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Good food but where's the atmosphere?
The Chicago Rib Shack (London)
Member Name: Coconutter
The Chicago Rib Shack (London)
Date: 03/03/12, updated on 30/09/12 (118 review reads)
Advantages: Decoration was good, All food came as ordered, Food was tasty, Toilets were clean and tidy
Disadvantages: Lacked atmosphere, Price was a little dearer than what we would of liked to pay
It was my mum's birthday last week and like every year we wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. A couple weeks prior to this she had discovered a restaurant, that she and my dad had regularly enjoyed eating at when they were a young couple, had opened in Westfield's shopping centre (though with a different name and slightly different menu): this was the Chicago Rib Shack. Having spoke fondly of this restaurant for years this seemed like a brilliant blast from the past for the both of them and a great place to try for the rest of us. The one in Westfield's, however, was just part of the food court and although we normally are happy to eat at the food court we wanted to make it a proper restaurant experience to make it special for her birthday, so we checked the website and found there was another one in central London though this one was a dine in restaurant- perfect.
Chicago Rib Shack is located in Knightsbridge next to the Burberry shop. We drove there and although it wasn't hard to get to or find the real nightmare was finding a parking spot within a fair distance of the restaurant, there were no purposely built parking areas close so the only option was to find a spot in one of the surrounding streets. Now I can't say for sure whether it was just because this was a midday on a Sunday or if this is the norm for finding a parking spot here but knowing London I'd probably go for the latter as we spent a good twenty minuets searching for a space to park until we finally found one just down the road. Normally it is pay and display but as it was a Sunday this did not apply. This is pretty typical of London restaurants like this so not something I moan about but defiantly best to give yourself a fair bit of time if you are driving there to be in at a specific time. Alternatively there are local bus stops and a train station just down the road making it very accessible by public transport.
One really nice thing about the rib shack was that we got seated straight away as it wasn't very busy, for a party of six this isn't something we get too often so was quite impressive. This probably doesn't apply at busier times such as in the evening but there is the option of pre-booking a table on the website or over the phone. There was both an upstairs and downstairs eating area. We were seated upstairs and as we didn't even look downstairs I have very little to say about it for now. Walking in the restaurant through revolving doors we found ourselves in a small waiting area on normal ground level which had stairs that lead to the eating area, there was only a window between the waiting room and dining area so even for a small area it did feel bigger than what it was. We were taken straight up the stairs- from initial thought these are the only way up but I can't say for sure whether there is a alternative way of getting up for disabled people/ those with walking difficulties.
For me personally I loved the way the restaurant looked, it was modern and heavily decorated with pictures/ models of pigs (something a little bitter sweet when you look at the menu and see you can order a baby pig to eat) including a wall of painted pigs of different patterns/ types. On one side of the upper area was the tables and the other side was a large bar heavily packed with various drinks on show and three large TV's (these were just playing the Looney Toons whilst we were in there but I imagine they play sport or something similar later in the day). It wasn't as American styled as I imagined it would compared to other America restaurants we've been to being the 'Chicago' rib shack but nice regardless. One nice feature on the wall on the furthest side of the room was a menu relating to the original during the time of Bob Payton the founder of the restaurant in 1991.
The seats were comfortable and made up of a mixture of booths and normal chairs.
Now for the food. Once seated we were given the menus, drinks were ordered first and we were given pretty much your average choices: juices, a range of alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, etc as well as smoothies and an American touch being floats. We just ordered Cokes and Orange juices. These arrived prompt and just as expected. Then we took to the food side of the menu. We aren't really big on appetizers so skipped straight to mains though there is a fair bit of choice including Super Skins (cheese filled potato skins), Iceberg Wedges (Iceberg lettuce with dressing) and Prawn Skewers (jumbo prawns). I obviously can't comment on the taste of any of the appetizers but looking through it I honestly can't say the choices were that appealing for me, although this may just personal preference.
