Botched burgers and bungled barbecue
Conflating burgers and barbecue into the same menu is a common mistake. It’s easy to see why – alongside mac and cheese, they are the emblematic dishes of American cuisine in the popular imagination. But they’re also very different. The best burgers are cooked medium rare at high temperatures with a cooking time thus measured in mere minutes. The best American-style barbecue, on the other hand, is slow-cooked at relatively low temperatures with cooking times of hours or even the better part of a day.
Cattle and Co doesn’t seem to appreciate this distinction and its shows in the food. Even the name feels wrong – ‘cattle’ would imply a beef-themed menu, but there’s also plenty of pork dishes available too.
First things first
Baby back ribs were surprisingly small with an odd shape and cut. The bland white meat hardly seemed smoked at all. It was thus quite hard, requiring a forceful amount of knifing, cutting and henching to separate one bone and tranch of meat from the rest. Its blandness meant it was entirely dependent on the tingly spice of the sauce (possibly habanero-based) for flavour. A poor start.
Pulled pork was a tad on the soft side with a lack of fat and porkiness. It would’ve been nothing without the sauce which alternated between mild sweetness and subtle tartness.
The St Louis cut pork spare ribs arrived in two slabs, one large and one small. Although both had a lot of meat on the bone, the larger slab didn’t have enough fat. The fat that was present hadn’t been rendered properly, while the bark was non-existent. This made for a dull, hard portion of meat with the same sauce from the baby back ribs picking up the slack once again.
The smaller slab, almost certainly including part of the belly, was bizarrely misshapen – neither it nor its bigger counterpart was adequately trimmed enough to qualify as St Louis cut ribs in my opinion. It did at least taste more porky and unctuous – the increased presence of properly rendered fat was noticeable. Even so, this was too little and too late – these spare ribs still weren’t anywhere as good as the best examples available elsewhere.
The accompanying ‘rosemary’ fries arrived far too hot – more resting time was clearly needed. Although reasonably crisp and golden, and not too oily either, these were definitely fries in all their bitty glory rather than proper chips. There was sod all of the promised rosemary though.
The coleslaw wasn’t bad either, largely because it wasn’t like the sickly stereotype of coleslaw. Firm, lightly bitter cabbage served naked might not be very ambitious, but it was a good enough counterpoint to the relatively heavy meat.
Going back for seconds
There are signs that Cattle and Co’s kitchen is capable of improvement, however modest. Although the baby back ribs were unchanged when it came to the sauce and cut, the meat was somewhat more porky and tender. It’s still not enough to insinuate itself into my affections, but it’s better than it was before which is certainly better than nothing.
Despite its dark wood-like colouring, the bark on the beef short rib was almost non-existent. The top millimetre or so of beef was much dryer and blander than the rest – so much so that I suspect that it had been quickly braised after smoking to raise the temperature. Fools sometimes complain that proper barbecue is served ‘cold’ given the lower than usual cooking temperatures of traditional smoking – in lesser restaurants, a quick dip in the pan to appease the uninitiated is sadly all too common.
Anyway, the rest of the Jacob’s Ladder was moist with a good amount of collagen present. The latter was reasonably easy to remove and wasn’t too waxy or hard, but neither was it properly rendered enough. A bigger problem was the lack of character in the beef. Even so, this short rib was reasonably satisfactory – especially given the poor to mediocre quality of the pork ribs.
Cajun fries were no different from the rosemary fries. A somewhat better side dish was the cornbread, but only somewhat. Although tightly crumbed and moist, its nuttiness was drowned out by the added flecks of chilli and chives.
Threedom at last
The baby back ribs were almost entirely unchanged from their second iteration. Although the lack of further improvement is disappointing, at least they didn’t get any worse.
Given the number of burger restaurants that have flooded the capital, you’d be forgiven for thinking that good burgers are a given now. Sadly, Cattle and Co’s burger shows that assumption is a mistaken one. The beef had not only been cooked well done, but also had a bitty grind- both taste and texture, if the beef ever had any, had been obliterated. Even if it had survived, it would’ve been obscured by the buttery bun and the creamy burger sauce with its occasional hint of spice.
The rosemary fries had been rested for longer this time, so they weren’t as scorchingly hot as the first attempt.
Sadly, that lesson hadn’t been applied to the spiced apple and rhubarb custard. The tart slices and chunks of fruit were uncomfortably hot. The soft, bitty crumble wasn’t very satisfying either, nor was the thin, watery custard.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s rarely enjoyable to write a negative review of a restaurant. This is someone’s living that’s on the line – a fact emphasised by the presence of the owner’s wife and child at the next table on one evening. This doesn’t change the fact that Cattle and Co isn’t good enough to warrant your custom. There are even worse burger and barbecue bandwagon restaurants in London, but that’s small comfort to everyone involved here.
What to order: Beef short rib (perhaps)
What to skip: Burger; Spare ribs; Baby back ribs; Crumble
Name: Cattle and Co
Address: 3-9 Chalton Street, London NW1 1JD (amazingly, Cattle and Co managed to get their address wrong on their website)
Phone: 020 7693 7278
Opening Hours: seven days a week, noon-midnight.
Reservations: not really necessary
Average cost for one person including soft drinks and service charge: £30-35 approx.