Tuesday, 14 June 2011
The Pitt Cue Co., Southbank
Sometimes it feels like when it comes to food (and many other things besides, without going into too much detail), you always want what you can't have. My obsession (I may as well face facts, it is an obsession) with burgers, something I've kept reasonably under control in the last few months but still bubbles just under the surface like a dormant addiction, was borne of a craving for decent US fast food joints like Shake Shack or In'N'Out, coupled with the fact that none such places existed in London. But then before too long came Byron, not perfect but pretty damn good for a chain, serving tasty pink burgers in cool minimalist surroundings, and soon after that the big boys got involved - Hawksmoor and Goodman both serving up their famously brilliant beef inside extensively researched (and thoroughly taste-tested) buns. Then finally, we were granted the Meatwagon, and at long last the very best west-coast US burgers had met their match in the capital. The dream was realised - and how we rejoiced.
So, once the Meatwagon had become my second home and I'd eaten my way through their menu too many times to count, attention drifted onto another staple of US comfort food that was desperately unrepresented in London - BBQ. I used to be a big fan of Bodean's, the mini chain of smokehouses that are scattered around some unlikely locations in London (Clapham, Fulham, and so on) but to say they've gone off the boil in recent years is a bit like saying that Nottingham Forest aren't quite the dominant force in European football they once were. Each subsequent visit was like watching another set of needles fall off a dying Christmas tree, until eventually we are left with a sad, bare shell - the basic structure and purpose of the place is still there, but none of the joy and life. And the less said about Barbecoa the better; I foolishly allowed myself to hope that a restaurant backed by the might of the Jamie Oliver empire may have amounted to little more than a confusing, directionless menu of massively overpriced commodity meat. How wrong I was.
And yet who would have guessed, after all these years, that the holy grail of succulent pulled pork, crispy charred chicken wings and heavenly slow-roasted brisket lay not in a gleaming city-centre 160-cover concept restaurant but in an unassuming food truck parked under Hungerford Bridge on the Southbank? The Pitt Cue Co. is a modest operation at first glance - just three guys dishing out paper boxes of BBQ food to the hungry masses, punctuated by the occasional train rumbling far overhead - but there is enough thought, expertise and painstaking attention to detail gone into every single thing they produce to make the senior management of anywhere else in London foolish enough to claim to serve "authentic" US BBQ break down and weep.
Pulled pork is where this kind of food begins and ends, and Pitt Cue have absolutely nailed their version, with huge, silky chunks of pork, slow-roasted Gloucester Old Spot I believe, impossibly soft and melty and yet - crucially - not unpleasantly greasy. Perhaps this is where lesser versions have been going wrong - you need a big animal with plenty of fat to allow for the slow cooking to loosen and tenderise the flesh without it running horribly stringy, as any number of jaw-achingly tough examples I've suffered elsewhere have demonstrated. God knows how much of a profit they're making on £7 for this clearly top quality protein, not to mention some wonderfully smoky beans and crispy slaw shot through with fresh parsley, but for now let's not worry about such things. The Pitt Cue Co pulled pork is priceless.
Having scoffed the pig in a happy few seconds, I took a portion of chicken wings with me for the walk back to the office. Marinated overnight, skewered on a rotisserie for slow-roasting then finished above direct flames for crisping up, these were also as close to perfect as I can imagine. The marinade was smoky and rich with a complex mixture of herbs and spices that brought to mind a Mediterranean barbecue, and they came not only with more of that lovely slaw but a huge chunk of fresh grilled bread - from Wild Caper bakery in Brixton I was told. The best bit I found was the very tips of the ends of the wings, which had blackened and caramelised into a kind of chicken scratching.
As I was on my own this lunchtime there was only so much I could put back, and I'm afraid I can't tell you about the brisket, though it certainly looked the part, or even the ribs which appear on the menu only from 4pm daily. But on a previous flying visit, too brief to sample food but determined to try something, I ordered a "pickleback" - a chaser of rye whiskey and a shot of home made pickle juice. If you think that sounds challenging or unusual, then you haven't tried it - something about washing back a mouthful of fire water with sharp, softly sugary pickle just absolutely works and is, as far as I'm aware, unique (at least in this country) to this cheerfully experimental and idiosyncratic little venture. It is the pickleback, in fact, which acts as the easiest shorthand to the whole approach that Pitt cue Co. take - fun without being careless, obsessive about the details but not at the expense of taste, everything I ate or drank was perfectly judged and perfectly delicious. Did I mention they sell Brewdog beers by the can? Oh, stop reading and just go. Go now.
Read equally glowing reports of the Pitt Cue Co. here, here and here.