If I'm honest there wasn't much range in terms of type of foods but plenty for the meat lover- burgers, stakes, ribs and a bit of fish. I went for The Grilled Chicken Burger, my dad and sister The Rib Shack Burger, my other sister The Kiss Burger, my brother had The Combination Platter and my mum had Ribs. It took quite a while for the food to come- having asked for the burgers to be well done we had been told it would take a little while but for a restaurant with very little customers we were still a little surprised at the time it took. Just beofre the food came we were given little packets of wet wipes and depending on what you were having (i.e ribs) some got bibs which was quite entertaining for all of us to sit and play with. When the food arrive though it was good: all special requirements were correct and everything was cooked how we had asked which was quite pleasing. The Chicken burger was really nice, it was a piece of grilled chicken snuggled between two toasted buns with pickle, lettuce, tomato, onion slices, relish and mayo then you have the optional of two more toppings, I had the burger as it came with added grilled onions as a topping but obviously you can ask for anything you don't want to not be included. The burger was really nice: it had been cooked properly, all the salad was nice and fresh and although I wasn't sure on the relish and mayo originally it actually came together really well, my only criticism is there was quite a bit of oil that made the bun really soft by the end. The chips were tasty but not the most amazing chips I've ever had. My family all seemed to enjoy theirs as well. The portions were actually a really great size, we all had enough to fill us up but not too much that we were leaving massive amounts on the plates. Along with our meals we ordered an onion loaf to share between us and this has got to be the highlight of our meal. We had expected a small loaf with enough for a little bit each but out came a pretty large loaf big enough for the six of us to have a nice chunk each. It was quite greasy and made up of small onion rings in a loaf shape and tasted amazing. One the waiter recommended and I'd defiantly recommend it as well though defiantly as a sharing thing.
Still having space for a little bit more we then went onto desert. There was a fair bit of choice. We went for a Banana Split, Mississippi Mud pie and the Cheese Cake of the day. All were enjoyed and little was left by the end, especially the Mississippi Mud Pie served with ice cream over cream which my dad has been trying to find for ages. I've only included above the dishes that we ordered when we went but for a full list of options the menu is available on their website so you can check out what they do.
As always I made my routine visit to the toilet: I mean why go to an eating establishment it your notmgonna check out their loo? The toilets were situated on the bottom level so a couple of stairs down from where we were sitting. When we got to the bottom we were greeted by two doors (well three but one was towards the lower eating area) one which said 'Barbie Q's' and the other 'Bobby Q's', this was very entertaing and I thought it was a really clever touch. We went into the Barbie side (for obvious reasons) and walked into a really lovely bathroom area: there was about 4 or 5 stools, it was a bit squished inside but there was enough room to move and get in/ out of the toilets and wash/ day your hands. The decoration again was really nice and there was no problems with hygiene or lack of soap/ toilet paper, ect.
From the moment we walked in we noticed something was missing, something that I personally find as one of the defining points of a restaurant: the atmosphere. Having really stuck to Hard Rock Cafe on special birthday trips to London and other similar restaurants we were used to an amazing feeling from the second you walk in. This lacked at the Chicago Rib Shack and I can't quite put my finger on why. The staff although friendly didn't seem to bring much outside of the ability to serve and sometimes get confused over what they were doing. The music was great but almost seemed to just be random- both new old, different genres, etc some of which I didn't really feel matched the restaurant and although we did have a slightly embarrassing, quiet sing along to Bruno Marz it wasn't the same as how the music makes you feel in other restaurants. For us this lack of atmosphere has pretty much got to be the biggest let down of the whole experience and had a pretty big impact on our feelings towards it as a whole to the point where we doubt we'd go again.
As I've already said the service was friendly but seemed to lack real personality within the job. We were often asked if our food was ok or if we needed refills but we also had a couple of incidents where drinks still being used were taken away. It provided some laughs as my sister was left looking kind of confused as the drink she was about to drink was gone and was rectified easily but still quite annoying regardless.
The bill was as expected for a London resturant but did appear to be more than expected as service charge was included. We are generally good tippers as my parents have always hated the thought of walking out without giving them a fair amount for their work but including the charge into the bill is something that we are not fond of- it's meant to be an optional amount but here we felt we were being forced into a certain amount and after a few mistakes by the service we would have preferred to choose our own tip. The prices generally weren't too bad but for around the same price we could have had a better time at somewhere like Hard Rock.
Looking on the website I have now found out about a range of other things we did not learn in the resturant. This included a shop selling merchandise related to the resturant, this included jumpers, bags and even unpainted versions of the pigs we had seen when we entered. This means you can take something away to remember your experiance and if I had of know I think I may have bought a pig as I thought they were amazing. There are also a range of special events and offers on at different times so it may be a good idea to check the website it your planning on going to see if there is anything going on during your visit, though I haven't been to one I can imagine it gets more lively when there are special events.
All in all this was a decent experience but one I'm not sure we would want to repeat. There was nothing remarkably bad or wrong but it also wasn't anything amazing that made it stand out enough for us to want to return. The food was good, service friendly and it was quite nice looking inside but the lack of atmosphere and cost are enough to put us off. Defiantly didn't meet the expectations my parents held from the their past. I'm not sure if I'd recommend to a friend as I do think how much you enjoy this restaurant is largely down to personal preference and possibly when you go but I think personally it will be one I'd give a miss unless I have a sudden craving for the delicious onion loaf.
Summary: It was nice but nothing amazing.
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