Celebrity chef does barbecue with a view, but is it pukka or just pants?
Update August 2013 – new, more up-to-date review published
Love him or loathe him, there’s no denying that TV chef Jamie Oliver is terribly enthusiastic about food. For this reason alone I was keen to try out his new barbecue restaurant, Barbecoa.
When it comes to the location and decor of Barbecoa, I could drone on and on about the slightly retro 70s decor, the uncomfortably hard chairs, the funky light fixtures, the incredibly loud, bustling atmosphere or the naff shopping centre in which the restaurant is located. None of that really matters though when, if you’re lucky enough, you have a gloriously dramatic view of London’s iconic St Paul’s Cathedral which looks even more awesome when illuminated at night.
Yeah, that’ll do.
Disappointingly though the vaunted on-site butcher’s shop was closed and shrouded from public view, although the kitchen is visible as you enter the restaurant through a glass window showing huge slabs of meat, akin to something from the Flintstones, smouldering away over the charcoal-fired barbecue.
Wicket, Kangaroo Face and I arrived a little early so we took a drink at the bar. As a non-drinker, I opted for a refreshing, very minty virgin mojito while the other two went for a pint of Freedom Pilsner each. Drinks were a fiver each which is about the going rate for such a central part of London. We were promptly taken to our table when it was ready and you can leave your coats and bags in the optional cloak room.
The drinking begins…
Although Barbecoa sells itself as a barbecue restaurant, not everything on the menu is barbecued from the daily special fish pie to the Barbecoa Burger which I saw being cooked the old-fashioned way on a gas-fired grill in the kitchen. This also applied to my starter, the scallop ceviche which is a dish of raw scallops slowly ‘cooked’ by the acidity of the lime juice squeezed over it. Although it might sound like an odd dish to order in a barbecue restaurant, I remembered Jamie’s enthusiasm for the dish after discovering it in an episode of his TV show ‘Jamie’s American Road Trip’.
Unfortunately the ceviche was a bitter disappointment. The slices of scallop was bland and tasteless which wasn’t helped by the excessive amount of ice underneath, chilling the flavour to death. The runt cubes of avocado were poorly chosen too, lacking the buttery creaminess I would expect. When gimmick restaurant Inamo can do a better ceviche then something is clearly wrong.
Wicket, on the other hand, waxed lyrical about baby back ribs and how the taste varied from smoky charcoal flavour in one mouthful to spicy kick in the next. Kangaroo Face was in agreement, but I was unimpressed. I may have had a duff rib off Wicket’s plate, but the flavours were muted to the point of blandness. My two companions were incredulous at my stoicism, but we had to agree to disagree on this one.
Bones of contention.
Kangaroo Face ordered the beef tartare which I was especially intrigued back given my long standing quest for a good cow tartare in London. While he was pleased with his dish, I was again unimpressed. The bitty chunks of meat meant there was a lack of texture and if there were any capers, seasonings or other dressings then I could barely taste them. Very disappointing.
That’s a lot of bread.
The main courses turned out better. Wicket went for the rack of lamb with beans and rocket. He was pleased with the tender, succulent meat but conceded there wasn’t anything special or exceptional about it – ‘it’s just lamb’ as he put it.
Wicket loves baby sheep.
I opted for the pulled pork. The meat was suitably tender and the sauce had a nice smoky flavour to it with a molasses-like tangy sweetness. It tastes better than the version at Bodean’s, which isn’t hard, although it’s not as good as some of the versions I’ve had in the barbecue shacks of Atlanta, Georgia. The included sides were very good though with the moreish cornbread and the poshest coleslaw I’ve ever eaten. It’s not as creamy as the slop Wicket likes to pick up from the supermarket, but more citrusy and with lots of red cabbage.
That cornbread is cracking.
Kangaroo Face and I were again divided, this time over his mains pick of pork belly. I admit that I have unreasonably high expectations of pork belly, having had the deceptively simple dish several times in Germany aka the land of ardent swine flesh lovers. While Kangaroo Face seemed to relish his white meat, I was underwhelmed. I was disappointed that the fat hadn’t melted more and permeated the rest of the meat. I also thought there was too much meat in proportion to the amount of fat. It’s not bad, but I was expecting so much more.
I’ve had better.
I ordered a side dish of duck fat chips, presumably fried in duck fat, for the table. They weren’t as crispy on the outside and fluffy on the outside as the triple-cooked chips at Hawksmoor. Although a damn sight better than the chips served in many other places, they were more than a little overpriced at £4.
Duck fat chips with the coleslaw that accompanies the pulled pork in the background.
Kangaroo Face upped the vegetable quotient by ordering creamed spinach which was actually rather good. The creamy spinach almost resembled a spinach paneer dish that you’d expect to find in an Indian restaurant. It was topped with breadcrumbs and fried shallots which added a nice moreish crunch to the vegetables. Although the dish is probably about as healthy as a heart attack, if you’re counting calories then you shouldn’t go to Barbecoa in the first place.
Spinach that’s about as healthy as my paunch, but who cares?
Kangaroo Face is an unapologetic oenophile which can be quite scary at times as his latent rage can erupt from underneath his deceptively calm demeanour when pissed. It was therefore unsurprising that he gazed longingly with undisguised lust at the expansive wine rack running along one long section of wall. He and Wicket decided to get slowly inebriated on a £30 bottle of Altos Las Hormigas Malbec 2009 from Argentina. What lushes. 😉
After all, you’re my wonder wall…
It’s not often that I’m left puzzled and undecided by a dish, but I was perplexed by my dessert of Vin Santo Rose Cake served with creme fraiche, candied vanilla lemons and crystallised rose petals. The rose petals might as well have not been there for all they added to the dish, but the candied lemons added a creamy, citrusy punch to the rather odd cake. The cake had a strong rosewater flavour, but even stronger was the highly peculiar taste of what resembled the burnt ends of a ginger loaf which may or may not be due to the Italian dessert wine used in making it. I don’t regret ordering it, but I doubt I would order it again.
Wicket, on the other hand, seemed genuinely pleased by his chocolate cheesecake topped with a lime meringue and gingersnap crust.
Wicket loves cheesecake.
Kangaroo Face was a little pouty at the absence of crème brûlée from the menu, but the exceedingly helpful, friendly, efficient and chatty staff offered him an off-the-menu poached rhubarb with vanilla ice cream. I have had more than my fair share of poached rhubarb dishes recently and here both he and I were in agreement – this was a disappointing dessert. The ice cream was weakly flavoured and the rhubarb was too sweet and mushy.
Will the disappointment never end?
Barbecoa was disappointing. Although the service and the view cannot be faulted, the execution of the food varied from disappointing to merely adequate. My two dining companions would disagree with me strongly on that last point, but I think Barbecoa is trading heavily on its celebrity backer rather than its cuisine. It is arguably better than rival BBQ restaurant Bodean’s, but it’s also more expensive. I’m sorely tempted to give it two stars, but it just scrapes in with a three star rating since you can get an alright-ish meal here if you choose carefully. At these prices though I’d expect consistent excellence so I’d rather dine elsewhere. Nice view though.
Address: 20 New Change Passage, London, EC4M 9AG (inside One New Change shopping centre)
Phone: 020 3005 8555
Opening Hours: seven days a week, midday-23.00
Total cost for one person including beer and a bottle of wine: £63 approx.