Just beyond the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral stands London’s newest shopping complex. No, this isn’t another Westfield (the second is due to open in Stratford shortly) but One New Change which opened towards the end of 2010 and houses shops, offices and a smattering of restaurants. Amongst the places to eat are Byron Burger (review coming soon), a yet to open Gordon Ramsay venue and Barbecoa, a collaboration between Jamie Oliver and the American barbecue expert Adam Perry Lang.
I admire Jamie Oliver. Yes, he now sounds like a parody of himself on TV, yes he’s cried when parents on both sides of the pond reject his attempts to make their kids healthier and yes those adverts for Sainsburys are awful. But look beyond that for a moment and you’ll see someone who genuinely cares about the causes he promotes. There have been telling moments in his Channel 4 shows where he thinks of new ventures as “the 33 mortgages that depend on me” or the genuine desire he has to make the next generation less dependent on awful processed food.
Jamie (I don’t know him, but feel I can use his first name) has changed the cookery book market. No longer would people buy a cookery book, coo over the beautiful food but ultimately reject the idea of spending their entire Saturday making ‘Poulet aux champignons et trois sauces magnifique’ but instead they bought a Jamie Oliver book and made things. In the late 90’s and early 00’s, “It’s a Jamie Oliver recipe” became a popular phrase until it was muscled out of the way by the brash brigade of shouty and sweary SuperChefs™ who started to use the phrase pejoratively. I still use his books for inspiration and whilst I adapt his recipes to my own taste I suspect that’s what he wants, whereas Chef Shouty would probably box my ears in if I dared to improvise.
I hadn’t been to any of his restaurants so when a friend of mine suggested that we have lunch at Barbecoa this week I was keen to go. The reviews have been mixed with some criticising the food whilst others query the high prices even by City standards. The restaurant is tucked away on the first floor of One New Change opposite the yet to open Gordon Ramsay restaurant. On the ground floor there is a shopfront that looks like it will eventually be a standalone butchery but was empty on the day I visited. I was warmly welcomed at the door and my coat and bag taken from me. There is a bar as you enter behind which is the kitchen and service area. The tables are arranged along the left hand side of the restaurant with the area getting bigger as you walk past the kitchen area. The tables are well spaced and even those furthest from the huge floor to ceiling windows can see out into the city.
This was to be a quick lunch so no starter and no wine. We both had a Diet Coke and I was instantly disappointed that it had come from a fountain. At £2.50 for a small thin glass this really is penny pinching. Soft drinks from a fountain have no place outside fast food restaurants as they produce nasty watered down versions of the real thing. I thought we’d moved from the point where I’d have to ask in a restaurant whether they used a fountain but perhaps not.
The staff were friendly and asked if we had any questions about the menu. I ordered the ‘Short Rib with Worcestershire glaze, Irish Champ and Watercress’ (£20), my friend ordered the ‘Pulled Pork Shoulder with coleslaw, bbq sauce and jalapeno cornbread’ (£16) and we decided to share a portion of ‘Duck fat chips’ and ‘Curly kale with rosemary, anchovy and garlic’ (£4 each).
The pulled pork was rather good. Slow cooked pork that melted in the mouth with a barbecue sauce that had the right mix of sweet and smokiness. The cornbread was authentic if a little light on jalapeno. Sadly, it wasn’t mine. I had ordered the short rib.
There was perhaps an expectation gap between what I had expected and what arrived. It looked impressive enough; a large short rib still on the bone, with an attractive burnished appearance that sadly belied the dry tough meat inside. I was expecting (and wanted) the heavy glaze on the outside. This was after all barbecue. Inside however, I expected to see soft pink meat that had been cooked slowly and yielded gently as I cut into it. Instead it was tough, brown, dry and flavourless. All of the flavour was on the outside where glaze adorned the meat. The inside had been cooked to oblivion and had no discernable taste. The champ was buttery and provided some moisture for the meat but it couldn’t replace the lack of flavour. Was I supposed to eat the watercress? I ask because I appeared to have been given a single piece that if unfurled would have covered the table.
What of the sides? The chips were crisp and served with a lovely red coleslaw that didn’t have a cloying mayonnaise but something a little thinner that sat well with my short rib. The kale was a bit of a let down. I ordered it because I believe that anything cooked with garlic and anchovy must be great. This was too watery and had a generic fish taste rather than a salty hit of anchovy. I could see pieces of garlic but the flavour was nowhere to be found.
There was time for pudding. I went for a banana split and my friend the baked cheesecake. This was a modern take on a perennial favourite. It tasted good but again it could have been better. The praline vanilla ice cream tasted cold and sweet rather than of praline or vanilla. The salted caramel sauce, so in vogue at the moment was in truth, a very good caramel sauce without any salt. The caramelised wafer was a highlight; the contrasting textures provided a balance to the soft matter surrounding it.
Would I return? Probably. The pulled pork suggested that there are some rather good things on this menu. The service was excellent which can often be the exception rather than the rule at lunchtime in London. The prices are steep and once the initial excitement wears off and/or Ramsay opens his doors directly opposite, I think Barbecoa may have to raise its game.
Open 7 days a week. Reservations online via OpenTable.