When I was about fifteen I had a brief brush with vegetarianism. Not, I'm sad to say, from any worthy ethical considerations - animal welfare, depletion of earth's natural resources, etc etc - but largely because vegetarianism was frankly de rigeur for any moody teen in the '90s, and because Morrissey would clearly never consent to be friends with a meat eater.
Thankfully, I soon came to my senses, and am thus able to share the general sense of excitement that Leeds institution Red's True BBQ has this week ventured across the Pennines and opened a brand spanking new restaurant in Manchester, in the old Livebait premises on Albert Square. I can already tell this big, shiny behemoth won't be to everyone's taste, with its evident fondness for neon and loud music and the no-doubt-inevitable queues snaking across the Town Hall cobbles, but I have already fallen slightly in love with Manchester's newest Meat Palace.
Wednesday night was Press Night, and the place - unrecognisable since its Livebait days - was packed despite the storm raging outside. Inside, no-one could give two hoots about the weather - the meat was a-smoking, the burgers were a-flipping, the staff were a-dancing, and I (predictably enough) was a-sniffing out a most excellent whisky sour at the bar. This is a much bigger venue than the Leeds outpost, seating around 185 and offering several different dining areas - they don't take bookings for fewer than eight people (and not at all at weekends), but the clever use of space here hopefully means that the queues will be smaller than those faced by our friends in Yorkshire (we don't have flat caps to keep us warm, for one thing).
The menu is quite simply a meat lover's paradise. It's the 2000 calorie Donut Burger that's been grabbing all the headlines - two hefty meat patties sandwiched between two sweet glazed dougnuts with a substantial amount of bacon and cheese squeezed in for good measure. I tried this during a sneaky preview visit last Saturday (when I was also lucky enough to have a look round the kitchens in the very enjoyable company of Clint and Scott, two of the three owners) and must admit to preferring the Pit Burger, its more savoury cousin: designed to showcase Red's range of smoking talents, this is a burger piled high (and I mean high) with sliced brisket, pulled pork and streaky bacon along with cheese, pickles, salad and sauce. It's pretty special, and easily holds its own against the much-lauded burgers of a couple of other Manchester restaurants who have had this market pretty well boxed-off until now.
On Wednesday night I resisted the call of the Pit Burger and instead turned my fickle affections to one of the Combo plates - in my case, "Combo Four", offering a thrillingly sexy union of Texas beef brisket and pulled pork. Everything is lovingly cooked onsite in one of the restaurant's three enormous smokers, meaning that even tough old brisket becomes both tasty and tender - mine here was served with pickles and a lovely tangy coleslaw, whilst the pulled pork was in the company of some fine crackling and a pot of apple sauce. You can choose your own sides - I went for the twice cooked skin-on fries and the giant onion rings, supposedly "humble" sides but clearly not so. Meanwhile, across the table my friend was up to the elbows in a Bucket O' Bones, a lucky dip where every prize was a rib - tips, baby back, St Louis and beef long. They were all good, but the latter was stunning, accidentally falling off the bone and into my waiting mouth with suspicious regularity. I also like that every table comes equipped with a selection of squeezy sauce bottles so that you can choose how hot and how plentiful you would like your BBQ sauce to be - these are all made in-house, and frankly I'd be happy to eat most of them on their own.
Obviously, I didn't need a dessert. Equally obviously, I had one. You see my Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake here bathed in disco lights and enjoying every second of its brief spell in the neon limelight. Speaking of neon and disco, whilst the food here is something special the atmosphere won't be to everyone's taste - the tables are closely packed, the lights are bright and the music is LOUD. Personally, I loved it - about 80% of what they played might as well be straight off my iPod, and anywhere that plays Bowie, Gorillaz, Jean Knight and Dolly Parton in one thrilling half hour spell has my vote. Even better, you can kid yourself that a bit of a dance round your table will take care of the 50 million calories you have just consumed - just as well, I reckon, as Red's might just become a dangerously fattening habit...
- Red's True BBQ Manchester is at 22 Lloyd Street, Albert Square, M2 5WA; tel 0161 820 9140. We were invited as guests of the restaurant and were not asked to pay for our food or drink; we were not, however, asked to write anything positive (or indeed, anything at all).