The name Anthony Flinn should spark a flutter of excitement in any Leeds foodie.
The chef who worked at the legendary El Bulli in Spain brought Loiners his own brand of culinary gastronomy with the opening of the upscale Anthony’s.
His cooking was made more accessible with Anthony’s at Flannels and his eponymous patisserie in the Victoria Quarter.
But the piece de resistance came with the opening of the Piazza by Anthony in 2008, in the basement of the newly-restyled Corn Exchange.
Throughout, the name Anthony’s has remained synonymous with quality, classy, sophisticated food.
What doesn’t spring to mind is homely, messy, finger-lickin’ classic Deep South cuisine. So his latest venture into the sphere of traditional BBQ cooking could come as something as a surprise.
Don’t be fooled, this isn’t the same kind of big-standard stuff we chuck on the barbie at the first ray of sunshine.
Authentic BBQ cooking originates from the American South and involves long, slow cooking over hot coals. That leaves the meat smoky, tender and succulent, with flavour being injected with spice rubs and sticky sauces.
Rib Shakk is the latest addition to Anthony’s outlets at the Corn Exchange.
And as Oliver has had the privilege of eating BBQ food in Kansas City, he felt qualified to test out whether the offering at Rib Shakk cut the mustard.
The eaterie makes the area around the Corn Exchange something of a centre for carnivores, with steak-based Cattle Grid nearby and gourmet hotdog purveyor Primo a neighbour in the complex.
Rib Shakk is in a somewhat unusual position, being around the outside of the restaurant section of Anthony’s. It’s a little confusing to find the entrance to the Corn Exchange at night, when the main doors are closed, and equally difficult to find the way out, it seemed – we witnessed several people wandering past our table looking baffled.
On an early midweek night, it’s fair to say Rib Shakk wasn’t packed. In fact it was empty.
That may be, at least in part, due to what seems like a bit of a lack of fanfare. There isn’t a website yet, though details about the eaterie are to be found on their Facebook page. And there’s no mention of it whatsoever on the Anthony’s website, though there is a piece on the Corn Exhange’s site.
Whether this is a super-soft launch or it’s to do with the emphasis on this being a company rather than an Anthony’s venture, is unclear. But greater promotion wouldn’t go amiss.
The set-up of Rib Shakk is a little odd, the tables being around one section of the edge of the circular building meaning it felt a bit like sitting in a thoroughfare.
A rejig and use of dividers ,as is done with the central restaurant space could make it a cosier environment. That might also make it a bit warmer. Lovely as the historic premises are, on a cold winter’s night they were distinctly chilly. In fact we gave up on plans to stay for coffee there because of it.
However maybe the aim is for diners to keep warm through the spicy delights on offer.
One option not for the fainthearted was the Wall of Flames Challenge, promising the most “eye-watering experience of your life” with a rack of ribs coated in devilishly hot sauce (£16). It’s a feat so tough that anyone who manages to finish eats and drinks for free, as well as earning a place on the Rib Shakk Wall of Flame.
Thankfully the rest of the menu was a much cooler affair.
As you would expect, ribs take centre stage. There’s both pork and beef ribs on offer, from the classic baby back to beef short ribs – the “rib of all ribs” apparently. Both are coated in different rubs before slow cooking for seven hours, while diners can pick from four mopping sauces for them to be coated in, including Classic Kansas City and San Diego Piri Piri.
Prices range from £7.95 for a half rack of baby back ribs to £18.95 for a full rack of the St Louis Ribs, and there are various combos which include side dishes.
Also on offer are the intriguing rib burgers, made not from minced beef but chunks of meat, as well as buckets of chicken wings. And there are some platters of classic BBQ cuts for two - the most interesting of which sounded like the Boston Butt (£14), slow cooked pork shoulder South Carolina mustard and cider sauce.
Being a little overwhelmed by all these choices, we decided to go for the easy option and pick one of the ready-made rib combo platters.
These include a range of various ribs and meats, with fries and chargrilled corn on the cob.
The concept is reminiscent of Nando’s – pick from an array of meats and coatings and order and pay at the counter.
Drinks were brought to us by our sweet and efficient, though rather softly-spoken waiter, and though there’s a build-your-own salad bar, our salad was brought to our table.
Considering the menu, our food was with us in a reasonable time and looked like a banquet fit for a cowboy.
We’d picked the Triple Rib Combo (£26.50), which included a half rack of St Louis Ribs, full rack of beef short rib, and a half rack of baby back ribs, together with fries and corn.
It all came on a large wooden board, with the ribs slathered in three different sauces we’d picked and the corn cobettes on the side. Initially we were a bit baffled about how to tackle this, but the board came with a sharp knife so we could cut off one rib at a time.
This isn’t sophisticated eating, it’s messy, sticky, get your hands dirty kind of food. But that’s not to say it wasn’t good. The meat was succulent and incredibly tender, falling off the bone, while the sauces each had their own individual flavours. The beef short rib was one giant piece of meat drenched in a deep, smoky sauce and was incredibly moreish.
All this carving meant it wasn’t necessarily an easy eat, but the efforts were worth it. Best of the side dishes were the buttery corn cobs, though Oliver’s companion declared the side salad “distinctly average”.
Dessert didn’t seem like an option – nor could we have eaten one – though the selection of retro sodas and floats sounded appealing.
Our bill, including a beer and a soft drink, came to £34.80.
If the concept is a success in Leeds, the plan is to roll out Rib Shakk to other cities across the UK. Having fulfilled its aim to provide quality, fast food to everyone, it deserves to succeed.
Rib Shakk, Corn Exchange, Leeds,
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 11am until 10pm, Sunday 11am until 9pm
Tel. 0113 247 0995
Find details of Rib Shakk on Facebook
SERVICE .......................... ***
***** EXCELLENT **** VERY GOOD *** GOOD ** AVERAGE * POOR