If Boney M have taught us anything about Tsarist Russia, it’s this: not only was Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin a lover of the Russian queen, but he was a “cat that really was gone”. Furthermore, as “Russia’s greatest love machine”, “to Moscow chicks he was such a lovely dear”. So far, so good.
Not all shared this enthusiasm for the bearded mystic: a group of nobles found him such a threat that in 1916 he had to be poisoned, shot, stabbed, clubbed and drowned. On the same night, no less. And you think you’ve been to some awkward dinner parties.
Lucky old Grigori, was my main thought after this experience.
He might have been fed cyanide, been on the wrong side of bullet, beating and blade- and, finally, the icy depths of a St Petersburg river: but I found myself thinking that, had it all gone more locally awry, it would have been The Taff rather than Malaya Nevka, and that as the chill waters finally closed over his head, his final thoughts might have gone something like this: ‘I have been bludgeoned and bound, shot and drowned. But at least I avoided eating at Coyote Ugly.’
‘American BBQ’ screams the banner. ‘Bet it’s bloody not’ screams my inner pedant. I don’t have high hopes- it’s an odd concept, and oddly timed, with the film eighteen years old now. But it’s important to keep an open mind: no one orders food hoping it’s a waste of time and money. No one wants their dinner to be a disappointment. No one spends money on a meal wanting to hate it.
And I don’t. Hate it, that is.
Because hate would be altogether too flimsy- too colourless, too pallid- a word for my feelings about this meal. This experience. Which is clearly what you are being sold here- the company tagline is ‘beautiful girls and booze since 1993’. And if that’s your thing, then fill your boots.
Personally, I felt a little uncomfortable with the idea, so we went when it would be at its least rowdy, when the kitchen might not be swamped with orders. The politics of the thing I’ll leave to other, cleverer voices: local media is strangely silent on the topic, despite a frankly remarkable number of pieces covering the launches. In theory, it should be a great match: American style bar, American style food.
No, this is a meal which does something else: it actually angers me at the wasted opportunity.
So I’ll start with the positives.
There’s a rough and ready feel as you enter: corrugated tin panels, graffiti, unfinished wood. It’s dive bar/fallout shelter chic as we enter, and the big screens are playing the Johnny Cash version of ‘Hurt.’
A decent beer list includes Blue Moon and Camden Hells Lager, and it’s a rare treat to find Lagunitas IPA on tap. The jukebox is pure (accidental) brilliance: accidental because it’s one of those ‘completely out of sync with its surroundings, but let’s hope no one notices’ jobs. I could sit here all day and bankrupt myself- a mixture of Pavement, The Fall, Joy Division, Spiritualized, Afghan Whigs will do very nicely indeed, thanks- though I dare say that wouldn’t be in keeping with the management’s rowdy dive bar ethos. They do reserve the right to change your song if they don’t approve-but I’ll take a crumb of comfort wherever I can find it. I fight temptation to stick on Bonnie Prince Billy’s peerless ‘I See A Darkness’ just to see what happens.
I daresay I am not their ‘key demographic’. It’s the kind of place built nights whete good taste goes to due, for stag nights and hen parties. It’s all about the good times. And that means cocktails. They have musical themes, typically mainstream rock. It soon becomes apparent they are tempting fate with some. ‘Meatloaf’ almost begs to be answered with, ‘I’ll Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Eat Here’). You want another? How about Guns’n’Roses’ ‘Paradise Shitty’? Queen, with ‘Bohemian Crapsody’? Trust me, even these are better than what’s served. I’m almost surprised they don’t tag the ‘Def Leppard’ with ‘Have a few- they’re quite ‘armless’!’
Tasteless? Funny you should say that…
Oh dear Lord. The food. The food. It’s taking all I’ve got to sit here and not go the full Colonel Kurtz: ‘The horror, the horror…’
But no, let’s focus on the better parts first.
Coleslaw tastes fine, though it has a curious lilac shade which puts me in mind of something which escapes me. ‘It looks like raspberry Ski’ says my companion suddenly, and as usual she’s right.
Chips are underwhelming, not least because they are cold. They are still crisp, despite the temperature, and huddled, like escapees from a cruel world, under a blanket of thick barbecue sauce which is cloyingly over-sweet. The pieces of chicken in the Dirty Fries (£7.50) taste like that bland over-processed, slightly rubbery stuff. The thick-sliced pieces of bacon are much better, although the sauce is more sugar than smoke.
This will be the highpoint of the meal.
Things go downhill from here, in the same way Thelma and Louise choose (look, if they can think a film old enough to order its own drinks is a novel concept, I can play that game too). The ‘Bbq Combo’ menu (£9.50 each, two for £14.50, three for £17.50) means you can mix and match to your stomach’s (mal)contentment.
Smoked beef ribs should be a treat: you want someone to care enough to take the time to see fat rendered down to leave something beautifully tender, something which falls apart in your mouth while retaining texture. You want something deeply savoury, a humble cut reinvented by slow, patient oversight. They’re something cheap reinterpreted as something sumptuous, food which makes you feel that little bit happier. Or they should be.
