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|Address:||1 Newburgh Street, London W1F 7RB|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Sat 12N-3pm 6-10.30pm Sun 12N-4pm|
3 of 5 people found this review helpful.
Pitt Cue Co is the latest darling of the bloggersphere: grown out of a stand on the South Bank, to a permanent home off Carnaby Street. A tiny home at that: compact and bijoux, an estate agent might claim.
Let’s get one thing straight: this isn’t a barbecue in an English sense (Tesco’s taste the difference sausages, black on the outside, frozen on the in), nor an Aussie barbie nor even a South African braai. Those, in the southern states of the US where this form of cooking is a religion, count as grilling. No this is slow, hot-smoked hunks of meat.
The most recent edition of the Art of Eating has a twelve page spread on central Texas barbecue. That the world’s foremost food magazine should spend a quarter of its pages to a type of barbecue from a specific part of one single US State, shows just how seriously our septic friends take their barbecue. And this is the thing: in America, barbecuing is taken very seriously. There is much debate on the correct lumber to use for the fire. Should mesquite be used. What the best direction for the chimneys is, so as to allow the optimum flow of smoke. As a nation, we just don’t have that background. As chefs, neither do the team here.
Pitt Cue Co may well be the finest barbecue restaurant in London, the UK or even Europe. But that is because the bar is so, so low. Yes it hurdles the bar, but it is still only just about average.
The first problem is the location. It is beyond tiny. The next problem: there is no booking. According to the website this is because they couldn’t think of a better or fairer system than first come, first served. I can: it’s called “making a booking”. When you have only table space for 18, people want to be able to know that they can get in or not.
So what happens is people do as the Grumbling Gourmet did: you get one member of the group to stand in line whilst the others go to the pub. At opening time, you all pile out and jump the queue. This is exactly what happened to us. We got there at 5.40. There were already 8 or 9 people ahead of us, so we thought we’ll be fine. Come 6.00, when they start letting people in, that number had swelled to nearly double that, and the same was happening behind us. We got the last table, but the waitress told the people who had been two behind us in the queue that there was then going to be an hour wait. An hour? The couple had already waited nearly half an hour, whilst people in front of them got there a few minutes before. No, that is certainly not fair. Take bookings, take a deposit for no-show and give people 15 minutes to get to their table or they lose the deposit and the table. That is fair and stops people making multiple bookings and taking only one, not cancelling the rest.
Once inside, it is a non-descript, deliberately pared back place. The bar upstairs is small and cramped, but the cocktails rather good. The room downstairs is even smaller and even more cramped, so that you hear every word from every table (especially when there is a loud Australian holding forth). Again, I don’t really mind this (well, other than the loud Australian bit), but if you’re going to have cramped surroundings, going to be forced to share, at least get the pace right. We waited nearly an hour to get our food: the ladies sharing the table with us were off to the theatre afterwards, but will certainly have missed the first act as they too had the same delay between ordering and getting served. It was Wicked, so nothing really to worry about. Maybe they could have ordered deserts, and missed the second act too.
How can this be? You are talking about barbecue here: the meat will have been (should have been) smoking for hours and hours. There are but half a dozen choices (plus a couple of specials), it is formulaic, so how then can it take another hour to get to the table? Given this, and the size of the room and length of the queue, they should want, and be able, to get people through at a much zippier pace.
The food itself is perfectly OK – I wouldn’t know how it rated compared to “real” Texas barbecue, but the brisket and the pulled pork were fine, as was the saddleback with crackling. Crackling? At a barbecue restaurant? I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on the authenticity: no Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani would ever consider Brick Lane’s finest to represent anything close to local food for them, but if you are going to mimic something, it is better to be more Rory Bremner than Mike Yarwood.
In all honesty, the best bit of the meal was the (unannounced on the menu) bread: a big chunk of chewy, yeasty goodness, that had been bunged on the grill and taken a beautiful black coating. There is a naan bakery in Finsbury Park that does the most amazing, fresh naan, straight from the oven at 30p a pop. If I had wanted to have a meal where the bread was the highlight, I’d have gone there.
It’s not even as if it is that cheap either: the meats and sides are pretty reasonable, but there is no wine on the menu and, as I’m not a huge beer fan, it was cocktails or cider. Good cocktails, good cider, but boy do they add up.
Having waited an hour to be fed, we were then rather unceremoniously advised it was time to move on. If we’d wanted a desert, then we could have stayed and had another drink. The fact that my wife was only half way through her (excellent) cider didn’t cut the mustard. I just don’t get this: either let me drink and chat or don't. If you're going to have a time limit on the table, tell me up front. Don't spring it on me at the last moment. You took an hour to bring the food, why they not let me enjoy the next hour? Why do I then have to order more? And why not fill up the seats faster if you're that concerned – we sat for 30 minutes with the next table to us empty?
So we left the half drunk cider, squeezed our way through the bar, and headed out past the queue, never to return.