce’ which is a speciality of the restaurant, so you’d think he might be able to at least give a hint.

The food was also served very quickly, although our request to have Oscar’s pickles and ‘tasty sauce’ on the side of his hot dog in case he didn’t like them, was not heeded, and his hot dog came so smothered it would have required him to eat it with a knife and fork it was literally dripping with both sauce and pickles.  This seemed particularly ironic given the fact that the title of that particular hot dog he had ordered was a ‘naked dog’. We sent it back, and to their credit a replacement was sent out within two minutes of its return. It was also clearly not the first hot dog which had just been scraped clean.

The big disappointment, the biggest disappointment was in the food itself, which ranged from mediocre to downright unpleasant.

The ‘tasty sauce’ it was agreed by all was only tasty if you like eating paint, which was what it most closely resembled, and may have been why our server struggled to put its unique flavour into words on reflection.

The chicken wings which I had as my BBQ Meat option were smothered in so much hot sauce it was like a lake and made them almost impossible to pick up, they slipped and slithered and dripped about. The sauce was, I would say about 70% vinegar, which neatly ripped the roof off of my mouth and led me to abandon half of the wings, of which I got six. I shared one of the remaining three amongst the others, who all love wings. None of them loved these wings.

Oscar’s ‘naked’ hot dog, which would not have been at all ‘naked’ if the chefs had had their way, was so full of fat, that when he bit into it you could see hot fat squirting out, and a large quantity of it shot out and landed on Jason’s trousers. It was, frankly, disgusting. After a tester bite to ensure he wasn’t just being a picky child, we agreed to let him leave it. I can’t honestly tell you if it was a good quality sausage as it mostly tasted of hot fat.

Tallulah’s cheese burger was cremated within an inch of its life, and looked remarkably like it had come from Birdseye. She did eat it, but in comparison to a burger from somewhere like Byron or Gourmet Burger it rated low on the tasty scale. I did not try it, but in my opinion it looked like a dark brown coaster in a bun.

Tallulah and Oscar had both chosen food from the children’s menu. A child’s meal is a fiver and includes, chips/fries, coleslaw and pickles as well as a soft drink. I would say that if you actually like the food, which we didn’t, this is your best buy in terms of everything the menu has to offer. The portions were as big or bigger than the adult portions and half the price.  Tallulah had more chips than all of us, and her burger bun and meat were the same size as what Tilly was served as an adult portion of beef brisket in a bun.  Oscar’s hot dog was huge. Horrible, but huge.

Tilly was underwhelmed by the brisket. It was warm rather than hot, and there was very little of it, in a bread bun so revolting that it literally turned to paste in her mouth.

Jason had one of the sharing platters so that we could try the ribs, brisket and pulled pork. You cannot say we didn’t try. I think we pretty much had every single type of meat that was available on the menu between us.

The brisket was buried under the pulled pork, and was as luke warm as Tilly’s. It wasn’t particularly special tasting. The predominant flavour was salt, and although the meat was tender it wasn’t particularly appetising.

The pulled pork was average. You can get it everywhere these days, and it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.  I’d say that if you’re tempted to go, and you stick with the pulled pork you’ll have a reasonable dining experience. If I had to go back it’s what I would have.

The ribs were as tough as old boots. You should be able to pull the meat from the bones with your fingers.  Here you had to hack at them with a steak knife.  Jason loves barbecue food, and ribs in particular. He left 3/4 of his food.

All the meals come with fries, coleslaw, some kind of bread product and pickles as standard. As noted, the portion sizing is pretty uneven, and the children had bigger portions of the sides than our adult meals.

The fries were warm, not hot, and cooked through, but so anaemic as to be unpleasant. There was some kind of herb mix shaken over them, but it was basically green dust that added nothing to the taste at all.

The pickle was thickly chopped rings of cucumber that had been sitting in vinegar.  The pickle, and the coleslaw were warm. About as warm as the fries unfortunately.  The pickles were limp, disgusting, and sadly plentiful. I love pickles with my meal. I love things like kimchi and Japanese pickled veg as well as your standard British pickles, but these were horrible. Truly horrible.

The coleslaw was warm, limp and tasted like blotting paper.  I love coleslaw, but this had no redeeming features whatsoever except that I didn’t find fingernails or blue plasters in it.

The bread was the cheapest possible bread you can buy, the stuff that crumbles as you try to eat it, and which sits like claggy paste on your tongue. It was what I imagine they serve in prison, and as the food comes on trays rather than plates the prison image was particularly enduring.

The drinks were ok, but given that you were being served ubiquitous cans of pop with a glass for a huge mark up, I’d have been frankly outraged if they’d gotten this wrong.

There was however, no offer of tap water, when this kind of thing comes as standard in North American restaurants, which this chain is trying to ape. There was no ice in the glasses, ditto.

There was one napkin per person, which given that barbecue is messy, and is traditionally eaten with the fingers is unacceptable. At Bodeans they put an entire kitchen roll out for each table to use, as well as wet wipes.  There was one wet wipe on our table. One.

There was no salt and pepper, which we had to ask for. Ditto tomato ketchup. The end of the table, to be fair, does have three or four other sauces for you to use, but given the universal popularity of tomato ketchup it seems ludicrous that it is the one sauce you have to ask for.

Main courses for adults average about a tenner, which for what you got was absolutely outrageous. I added up roughly what it must have cost to produce my meal and came to a rather generous £2 for the entire thing, which had it been a meal of exquisite wonder and taste sensations would not have bothered me half as much as it did. As it was, an £8 mark up for something that resembled a meal I would quite literally cry over if it were given to me in an institution seemed outrageous.

To be fair, the restaurant was heaving with people the entire time we were there, and everyone else seemed delighted with their meals, and amazed that we left with a great deal of food still uneaten. It could be that we are spoiled little flowers. You’ll have to make your own minds up. Just don’t ask me to go with you.

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