There were an incredible number of suits who sat through Friday lunch service with me, to which I presume most (if not all) of these folks occupy cubicles in the offices nearby. If this was the share of the market which Jamie Oliver and Adam Perry Lang were hoping to capture, then by the looks of things, they’ve succeeded. But boy are the reviews terrible. As this restaurant approaches its one year anniversary, I wonder if the two chefs have sat together to reflect on the feedback.
With Saint Oliver’s name plastered across the project, it was always going to attract attention, but it just seems so uncharacteristic of Oliver, it’s in total opposite to his everyman image. Barbecoa has such a premium level feel to it, that it would probably unsettle Jamie himself, if ever he was caught dining here. Now wouldn’t that be a sight for Jamierites out there. I rocked up in jeans and trainers, and I felt a little underdressed. The tricked out designer furniture store look wrapped in red velvet, rivets, shiny brass and double high ceilings is ace, the views overlooking St Paul’s is nice, but it is also intimidating. Since I arrived sans booking, I was shown a high table by the bar, solo diner, even though I spotted a few unoccupied tables in the dining room. After the bartender sat me down with the oversized menu and brought me a pint, I was roundly ignored for a good ten minutes or so. Thank goodness for the beer, I looked around anxiously, enlarging my eyes to track each waiter who passed by my line of sight, but to no avail. It took repeated bouts of flailing arms and an elevating squeak to eventually catch somebody’s attention.
It’s not all bad of course, this is a meat joint dripping in testosterone, comes with a background track booming with appropriate primal energy and bread does not come in baskets, but rather, stacked and impaled with a stick, on a wooden board. You’ll appreciate the money they’ve invested in this machismo, the celebration of material success but for the same reasons, the restaurant feels awkward and artificial. So this is what the height of consumerism looks like and in some ways it’s grotesque. A robotic, soulless, money spinning mass manufacture machine.
I understand the sentiment to have the ability to spend my money derived from hard slogging at the office in restaurants such as this, and dressing appropriately certainly imbue wearers with a mysterious power which I think influences the service waiters lay on. It’s an age old stereotype which surrounds the snobbery of eating out, and even though dining out is becoming more egalitarian these days (they even allow you to photograph food now, remember the days when cameras on a dinner table were taboo?) , I believe one still experiences better service if one treats dinner as a dress-up affair. I’ve tested this theory on a few occasions (this one included) , rocking up to Gauthier with shorts, a white tee and trainers once. While the staff were tolerant, I did receive some unfortunate glances from better dressed neighbours. Oh come on, you love it too, you like to dress up for restaurants, but my point is I believe that restaurants should never lose that pomposity, dining out is equally for nourishment and also for celebration, it’s all part of the show, and not every restaurant need be an easy going bistro or a starkly zen eatery.
Pit-smoked baby back ribs, coriander, chilli, £9.
And a whole lotta chilli, I felt it sizzle at the back of my throat, wash that down with cold beer, ahh. Yeah the ribs were fine, sticky, sweet and smoky, I enjoyed it as much as I enjoy ribs from my local Chinese takeaway from Willesden Lane. Make of what you want from that assessment and be mindful that this plate of bones was £9 plus 12.5%.
Porkchop, bourbon peaches, braised greens, £17. Duck fat chips, £4.
Top marks for visual flair, a decent chunk of meat with a long trailing strip of skin and fat. It smells great, fire and smoke and griddle lines. But sadly, it was a little overdone for me, the centre was dry. Skin and fat was blubbery where I expected a crispy crackle. It was like eating a fillet mignon wrapped with uncooked bacon. What a shame, the quality of produce was clear, this came from a well-fed pig. But I couldn’t forgive the sorry duck fat chips. So soggy and unappealing that I reverted to the impaled bread instead. The best thing on this dish were the burnt peaches.
I paid a whopping £44.44 for two plates of a bit of meat, chips, bread and a beer. What a sobering figure.
This isn’t a unique vision of an innovative smokehouse pioneering the art of the American barbecue. It doesn’t even carry the charm of Bodeans, the restaurant is an anonymous upmarket steakhouse at best and food is much too generic for it to command these hefty prices. I cannot see myself returning to One New Change for a romantic evening to unwind. It’s not a place I want to escape to, it’s a place I want to get away from when it comes time to clock out. To me, I feel that is Barbecoa’s major stinking point – it’s great if you work in the area and you have an expense account to spare, and you could even be a regular, but it certainly won’t give you the meat sweats. For that, far superior steakhouses already exist in town – Goodman/Hawksmoor- and failing that, there’s always Bodeans.
American, Meat, Smoked. £65pp.
20 New Change Passage EC4M 9AG
Tel: (020) 3005 8555
Tube : St Paul’s