This is an archive review. Joe’s has now closed.
Back in the day the local dining scene offered the choice of starched linen and silver service; sticky Formica tables with aluminium edges; or when going ‘foreign’ you could eat among exotic plastic grapes and raffia’d wine bottles.
Then Mark King invented Joe Daflo’s, and everything changed. Tables lost their cloths, floors lost their carpets, and walls lost their flocked paper. Nude wood was everywhere and Joe’s was the coolest place on Union Street; the vertiginous highway recently re-imagined as Ryde’s Leisure Strip. The radicalness of the new Joe’s is hard to imagine today, when it seems almost normal to be served coffee and cocktails alongside food in a trendy, relaxed atmosphere. But in Ryde at least, Joe’s got there first and did it very well. And when other, bigger venues – such as Smithfields – eventually came along and did it better, everyone assumed that Joe’s would move on and try something else. But Smithfields disappeared and Joe’s prevailed – but it wasn’t quite the same; it seemed as though a little bit of the fight had been knocked out of it and that this trendsetting place was just going to slowly fade away. But it didn’t. This year, at last, Joe’s unveiled a new style, new branding, and a new menu. Some classic Joe’s elements remain unchanged: the distinctive continental café-bar interior for one. But for food, Joe’s has made a break from the standard Italian-inspired fare, and is now a joint that specialises in burgers. Burgers eh? Sounds like something for Matt and Cat to take a look at.
Now, to be fair, Joe’s has been doing some pretty interesting burgers for a while. Back in February Matt had a really nice chilli-and-cheese burger there which made him pay attention – and not just because of the copious jalapeño slices that came with it. It seems that the popularity of its burgers has caused Joe’s to rethink the whole thing and ditch almost all the non-burger main meals. This is not a bad course of action. After all, when was the last time you sat in a trendy café-bar and saw a menu that wasn’t vaguely Italian? Mediterranean-style food is pretty much universal, and with good reason: it’s easy and cheap to cook, and people like it. In Ryde, that market is successfully shared between the stylish Olivo and the traditional Michelangelo, so Joe’s needed to find its own niche. And perhaps it has.
Matt and Cat are not ones to shy away from a burger-eating assignment, and were keen to experience the new Joe’s. Although the place has been given a tiny makeover with trendy black condiment pots, matching black napkins and sauce ramekins, the interior hasn’t changed a jot. The decoration is steadfastly in the same style that Mr King commissioned way back in the last millennium. However, the menu is shiny and new – after a few perfunctory starters it was right in there with Joe’s beef steak burgers; Joe’s lamb burgers; Joe’s chicken burgers; Joe’s vegetarian burgers and even Joe’s fish burger. Yes, Matt and Cat can confirm that Joe’s has burgers. Lots of burgers. And they’re on offer at Joe’s. Burgers. So after a bit of thought, they both ordered a burger.
Matt and Cat have tried full English breakfast milkshake (not as bad as it sounds), Jamie Oliver has copyrighted his recipe for all-day breakfast pizza, and now Joe’s unveils its Steak All Day Breakfast Burger. Matt, entertained by this waggish concept, put in his order – and it proved to be more-or-less what it promised. A burger, bacon, a big mushroom and a fried egg. There was a choice of ciabatta or brioche bun, and all burgers came with salad and either chunky chips or skinny fries. Skinny fries? Hardly. That wasn’t what Matt had come for – chunky chips it was. Curiously, the table was set with only a fork and napkin. The reason became abundantly clear when the de rigueur slate platters arrived, each weighed down with a burger and a huge steak-knife – proper Crocodile Dundee-stylee!
Beef blue cheese burger £10.99
Beef breakfast burger £12.99
Side salad £2.95
Lime and water £0.30
Matt and Cat were pleased to report that both burgers were definitely better than average. This is a compliment indeed as Matt’s benchmark dish is the burger and he’s eaten many over the years. Joe’s burger meat was thick, and looked very much like freshly-made steak burger, with a requisite pinky hue and plenty of juice. Both burgers had an underlying layer of lettuce, tomatoes and raw onion (the latter M&C picked out and discarded). Cat’s Steak Blue Cheese burger came, as requested, in a brioche bun and was topped with ‘the finest melted mature Stilton’. The cheese had pretty much melted away but had left its characteristic tang in its wake. Matt’s breakfast burger had two big rashers of bacon in it, which along with the egg and mushroom made the stack a well-proportioned one. He couldn’t help but count the chunky chips though – there were nine. Arranged Jenga-style they were good chips, but only nine? Perhaps he should have gone for the skinny fries after all. Luckily, long-suffering Cat had ten chips, so kindly donated her surplus chip to a good cause. The chips and salad were modest indeed but pre-emptively, Matt and Cat had ordered a side-salad to share, which proved to be a sensible precaution.
Matt and Cat’s burger meal at Joe’s was, overall, a good experience in a lively and friendly place – just as it has always been. The meals were served very efficiently by a chatty lady who took the time to talk her charges through the new menu, despite the fact that the restaurant was pretty busy with people enjoying the new plethora of burgers. The new menu is a positive break with tradition, and even if the burger meals are not huge, the prices aren’t either. M&C spotted that if they’d come on a Monday or Thursday they could have had three courses for £10 – in these straitened times that’s a pretty good deal. Plus there seemed to be some interesting variations: Steak Wensleydale, Steak Louisiana (burger topped with peanut butter and cheese) and Steak Moroccan all sound like meals that would be worth trying. Matt and Cat might just go back and give them a go.