Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum had: Buffalo wings, poutine with bacon
‘This is going to be a disappointing evening, isn’t it?’ Professor Plum said, tucking into our soggy, slimy food in time to pop across the street and catch the movie we were in town to see. X-Men: Apocalypse has received thoroughly middling reviews, but Professor Plum has always been a big fan of X-Men in all their many versions, so wanted to see it anyway. Neither of us had particularly high hopes about the movie’s quality, nor, once our food arrived, about that, but this new barbecue place had just opened across the street from the big Vue multiplex in The Light and it seemed like it would give us something quick and easy before our movie began.
Ersatz-Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives-style American barbecue joints seem to be the latest food fashion and it doesn’t look like a fad that’s going away any time soon. Local favourite Red’s True BBQ has already expanded to Manchester, Nottingham and Shoreditch, so the new kid on the block is competing in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Stampede, whether as an intentional aesthetic choice or not, seems to be positioning itself a little more towards the ‘dives’ end of the spectrum than somewhere like Red’s.
With its late licence and location strategically positioned between the Otley Run of pubs up past the universities and the city centre clubs, it seems to perceive its main target audience as post-club takeaway seekers. That may go some way to explain why it was quite so quiet and atmosphere-less at dinner time on a Friday night, with only two other groups in the whole restaurant and a Spotify playlist playing with ads every few songs. Although it doesn’t really explain why they would have already have run out of items on their sparse, simple menu.
On that subject: ‘We do three things and we do them really well…Ribs, wings, burgers’ promises Stampede’s slogan and that’s a sensible pitch for a place like this, far more appealing than a pretty basic eatery trying to compensate by throwing in excessive arrays of choice. However, if you’re going to promise to only do a very few things but to do them really well, then you should be damn sure you’re going to do that. Unfortunately, this is where Stampede really fails.
Of course, you don’t expect somewhere like this to deliver an exceptional quality of dining experience (any more than you’d expect the food slopped into a cardboard tray in the picture below to even closely resemble the pictures on their website), but you should be able to rely on the possibility of some pleasure from some fatty, spicy wings. This is just not the case here. There should at least be a little bit of crispiness to the wings (which didn’t seem to have come anywhere close to an actual American-style grill) under the coating of sauce, which shouldn’t just be flavoured ‘spice’. In fact, while the wings weren’t particularly spicy on the tongue, putting them in your mouth required you to inhale an unpleasant dusty heat that I imagine might be a hard balance to achieve if one were to deliberately set out to do so.
Poutine, that curious Canadian favourite, seems a good fit for the post-pub takeaway crowd – a hipster North American spin on the old Northern favourite chips and gravy – and while this was not as unsuccessful as the wings, it equally didn’t seem to offer anything that the age old student takeaways up the road couldn’t do better.
In the end, that’s kind of Stampede’s biggest problem. I honestly can’t see what it’s niche could be. For people who want quality American barbecue in the city centre, there’s Red’s; for people who want easy, dirty American fast food, then Five Guys is better and cheaper; for people like us wanting a quick bite before a trip to the multiplex opposite, any of The Light’s generic chain restaurants would do something superior; and for the student rolling back onto campus after a big night there’s countless takeaways closer to home. I just can’t see it lasting.
Professor Plum in the Dining Room: I’d probably rate Stampede 2/5, rather than 1, but in a city with multiple barbeque options, two less than ten minutes’ walk from Stampede, it was a disappointing experience. Quite how you run out of menu items before dinner has even started, I don’t know. I enjoyed the poutine well enough, but the wings had that curious combination of a scent that made your eyes water and a taste that was barely more than tangy. There’s a weird gimmick where the menus don’t have prices on; you have to check the TV over the bar for those. It might make sense if the TV menus got updated when stuff ran out, but they’re just static screens. It’s not cheap, either: our poutine, 6 wings and two beers came to over twenty quid. (which I think was the fault of the beer, which was served festival style in plastic cups). Maybe it would be cheaper if they didn’t rely on disposable plates and cups!
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