A waste of Soho real estate
I haven’t heard the name Bukowski Grill in years – not since my round up of London’s best non-chain burgers. The Shoreditch branch of Bukowski fared poorly in those burger stakes, so it was no surprise when superior burger purveyors expanded far more rapidly across the city with Byron and Honest Burger taking the lead and Patty and Bun following behind.
Bukowski has not only opened a third branch in Soho, but jumped on the creaky barbecue bandwagon too. Interestingly, the word ‘barbecue‘ is almost entirely absent from Bukowski’s menu and website, but the implication is clear. Phrases such as ‘smoked’ and ’72 hour’ as well as classic barbecue dishes, from pulled pork to baby back ribs, appear on the menu. Unfortunately for the paying public, Bukowski’s words are bigger than its actual ability to do them justice.
First things first
You can order a half rack of baby back ribs as a starter or a full rack as a main. While the half rack wasn’t as disastrously cack handed as the version at Low, Slow and Juke, it was far from good. Although moderately tender, the dull, characterless meat was utterly dependent on the mildly smoky, tangy, sticky and boozy sauce sploodged on top for flavour.
The pulled pork came served in a crisply toasted bun that didn’t get in the way of the filling. The crisp and refreshing coleslaw avoided the usual trap of being cloying, but the pulled pork itself was a parody of what a good barbecued Boston butt should be. Mushy and excessively sweet, it’s the sort of thing that belongs in a jar of baby food and not on a plate for adults.
Interestingly, Bukowski Grill’s Soho branch has its own version of the cornflake milkshake – a non-alcoholic drink I have only seen at Hawksmoor up until now. Although not bad, the distinctive sweet and nutty taste of cornflakes and crystal clear milk wasn’t as strong or as consistently present here as it was in Hawksmoor’s benchmark rendition.
Going back for seconds
A starter of pig cheeks was served thinly sliced. While mildly coarse, the cheeks were otherwise devoid of texture and taste. Not even the lightly fruity and spicy pickled peach relish was enough to make this dish memorable.
If you’ve accidentally brought a vegetarian friend to this meat restaurant, then they may well have to settle for these cauliflower fritters. In which case they’d end up hating you. Oddly reminiscent of a similar deep-fried cauliflower dish at the nearby Yumi Izakaya, the unremarkable florets were coated in a soggy batter. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the sauce had shades of bargain bucket sweet and sour Chinese takeaway to it – vaguely sour and spicy with some chunky onions and peppers chucked in. These are less cauliflower fritters and more a dreary vegetarian consolation prize, although that wouldn’t have the same ring to it when printed on a menu.
The ’72 hour’ beef rib was very oddly presented, with small sliced strips of meat placed on top of the bone perpendicularly. The strips had crisp crusts and were admittedly tender with a mild amount of unctousness and smokiness, but this was ultimately quite tame. Sadly, the thick and hard strip of collagen was melded to the fat which made for joyless eating. This mishandling of meat might pass muster as a cheap cut of steak or as the filling in a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, but it’s a complete non-starter as a serving of ribs.
Just as odd as the beef ‘rib’ was the accompanying ‘tobacco’ onions. They tasted mildly smoky, rather than of cancer, and were somewhat crispy and chewy. It’s not bad, but I’d rather some expertly prepared onion rings. Fat chance of that though.
The cornflake milkshake was a little stronger this time around, but it’s still a distant second to Hawksmoor’s superlative shake.
Salted caramel soft serve ice cream mostly tasted of salt. Although one-dimensional, it would’ve been inoffensive enough if it wasn’t for the peanut brittle. Not only did it overwhelm my palate with an excess of sweet and salt, but it shattered into various jagged pieces that was just as unpleasant as it sounds. There’s brittle, then there’s an affront to the baking arts like this muck.
Freedom isn’t three
I’ve never understood the fetishisation of macaroni and cheese, especially as a restaurant and street food dish. It’s a comforting, but ultimately simple and unremarkable dish that’s best left at home and enjoyed there. Bukowski’s fried mac and cheese fritters did little to change my mind – the interior of bland cheese and soft pasta shells was utterly unremarkable. This dish did manage to embed its way into my memory a little with the soft breadcrumbed exterior of the mac and cheese cubes and mildly dill-like herb garnish, all of which made for a good impression of a vegetarian fillet-o-fish filling.
The fruit in the pickled watermelon salad was lightly tart, but not refreshing enough and thus struggled to stand out against the crumbly and mildly salt, but mostly chalky feta. At least the peanuts were crunchy and nutty, while the jalapenos were surprisingly spicy. Even so, this salad was in the end underwhelming due to its unbalanced and poor quality central pair of ingredients.
Smoked Toulouse sausage and confit duck leg should be a delightful combination, but the version here was disappointing. Or it would be disappointing, if my previous meals hadn’t trained me to expect very little from Bukowski Grill. Sporadic slices of sausage with a very artificial smokiness and garlickiness were almost as bad as the ineptly prepared beans – these were too hard and hadn’t been cooked through properly. The meagre duck leg wasn’t especially taut or fatty and was also a tad dry. This dish was so dull and poorly made, it was actively awful.
The cornflake milkshake was much the same as it was before.
Going back and fourth
While the meat on the bones of the ‘smoked’ wings was tender, the smokiness was artificial while the bland sauce was inconsequential. Dismally dull.
The Purist burger was one of the better mains I’ve had at the Soho Bukowski Grill. This was largely due to the coarsely ground, slightly chewy patty. Lightly seasoned and somewhat sweet, it was easy to appreciate given the inoffensive bun and despite the chilled vegetables. It would’ve been a thoroughly good burger if it wasn’t for a surprising amount of greasiness – yet another worrying sign of ineptness from the kitchen.
Roasted potatoes needed more resting time – they were far too hot. Despite the scorching temperature, they were far too firm on the inside and not nearly fluffy enough either. There was a very mild beefy undercurrent to the crisp crust, presumably evidence of the beef dripping that these potatoes were roasted in, but it was too subtle and transient. In the end, these spuds were duds.
The cornflake milkshake was largely the same as it was before. It’s a bad sign when the milkshake is one of the least offensive parts of your meal.
While the barbecue at the Soho branch of Bukowski Grill wasn’t as cataclysmically dire as the bin liner served at Low, Slow and Juke, it was far from good and isn’t worth your time or money. The other dishes were generally mediocre, with some rising to half-decent but others sinking to new depths of diabolical dreariness. It’s telling when a restaurant’s clientele seems to mostly consist of tourists and half-drunk payday-celebrating office workers that don’t know any better. Do yourself a favour and don’t join them.
What to order: Possibly the burger
What to skip: Everything else
Name: Bukowski Grill
Branch tried: 10-11 D’Arblay Street, Soho, London W1F 8DT
Phone: 020 3857 4756
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday 08.00-22.30. Saturday 08.30-22.30 and Sunday 09.30-22.30.
Reservations: only really necessary on Fridays and weekends.
Average cost for one person including soft drinks but excluding tip: £25-35 approx.