Gas & Co took over the premises of what was Sarsaparilla and Henry Africa’s (twice over) on Whiteladies Road almost a year ago promising an authentic American smokehouse experience. From feedback on Tripadvisor and their own Facebook page, it would seem that many of their customers disagreed and the reports of terrible service and bad food put me off going but today I was invited out to lunch so thought I’d give it a try.
My first impression was that it was so empty. Working on Whiteladies Road, I often frequent the various restaurants and cafes scattered along the strip from Clifton Downs Shopping Centre to the BBC and from Las Iguanas to Brew Cafe, they are usually bustling with activity so I was quite surprised that my dining companion, Ben and I were the only ones in there. And then I discovered why.
There is no lunchtime deal. Other restaurants such as Brace and Browns have their set menu or 3 tapas for £10, the Townhouse has 3 courses for £10, the Burger joint has a lunchtime deal for under a tenner… Can you see where I’m going with this?
The offer they were running was 2 for 1 burgers, but if like me, you don’t want a burger then you have to pay a la carte prices which start at £8 for a hot dog or plain burger but if you want anything more extravagant or something from the smoker – you’re looking at an average of £14 which is expensive considering the great deals to be had everywhere else.
They were also out of veggie burgers, porterhouse steak, short beef ribs and curiously, peanut butter milkshakes. This would suggest to me that the veggie burgers are not made in-house and that they don’t source their beef locally considering that Ruby & White is just up the road from them. And assuming that their basis for all milkshakes is vanilla milkshake and milk, I’m puzzled as to why they couldn’t stretch to the addition of peanut butter.
As it is supposed to be a smokehouse, I thought I’d order something from the smoker and went for a half rack of ribs served with sides of chips, slaw and beans. Ben ordered a Double Pork burger that came with bacon and pulled pork (the 2 for 1 offer still stood even though only one of us was having one so he ordered a cheese and smoked bacon to take away with him afterwards). His burger came with chips and slaw. This presented me with my first issue. Surely you would want French fries with your burger, not chunky chips more suited to a steak or a hunk of battered fish?
The food was nicely presented and Ben’s burger did looked great, it had a huge stack of pulled pork and the bun sounded the right side of crisp as he sliced through it although it wasn’t robust enough to take the amount of pork and although he did an admirable job of eating it neatly, I’m sure I would have needed a knife, fork and copious amounts of napkins.
My dish was ok – a decent portion of ribs covered in a sticky sauce with the promised chips, slaw and beans. Again, I wish I had French fries but the chips were very nicely cooked. I wasn’t too enamoured with the ‘slaw’ – it tasted pretty strongly of onion and had obviously sat in the mayo dressing as it was quite watery and limp but weirdly there were grains of mustard seed through it which didn’t add much to the overall flavour. It reminded me of coleslaw you get in places like KFC – mass produced and bought in. And with it being the season of cabbages, brassicas and carrots, there’s just no excuse for a bad coleslaw.
The smoked beans were quite unusual but not altogether unpleasant. I’m not a great aficionado of beans – I hardly ever touch the baked variety but with chunks of celery and carrot running through and with a slight smokiness about them, they were fine but too big a portion for me to finish.
On to the ribs. I wanted to like them. I truly did. I adore ribs and will happily gnaw my way through an entire rack of them until I’m covered with sauce and have bits of meat between my teeth but I just wasn’t into these ones. I had expected the meat to be falling off the bone but they were overcooked and tough with no hint of a smoky flavour. The sauce was an average barbecue sauce that tasted like a lot of bottled sauces I’d bought over the years. If you’re eating ribs, you want that sauce to be heavily vinegared, spicy and moreish. This just wasn’t.
Considering I thought that the meal was going to be terrible, it was better than I expected but I wouldn’t rank it more than OK and it was very expensive for what you got. And although unconfirmed, I have my suspicions that many of their products are bought in rather than made in-house. If they are made on the premises than the chef really needs to learn how to season and taste his food. While I wouldn’t run back there tomorrow, I hope that they work on improving the food. American inspired restaurants are popping up all over Bristol – Grillstock, Spitfire and the Urban Standard to name but a few and all of them are focusing on using the best meat they can get their hands on as well as amazing sauces and sides to give their menu that added je ne sais quoi.
I can only advise Gas & Co to get with the programme, check out the competition and to stop aspiring to just be average.