Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Barbecoa, St Pauls


Before we begin, a disclaimer of sorts. I was originally booked into Barbecoa, Saint Jamie's latest vanity project (I think I'm allowed to be rude and call it a vanity project if he never cooks there, aren't I?) a couple of weeks back. But the day before I was due to visit, a very nice woman called up and said would I consider shifting my booking back a bit in return for 50% off the bill? Common sense prevailed over any geeky blogger desire to get my review out before anyone else's, and I agreed. It turns out that, unhappy with shaky service in the first few days and the subsequent slew of mediocre reviews, the brains behind Barbecoa (reportedly Oliver himself but who knows) decided to slow things down a bit, call it a soft opening, and try and get everything, in the words of their PR people, "perfect". Which all sounds very sensible.


Except, despite the extra two weeks bedding-in period, my meal last night wasn't perfect. In fact, in the end, it was pretty damn far from perfect, despite excellent service and a very assured front of house who are presumably the only people to have really benefitted from the delay. A cheery welcome, friendly banter and a charming waitress got everything off to the right track, and believe it or not, and I can see why you may not, both I and my companion last night were very much looking forward to our dinner. For a couple of hopeless carnivores like us, a restaurant themed around the proper application of fire to protein sounded like heaven - the one thing that London desperately needs is somewhere that even vaguely mimics the best American BBQ; properly cooked ribs, pulled pork, corn bread, slaw - great meat, roasted over charcoal. Imagine if somewhere, finally, got it right? We were nothing if not hopeful. Until the food arrived.

The house bread was the first depressing indication things weren't going quite to plan. Served weirdly (and very annoyingly) threaded onto a wooden spike were a dense, unseasoned pumpernickel, a similarly dull sourdough, a rather nice garlic bread and a very good indeed flatbread (naan?) of some kind. Not all awful, but inconsistent, and the butter was unsalted and boring. And if you're going to call something "Amazing pickled vegetables" then they better had be, not just overwhelmingly sour and soggy.

Baby back ribs were when things really went downhill. Over-marinated, sickly sweet outside and dry within, with no discernable porky flavour, these were hardly any better than anything you could get from TGI Fridays. Without knowing exactly what went into their preparation I can only say that they certainly tasted pre-cooked then reheated over the grill, and if they weren't then they wasted their time. One day someone in this country will decide that having stringy meat fall limply off soft bones isn't the sole aim when preparing baby back ribs, but we're not there yet. A terrible disappointment. Hardly any better was a starter of "crispy" (their words, definitely not ours) pig's cheek, which was lukewarm, grey and flavourless.

The theme continued with the mains. For £30 you might expect a 400g bone-in strip steak to be at least biting at the heels of the offerings from Goodman and Hawksmoor, but this, despite being nicely charred and looking the part, was underseasoned, dry and dreadfully bland. A pub steak masquerading as a premium offering, the poor quality of the beef was shocking - you can call me spoiled if you like, but I am only spoiled by much better meat from much better restaurants, and the best advice I can offer Barbecoa is to go and have a steak at one of these other places and work out what they're doing wrong. Because this really was awful. Pulled pork was OK, I suppose - rather sweet, not very porky, just about edible, but accompanying corn bread was distressingly oily and mealy.


With a bottle of Languedoc Syrah (£21) and a beer, the bill for two before discount came to £114, and even with 50% off I couldn't help feeling robbed. I'd hesitate to dismiss the whole operation, as the front of house staff were really doing a great job and can't be held responsible for sourcing decisions made further up the chain, but I left Barbecoa with the impression that this was cheap food, cooked easily, marked up for a credulous city crowd, and served with the ever-present crutch of Oliver's popular branding. That the end product tasted no better than anything from a nationwide chain is perhaps even deliberate - the ground floor is taken up by a Jamie Oliver merchandise store, the kind of thing you see attached to a Hard Rock Café or Planet Hollywood, and both his and Adam "who?" Perry Lang's cookbooks are available on the restaurant menu if you're desperate to recreate the soul-less corporate food in the comfort of your own home. As for me, I'm happy not to have a reason to visit One New Change again, which after all is a horrible mini-Westfield, charmless and ugly and irritating, and (as I spotted on the way out) the prospect of yet another knock-off celebrity cash-in (opening Spring 2011) will not change my mind. God help us.


3/10

Barbecoa on Urbanspoon

Apologies for the lack of photos - it was very dark in there, presumably to shield us from the full horror of the food

27 comments:

catty said...

OH no I'm due there for a work lunch in a couple of weeks. Hoping they somehow miraculously up their standards by then because I could do with some tasty baby back ribs!

fran39 said...

Beautifully written review...and it sounds truly vile.

Becci said...

Arguably inevitable, but no less sad for it. I had high hopes for Barbecoa: meat on heat. Yes please.

Oisin Rogers said...

I am really surprised about this and hope the folks will read and improve. Happy to read that front of house were doing a good job. How was the Syrah?

Sasha @ The Happiness Project London said...

What a shame - I LOVE ribs, used to go to an all you can eat ribs place in Brussels which served them with a bucket for you to throw the bones in - excellent.

