“It looks like an S & M club” I said to my mate as we gazed up at Barbecoa. “I want to sit in one of the cages” he replied.
Situated on the first floor of One New Change, the spanking new shiny, shiny shopping centre in the shadow of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Barbecoa looks like a city boy’s playground. All dark wood, metal sculpture and leather aproned waitresses who communicate via earpieces and take your order on electronic pads.
We’d approached with an open mind. I’ve never heard anyone rave about Jamie’s restaurants, but then I’ve never heard anything particularly negative either. The menu reads rather well: meat, meat and more grilled meat, with a little bit of fish in between. Baby back ribs; steak; pulled pork; burger; beef tartare. It sounded right up my strasse.
Our waitress was charming. We’d ordered wine but I fancied a beer and she knowledgeably talked me through them. I cut her off when I spotted the Brew Dog Punk IPA. It arrived icy cold; bitter and perfect. I snuggled into my chair and perused the menu.
To start, ‘crispy pig cheeks’ (why always ‘crispy’, whatever happened to ‘crisp’?), which came as a sort of piggy fish-cake: shredded, re-formed and fried in a patty. Unfortunately, it also came tepid, which really put me off. There was a lot of fat in the pig-cake, which is fine by me, but only if it’s going to be hot. It coated my mouth with an insipid film and didn’t have much porky flavour to back it up, either. Shreds of meat were scarce. The accompanying piccalilli was fine. On the side, I ordered pickled vegetables because I can’t ever resist extra pickles and because the menu described them as ‘amazing’. They weren’t. Pretty, yes. Crunchy, yes. Pickled? Definitely. Incredibly astringent, begging for a touch of sugar and spice.
It was a disappointing start, but I still really wanted to like it. “Let’s order bread!” I suggested excitedly. It arrived, 4 types, in huge chunks, on a spike. Like a bready version of the chef’s spent orders. Garlic and rosemary bread was excellent and generously rubbed with Jamie’s beloved olive oil; a nigella seed studded naan was packed with flavour. Pumpernickel though was only faintly malty and the sourdough lacked any flavour at all.
With the mains came the realisation that things weren’t going to get any better. My mate’s steak was just inexcusable. Watery and flavourless, clearly a crap bit of meat. For £30! We were staggered by it; they do their own butchery downstairs for goodness’ sake – there’s a whole section of their website which raves about the meat. My pulled pork, although a mix of beautiful textures (chewy outer and soft inner strings), was completely unbalanced. Way too sweet, not countered by vinegar but every now and again assaulted by it. It made me feel a bit queasy, actually and most went untouched. Pulled pork! Untouched! Same with the cornbread, which tasted of oil. A side order of cavolo nero with ‘anchovy, garlic and chilli’ tasted of nothing, literally nothing, except smoke. My guess is that everything that comes out of that kitchen will taste of smoke – lovely on the meat, not so much on the cabbage.
With a bottle of (not bad) syrah, that lot came to £110 for two. Thankfully, we had 50% off food due to an earlier cock up with our booking. I’d have found it a real struggle to hand over my card for the full amount.
The place may become popular with the wealthy suits in the area. The couple sat next to us were clearly loaded, their expensive accessories glinting in the candlelight. More than once he openly smirked at our conversation, probably because he wasn’t having any of his own; she had looked miffed on our arrival, having had to move her handbag from my chair to make way for my arse. I can imagine the whole place filled with these people: loads of money, bad manners, crap taste.
Perhaps they just need more time to settle in, although they’ll need to buy their beef from somewhere else; find a way to stop the flavour of smoke overwhelming everything in the kitchen; learn to master the sweet and sour BBQ flavour balance and turn the bloody lights up. My eyes were hurting by the end. It’s not an impossible task, but it does seem rather unlikely.
1 New Change
Tel: 0203 005 8555