This falls at the first fence. It’s immediately apparent it hasn’t been properly trimmed: there’s a thick layer of unrendered fat which is even less attractive than it sounds. There is no sign of smoke having penetrated the meat, no telltale ‘ring’ despite assurances it has been dry smoked. I show it to a chef friend.
‘That looks like my gran’s knee replacement surgery’, he offers. And he didn’t have to eat it.
Neither do I, at least not past the first few mouthfuls. I try to persevere. Really, I do. I admit defeat. You can look at the photos and draw your own conclusions. (Another friend, a nationally-renowned BBQ expert, just sends back ‘What the F*CK is that??!!’)
Brisket tastes, oddly, boiled; I am absolutely sure it can’t be, given the fact the menu clearly states it is smoked over maple wood for 8 hours. It’s an odd greyish colour: and, curiously, bears no sign of that ‘smoke ring’ which is a giveaway for true low and slow cooking. There is precious little evidence of the subtle interplay of flavour and texture which characterises good barbecue.
It’s a drab-looking effort: what manages to be both tough and bland isn’t improved upon meeting a solid band of gummy tissue, the colour and consistency of which was last spotted when your grandmother hung out her smalls.
It’s clearly visible upon serving, so it seems an odd decision to leave it there. You can draw your own conclusions, by now, about the level of scrutiny in this kitchen.
(In the interest of balance, Tripadvisor’s MeMyself123 says ‘I had the 8 hour brisket with fries and claw [sic]. OMG it was the best brisket I have ever ever had. The price was £8 for my meal and I have to say, I’d happily pay £15 for half the amount they actually served me…I left absolutely stuffed and had only ate a third of what I was given. The taste was excellent. I would happily come back the 100+ miles across the bridge just for this meal alone. I just wish I could give you more stars. Keep up the good work chief.’]
Their site describes their food as ‘awesome’ and ‘pretty damn amazing’. I agree, though not in a way they might appreciate. I am in awe of any place which can get so many things wrong at once. That takes a spectacularly bad service or one of those off days we all have. There were only four tables occupied and two orders going into the kitchen, yet we ended up with this. Make of that what you will.
A ‘bronut’ (£10) which sticks an overdone bacon cheeseburger between two sugar doughnuts is an idea which should have been left on the drawing board. I get it- you’re wacky, you’re knowingly trashy, you’re an American dive bar. If you absolutely have to indulge yourself like this, at least slice one doughnut sideways, because it’s curiously unpleasant to hold something cold and greasy to your mouth, that cloying sweetness, against salty bacon and an overdone patty which- and you’re way ahead of me here- has been laced with a sauce which layers on even more sweetness. Some will like it.
This is American barbecue in the same way I am a short, sunny, blonde waif. It is becoming apparent that spending my own money here is right up there with my better decisions, like trimming my fingernails with a circular saw, or that Groupon for a prosecco picnic in Mogadishu. It’s clear the closest you’ll get to that smokehouse staples ‘burnt ends’ would be the Benson and Hedges ground underfoot in the street-facing smokers’ corner. You get the distinct feeling that any pre-dinner nibble served here would be less amuse-bouche, more abuse-bouche.
No one asked us how our food was. Perhaps they knew something we didn’t.
Frustratingly, this is a shadow of what it could be. Are aspirational role models hard to find? Hardly: you could well argue that Hang Fire have spoilt us for proper barbecue in South Wales, that they have told anyone who’s listening that humble cuts of meat can, with the right amount of love and care, be transformed into something sublime, something extraordinary. If you follow this blog, you could say my head has been turned by Smokestak, or Pitt Cue, or the carnivore’s playground which is Meatopia. That I am a metropolitan food snob, bringing an unfairly ‘experienced’ eye to what Coyote Ugly are doing. For what it’s worth, I ate with someone who hasn’t tried the last three, and she was similarly unimpressed.
But my money is (at least for now) as good as anybody else’s, and if you’re going to charge the same for a burger as they do at local independents, then you are entitled to expect something at least different. If you are going to boast about your ‘US barbecue’ in South Wales, you need to be aware that people will not be easily fooled. If, as your PR says, ‘all our dishes are prepared by our on site chef and we use the finest ingredients from our butcher/supplier’, then expect some scrutiny.
This was, by some distance, the worst meal I have been served in Cardiff since I began this blog- or before it, for that matter. So why write about it? Why not do what I typically do- to write a balanced account which weighs the good against the bad?
Over the last 180-odd full-length reviews, I have always championed what’s good, what is worth your time and money, from Michelin stars to City Road. You are, naturally, welcome to ignore everything I write. You might well claim that this place isn’t aimed at me or my ‘demographic’, whatever that might be. That busloads of stag do ‘banter lads’ would think they had found their Valhalla.
The house rules, quite rightly, state there is a strict ‘No Touching!’ policy toward the Coyotes.
It’s just a shame the same rule doesn’t apply to the food.
78 St. Marys St.
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.