Also very sad as I used to work in One New Change when it was a beautiful charming old building. So sad they knocked it down for this souless corporate rubbish, shows me why I was right to move out the City...

Seth Bradley said...

Chris, This is a great review. I'm so glad you don't hold back and you're never swayed by niceties. We have to remember that its about the food not about who's name is behind it.

federilli said...

Chris

an entertaining post again. I must admit, working about 10 mins walk from ONC, I am pleased they have opened, despite the ugly building ruining the landmark that is St Paul's. We had not much in the way of retail shopping around here!

As for Barbecoa, I will definitely not try it. We did buy some meat from the shop, just to compare to our usual supplier...as mentioned, the meat was quite good (onglet and stewing steak were very tender and good) and the prices on average cheaper that Ginger Pig (by about £1 per kilo); however the breakfast sausages were really bad - no taste whatsoever, chunky, compact meat with no flavour. Not only they are no way comparable to the wonderful Boston sausages (from Borough Market) but they are not even on a par with Taste the Difference sausages!

Ino said...

Oh no! I really wanted people to like it - I do hope they're still sorting things out and they'll improve. I might give them a bit of time to do that before I visit though, as I wouldn't fancy spending £50 on a rubbish meal. Good thing you had the 50% off.

stokeysecretsupper said...

Thanks for the frank and honest review. I am glad we didn't get in for our Christmas meal. We were told they were getting 1,000 phone calls a day and were booked until March.

Ute@HungryinLondon said...

what a shame, but for these prices you really expect spotless quality. What is Jamie doing you wonder.

Jonathan said...

What a shame. As you say London / the UK could do with a good BBQ joint.

I think your paragraph about cheap food, marked up for the city crowd seems to capture things well.

One simple thing they could have done in their 2 week soft period would have been to take the cringey descriptions off the menu.

I'm looking forward to seeing whether you get any hysterical comments from that love Anonymous person.

The Grubworm said...

Shame. I was looking forward to a decent bbq joint close to work. Sounds like I am better off sticking to Byron Burgers at ONC. Maybe it needs some more hands on attention from one of the two chefs? It seems odd that they have got it so catastrophically wrong. Here's hoping for a big improvement. I would have expected it to be al least okay in terms of quality of meat.

You are quite right though, at that price, they need to be very good indeed to compete with the likes of Hawksmoor.

Gregory said...

Chris,

Surely the game was up when they offered you 50%.

Let's hope people take note and redirect their spend to venues trading on the quality of their product as opposed to their owners fame.

LamBert said...

An accurate appraisal, no doubt. The allusion to 'Saint Jamie' in your opening does, however, imply you set out hoping there'd be holes to pick.

eatmynels said...

Ahh no I booked this for my birthday with my closest friends! Pople you git, i'm all shook up and dont know what to do - I'll leave it in your capable hands to suggest an alternative.

eatmynels said...

seriously - I want you to suggest an alternative option.

Chris said...

LamBert: Not at all - I thoroughly expected to enjoy it, and have a lot of time for Jamie Oliver under normal circumstances. But this review was written AFTER I'd been to Barbecoa...

eatmynels: I know it's a cliché, but if you want this kind of thing, aint nowhere better than Hawksmoor.

eatmynels said...

Thanks - i'll send you an invoice for the price difference.

Northern Snippet said...

Ouch.
Maybe its aimed at the bad food market.
PS *Some* pub steaks are good!

Neil Davey said...

Intriguing. I had the opposite experience - actually rather enjoyable food but hilariously shambolic service. Dishes we hadn't ordered kept appearing, then someone else would appear and remove them, things we ordered didn't show, it took nearly 30 minutes to get a bottle of water, they couldn't answer a couple of basic questions... I guess they are at least consistent in inconsistency?

Chz said...

Hawksmoor would be better, but it sounds like even Bodean's would be an improvement (and about 1/4 the price).

Lizzie said...

Oh, le sigh. Hopes of a cheaper Hawksmoor alternative have been dashed - though it looks just as expensive.

Clearly the ribs we had in Spain are incomparable ;)

tori said...

Oh dear- we're off on Sunday night. NB, congratulations on a fantastically crafted review...

Nikolaus said...

True, hard to come by decent beef for a good price in London. Have you ever tried the bountiful cow in Holborn? It has the best steaks ever and I think they do ribs. In case you ever go there (or the Seven Stars (sister pub behind the Courts of Justice)) you must try the icecream, best I ever had and I lived in Italy for a while.

Regards

theundergroundrestaurant said...

At your vicious best dahlink. Well written.

Rebecca said...

I couldn't agree any less, I went there on Saturday and was massively impressed with the food. There were 8 of us dining and all of us were more than happy with our starters and main courses. I wouldn't deter anyone from going there - I had the San Daniele Prosciutto and the Rump steak and would go back again there just for those. Such a shame you didn't have a good time of it, perhaps the teething problems were just that and now everything is sorted.

Anonymous said...

I think what you have done brilliantly is outed this establishment.

The meat is on a par with Aberdeen Steak House . The butcher is no better.

Why do they think they can get away with these prices for poorly sourced produce in central London of all places ?