Wednesday, 12 March 2008
The problem with steakhouses and BBQ joints in the UK, and it's a big problem, is that the raw meat ingredients are either too expensive to appeal to anything more than a handful of obsessed foodies, or cheap enough but of inferior quality and therefore undesirable for a different reason. Take Hawksmoor, for example, a brave and unashamedly premium steakhouse on Commercial Road. The quality of the meat is exemplary (The Ginger Pig of Borough Market fame, no less), the skill of the kitchen unquestionable, the service professional and knowledgeable. But at £50 a head on average without wine it's not hard to see why you're not about to see a Hawksmoor on every British high-street - or anywhere outside London for that matter. Right at the other end of the scale, there are dives like Garfunkels and Angus Steakhouse where you can get a "steak" for around a tenner, but if you consider that this price includes a profit for the restaurant, you're looking at a seriously inferior piece of cow. If indeed you can even be sure it is cow. Over at über-bloggers Dos Hermanos, there's a mouthwatering post about a 40-day aged forerib of Aberdeen Angus beef from Ireland, which looks irresistably tempting until you realise that piece of beef for one person cost £20 from the butcher. Good meat isn't, neither should it be, cheap, and this is why good, reasonably-priced steakhouses may always remain a largely (North and South) American phenomenon.
That doesn't mean, however, that there aren't a handful of restaurants attempting to walk that fine line between good meat and reasonable value. I have mentioned Bodean's before because I have been to their Clapham branch a couple of times and been very impressed with a number of items on the menu. I was completely expecting this to be a gushing puff-piece about how it is possible to get consistently good US-style BBQ food for less than stellar prices and how I can't understand why there isn't a Bodean's on every street corner. And yet last night a trip to Bodean's in Soho served as a reminder that this goal remains a long way off.
Perhaps we just visited on the wrong night. The "Famous Burnt Ends" are served Monday and Wednesday only - we were there on a Tuesday. Perhaps they have a different chef on the quiet nights, and don't try as hard, I don't know. But although our buffalo chicken wings were as gorgeous as ever in a hot vinegary sauce and cheesy dip, and the half slab of pork spare ribs were juicy and satisfying to pull off the bone, the pulled pork was just dire - dry, tasteless and chewy, completely unlike the plate of moist pig meat I'd had before in Clapham. Pickels were OK but strangely fizzy, like they were past their best. I know they can do much better, and have done much better, but if they can't produce the goods on a regular basis then I can't recommend them.
So there's only one thing for it - as soon as the weather looks like it's turning for the better, I'm replacing my £14 Argos barbeque (don't laugh - it's lasted three years and served me well) and going down to Dove's on Northcote Road for a bag full of the finest meat in South London. If you want something done properly, do it yourself.
P.S. Many thanks to Guy of Alltop food for adding me to their comprehensive list. If you want a neat roundup of all the best food blogging sites, pay them a visit.