In my house, we LOVE watching cooking shows… The Hairy Bikers, Master Chef, Great British Menu, Paul Hollywood’s Bread, The Great British Bake Off, Food & Drink with Michel Roux Jnr (*Swoon*) and especially the Food Network’s greatest show, Man Vs. Food. A show that will make you salivate with hunger and make you feel full all at the same time.
Since watching this greedy show, i’ve become fascinated by eating challenges. These are becoming more and more popular in London, especially where meat is involved. They seem to be a real factor when attracting new customers and creating a fun and interesting social media storm. Recently The Breakfast Clubs hosted a pancake challenge that saw dozens of people try to tackle a huge stack of 12 pancakes in 15 minutes and have their achievements celebrated or shamed on Twitter & Instagram, while burger favourite MEATLiquor like to document on twitter the attempts at their Triple Chilli Challenge where competitors must demolish a face-sized plate of Chilli Cheese Fries, one Chilli Dog, and a Green Chilli Cheeseburger in 10 minutes or less. There is also a prize for the person who achieves it in the quickest time; the record is currently something like 3 minutes. It must be held by a human hoover.
But one restaurant in London that has rocketed to fame thanks to its food challenges is the Red Dog Saloon in Hoxton; a BBQ restaurant that attempts to embrace the Southern US style. The menu is full with burgers, wings, fried chicken, ribs and BBQ – the kind of things you’d expect in this style of restaurant. It’s a decent sized menu with something for almost everyone (vegetarians, you can have a bean burger, you lucky things!) and a drinks menu that offers a great selection of beers, frozen margaritas and milkshakes… but the stars of the menu are of course the challenges. The first, and probably the most famous, is the Devastator Burger Challenge.
I try and watch what I eat so I can make sure I don’t balloon out to the 13.5 stone heffa I once was as a teenager; this means I make a note of the calories I take in and make sure I don’t consume more than a certain amount every day. But this burger challenge doesn’t give two hoots about my calorie controlled diet – this challenge wants you to go to the effort of consuming almost twice your recommended daily calorie intake, and it wants you to do it in 10 minutes! This beast reaches 8 inches high consisting of 3 patties made from chuck steak (18oz), 200g pulled pork, 6 rashers of applewood smoked bacon and 6 slices of American cheese. It comes with a side of fries, coleslaw and a milkshake (you choose the flavour) and must ALL be consumed within the allotted time! Winners get their meal free, a free t-shirt and their picture taken and placed on the wall of fame. Losers pay full price and have to admit their defeat and leave with their tail between their legs. There is a 95% fail rate, so from the off we knew that there was no way in Hell that we’d be able to complete this challenge. It wouldn’t even be possible to achieve this as a group, and so Josh and I ordered the £22.75 burger to share and be enjoyed at a leisurely pace instead. Boring? Maybe, but I like being able to fit into my clothes. Sorry.
The burger arrived pre- cut in half for us so we could split it easily. As a whole, it’s an intimidating dish. In half… it’s still intimidating but manageable. It looked a little bit dry but truthfully the taste was actually fantastic. The meat had been seasoned well, and there was a deep smokey BBQ flavour that ran through each mouthful; I suppose it makes sense for an eating challenge to be delicious. The bacon provided the saltiness that broke up the smokiness of the meat, and the cheese provided a gooey texture which brought it all together for each juicy mouthful. We both managed to eat our entire 50%, leaving us less devastated, more satisfied. In addition we shared a portion of fries and I found myself addicted to the sweet & spicy homemade sauce provided on the table.
One challenge (purposefully failed) down, it was then the turn of our friend Julian to attempt the second of the eating challenges on the menu: The Hot Wings Challenge. Don’t get me wrong, I love spicy food and often find myself craving it, but Ju is a sadist when it comes to spices and was all too keen to take on this challenge, which I personally wouldn’t even consider! This £10.50 challenge consists of 6 chicken wings covered in Naga Viper chillis: The Naga Viper chilli is one of the hottest chilli peppers ever measured. It was briefly the “World’s Hottest Chilli” in 2011 according to the Guinness World Records with a rating of 1,382,118 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Now, I know that doesn’t really mean much to us, but to give a little bit of perspective, a jalapeño pepper measures between 2,500 and 8,000 SHU on the same scale. The challenge must be completed within 10 minutes, and you are not allowed to drink anything in those 10 minutes, or in the 5 minute burn time after you take the last mouthful. That means you must complete up to 15 minutes of suffering in order to get your picture placed up on the ‘Wall of Flame’. Fail and you’re left with nothing but streaming eyes, searing heartburn and the knowledge that your next trip to the toilet is going to be hugely unpleasant!
Man vs Food has taught me some good techniques that I passed onto Ju before he began. The best way to go about defeating this challenge is to remove all the chicken from the bones first. That means you’ll spend less time with the chillis against your lips and you can just wolf them down quickly without thinking about it too much, but these chillis are SO hot that you have to wear protective latex gloves to protect your skin from the burn (and lessen the chances of the chilli residue finding its way to your more sensitive parts later!) He took my advice and began.
You can see the highlights from Julian’s Chilli Challenge attempt here!
He made it to half way before giving up. By this point his eyes were streaming so bad that they had begun to puff up. Snot was pouring from his nose like water from a tap, and he was emitting noises that sounded a lot like a small cow in distress. Words were no longer possible. When he was finally able to speak again he said that his body felt like it was vibrating from the heat. Not one to want to miss out on anything, I tried a little of the sauce myself. It really was just a little bit; the tip of a knives worth, but the pain was instant and consuming. My mouth felt as though I had just placed 50 lit matches into it, and the sensation continued and spread after I swallowed. Heartburn came only a minute later, and it was at least 10 minutes before normality had been restored to my mouth, and that was after I had filled my mouth with ice.
I would urge everyone not to attempt this challenge (unless you have an asbestos tongue!) – it really is not worth it. Simply ‘google image’ this chilli challenge and you will simply see pictures of some of the manliest men crying into their bowls of chicken. It’s not attractive. It’s stupid.
Aside from the sadist wing challenge, I was very impressed with the food at this Hoxton restaurant. However i’m afraid to say this doesn’t carry on through to the service. I don’t think I have ever been to a restaurant or bar and had such shoddy service. Granted our server was looking after our table of 15 single handedly, but that is absolutely no excuse for us having to ask for our drinks three times. There was over a 15 minute wait between ordering and actually receiving our drinks, and no apology when they finally arrived. In fact, the waiter argued with us about whether we had ordered the drink in the first place. He also tried to talk us out of ordering certain dishes, and then was insistent on us paying the service charge at the end. It would appear that we weren’t the first customers to have experienced this bad service if Trip Advisor or London Eating reviews are anything to go by. It’s all well and good attracting customers with eating challenges, but friendliness, coordination and organisation will keep them coming back.