When Barbecoa opened last fall, Jamie Oliver’s name got thrown around a lot. For me, though, the draw was his partner, Adam Perry Lang, whose BBQ shows and cookbook many of my barbecue-loving friends in the US swear by.
Early blog reports were not good. Neither Cheese and Biscuits nor Food Stories enjoyed their meal there, but because their reviews were written so early and left me with the impression that they’d hated their steaks, I thought perhaps over time things might improve on the barbecue front. After all, when I go out for barbecue, I’m not looking for a steak. In fact, I’d be surprised if a barbecue place in the US even offered steak on the menu. So query why reviews like this one in TimeOut seemed to suggest a good barbecue place should be serving lots of steak? (“For a barbecue restaurant, the choice of beef steaks is very limited . . . .”)
Jon and I turned up on a Friday night. It was my first trip to the shiny New Change shopping mall (where Barbecoa sits). In that sense, it definitely felt like America.
Barbecoa is a huge space with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral. But I’m sad to say that like many places with fantastic views, Barbecoa should work a little harder at its food.
When Jon and I looked over the menu, we were disappointed to see relatively few barbecue dishes. I can now see why people have been ordering steaks and burgers — the menu offerings are really heavy on those. That’s fine for a steak place, but this is supposed to be a barbecue place! Why are baby back ribs served only as an appetizer? Why, for that matter, is only one style of ribs served? And where’s the fried chicken? Buttermilk biscuits? Now, I’m not claiming Blue Smoke in New York is the paragon of barbecue places, but this is more what I was expecting from Barbecoa.
Jon and I tried to zero in on the more “American” looking dishes, like the crab cakes. Alas, our server informed us that no crab cakes were offered that evening and tried to push us towards a crab salad instead. When we ended up ordering the fried calamari, the waiter asked us why we didn’t want the crab salad, which I thought was a funny thing for him to do. He was surprised to hear that crab cakes, in our opinion, are a special American treat – hard to find in London. Crab salad, on the other hand, not so special.
It was probably for the best that we ended up with fried calamari given the non-existence of jumbo lump crab meat in London. And the calamari, while a relatively small portion for £10, were good. Greaseless and not rubbery. The smashed avocado was pretty useless, though.
Baby back ribs as a starter had its high and low points. It was pretty weird. A few of the ribs were very good, with the right amount of spice and tang and a falling-off-the-bone texture. Other ribs, though, were a bit dry and tough. From one point of view, it’s remarkable that ribs right next to each other could taste so differently. But it didn’t make for a pleasant dining experience.
Finding nothing else among the mains that looked “barbecuey,” both Jon and i ordered the pulled pork shoulder. I’d hoped the cornbread would be served in a way where you could make a pulled pork sandwich (which is *the* way to eat pulled pork, imho). But no. The cornbread was just damp and oily, so nothing much has changed on that front since Food Stories and Cheese & Biscuits ate at Barbecoa.
Jon and I ordered the “bread board and butter” for £4 in order to make our own sandwiches topped with the cole slaw that accompanied our pulled pork. That improved things somewhat, though the bread board, as you’ll see below, isn’t ideal for making sandwiches:
With just two glasses of wine, our total came to £86 for the two of us.
Service was polite and extraordinarily fast (Barbecoa’s slick-looking ordering systems waste no time in ensuring your food gets to the table asap, and the tables turn at dizzying speed), but based on our experience, the staff don’t seem particularly enthused or knowledgeable about barbecue.
So go for the views of St. Paul. Bring your out-of-town friends and drop by for drinks. But don’t go for the barbecue. *Sigh*
Barbecoa, 20 New Change Passage, EC4M 9AG; 0203 005 8555.