Porky’s larger, better looking but shallower neighbour
You wait months for a new American-style barbecue restaurant in London and two arrive at the same time. Q Grill in Camden arrives hot on the heels of One Sixty in West Hampstead, but while One Sixty has a fairly short, focussed menu, the menu at Q Grill lurches around like the leery drunks on the streets outside. A handful of barbecue dishes are joined by everything from a burger and a hot dog to steak tartare and even a ceviche.
A meandering, wiffley-waffley menu doesn’t fill me with confidence, but at least the service was friendly and reasonably efficient. It can be prone to inattentiveness though – waiting 20 minutes to order a dessert and another 20 to settle the bill, when the lunch time rush has petered out, is not my idea of a good time.
Q-Grill weekday dinner
The Praetor accompanied on my first visit to Q Grill and he loves corn bread almost as much as I do. The version here was loose and airy, almost as if it had been steamed rather than baked, and wasn’t especially nutty or sweet either. Disappointing.
The half rack of baby back ribs was so large, I shudder to think how huge a whole rack must be. Although the bark was mildly sweet and tangy with occasional hints of spice, the meat underneath was underwhelming. Although tender and reasonably moist, the meat lacked character nor did it have the tell-tale pink smoke ring of properly smoked meat. Forgettable.
The coleslaw included with the pork ribs wasn’t too creamy or sickly, but if you really want to avoid mayo, then the slaw is available ‘naked’ without any dressing at all. Consisting of julienned cabbage and carrots with occasional hits of red onion, it’s a refreshing counterpoint to the relatively heavy meat.
The beef short rib was remarkable for being even worse than the pork ribs. It might look impressive, but there was far more fat than meat – the delicate balance between the two was out of whack. The fat’s excessively soft, globular, jelly-like texture was unpleasant, while the meat itself was also too soft with no bite, texture or smokiness to it. The only thing worth eating here was the accompaniment of butternut squash ‘hummus’, but this sweet, creamy, fluffy concoction is available separately. Not good enough.
The Praetor was pleased by the smoky coarseness of his kielbasa-style hot dog. His only complaint was that the lengthy sausage was ‘too big to fit in my Instagram’. Pfnarr.
The Praetor’s fries couldn’t compare to proper chips, but they’re good enough in their own right – cut from whole slices of potato, soft and lightly seasoned with a mild paprika-like spice.
The Praetor couldn’t finish his apple and toffee crumble and I can’t blame him. The crumble was too crispy and sugary – almost as if it had been candied into a semi-brittle. The fruit underneath was reasonably sharp, but the forgettable ice cream needed a little more resting time – it was painfully cold.
My own dessert, the nutty coupe, sounded far more interesting than it tasted. A forgettable blob of ice cream drizzled with a child’s chocolate sauce was studded with macadamia nuts and caramelised popcorn. The popcorn was crisp and mildly caramelised, but tasted so mild that the popped kernels didn’t leave much of an impression while the macadamias were far too sugary. If I wanted a dessert for children, I’d have waddled off to my supermarket’s ice cream aisle.
Going back for seconds – Q-Grill weekend dinner
I was unimpressed with Q Grill’s barbecue, to put it mildly, but my sense of fairness demanded that I try out some of the other dishes on its menu. My second visit got off to a mixed start. The charred octopus was indeed charred, or burnt if you’re uncharitable, but was too soft and mushy. The manhandled texture of the cephalopod was made more bearable by the vegetable accompaniment. Although advertised as a kimchi, it was more like an odd but tasty coleslaw – mildly creamy cabbage flavoured with punchy capers and tart segments of blood orange.
I’m fairly certain that the chicken wings had been basted in alcohol, tinged as they were with a slightly acidic edge. The slightly sticky marinade also had a mild tang and hint of smoke to it, while the meat itself was tender. These wings have nothing on Patty and Bun’s confit chicken wings, but they’re good enough in their own right.
The beef hash is advertised as ‘smoked’ which seems odd for a dish typically made from left over cuts of meat – freshly smoking such a mixture seems like overkill. In any case, the heaped patty wasn’t smoky in the slightest, but it was pleasingly fatty, chewy and dotted with potato chunks. Although the duck egg wasn’t runny or rich enough, this was still a satisfying dish.
If you’re an alcoholic then you’ll be mightily impressed by the bourbon and pecan tart – it was almost overpoweringly boozy. Since I’m more sensitive to alcohol than most, I found this dessert almost unbearable – especially as the rest of it was so deeply unimpressive. The forgettable pastry held some very loosely packed pecans – a light breeze would have been enough to scatter them about. The pecans were also bland and soft, lacking the sweet, nutty, crunchy caramelised flavours I was expecting. The only way I could power on through was with the help of the sour creme fraiche acting as a counterpoint to the booze.
Third time’s the charm – Q-Grill brunch
My third and final meal at Q Grill was the most impressive of the lot, although it’s all relative. I wasn’t expecting much from the steak tartare so I was pleasantly surprised by the coarsely ground, slightly chewy raw beef. The bold flavours of capers and chilli in the beef were a little too strong, as was the fennel-studded thin crisp breads (just out of shot), but overall this was a very respectable steak tartare.
Sunday sees the addition of a duck egg to the flat iron steak (because that makes it a brunch dish, I suppose). The egg, while runny and reasonably rich, isn’t really needed. Although the flat iron steak doesn’t have anywhere near the same depth of flavour as the same cut at Flat Iron, it’s still pretty good. The bark was slightly chewy and woody, giving way to tender flesh cooked rare and lightly seasoned. The accompanying fries were the same as they were on my first visit.
Surprisingly for such a meat-heavy menu, the market salad was well-balanced and tasty. A mixture of peppery, mild and neutral leaves all in a mildly creamy dressing.
Of all the Q Grill desserts I tried, the buttermilk pancakes were the least objectionable. The three reasonably fluffy and slightly chewy pancakes were stacked on top of each other and topped with segments of poached rhubarb. Although firm and a little fibrous, the rhubarb wasn’t quite tart enough.
The kale, avocado and apple smoothie sounds weird and exotic, but was utterly pedestrian in reality. The icy sludge tasted mostly of tart apples with little evidence of avocado and kale.
There are a couple of decent dishes on the menu at Q Grill, but this can’t disguise the dreary second-rate nature of the barbecue and the generally dire state of most of the desserts. Q Grill is best seen as a last-resort, ho-hum American-esque diner-style restaurant, but unlike most diners this one costs around £35-40 a head (without booze) and you’ll almost certainly need to book ahead. Unless you really want to mingle with easily impressed tourists and people recovering from a hangover, head to Texas Joe’s, Pitt Cue or Smokestak for far superior, far better value barbecue.
What to order: Flat iron steak, steak tartare
What to avoid: The beef short rib, the desserts
Name: Q Grill
Address: 29-33 Chalk Farm Road, Camden, London NW1 8AJ
Phone: 020 7267 2678
Opening Hours: Monday-Thursday noon-23.30, Friday-Saturday noon-midnight and Sunday 11.00-22.30.
Reservations: highly recommended
Average cost for one person including soft drinks: £35-40 approx.