Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa – Planned On A Napkin And It Shows

by timchester

The omens were not good. A dismal Sunday in a deserted part of town. A long-suffering girlfriend in tow mewing about things we could be doing at home. Dreary grey skies casting forlorn shadows on empty gum-and-concrete streets. Reviews online, not the best (“Mediocre…lousy…overpriced”, “should have gone to Nando’s”, “Barbecoa? wouldn’t goa”).

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Square Mile on a weekend but Ye Gods* it’s a dismal place. While I concede there’s a few reasons to stray east of the Olde Cheshire Cheese on the high holy day (to pretend you’re in 28 Days Later, to look round the Museum of London’s cute Fire Of London exhibit with no-one else around) it’s not really somewhere to linger.

Barbecoa Butchery

In the absence of TS Eliot’s zombies it’s a surreal place, bereft of most human life except tourists making the most of cheap hotel deals and then wondering why London has shut up shop. Into this void One New Change, the Jean Nouvel-designed “stealth bomber” emporium of multinational moneymaking: such unique and characterful additions to St Paul’s back yard as Topshop, Next, and Hugo Boss. Quirky little boutique places like H & M and charming tailors TM Lewin. A bold move keeping a shopping centre open seven days a week in an empty part of town. It was empty.

Into this, Jamie Oliver and Adam Perry Lang’s (American BBQ dude) project Barbecoa. Now I know what you’re thinking. Jamie Oliver? Jamie Oliver MBE? Chef, celebrity, family man, rock star drummer, travel show host, author, philanthropist, man of great social reform, food revolutionary, all-round geezer of all trades, has found time to create another restaurant?

Yep. According to Barbecoa’s website, “the two chefs used a napkin to map out an idea for a new restaurant concept” and just like that the place was born. Diverting some of the profits from his ’30 Minute Meals’ (one was sold every seven seconds before Christmas) J-Ol and A-Lang bought a load of devices for cooking flesh from around the world (Japanese robata grills, tandoor ovens, fire pits and Texan smokers) and created a carnivore’s paradise. The only problem is they seem to have inadvertantly thrown that napkin in the wash with a pair of Jamie’s jeans, because the whole concept doesn’t quite live up to its premise.

I like Jamie. I like his enthusiasm, his tour of Greece was fun, his lamb burgers pretty pukka tucker. Quite why he’s gone from failing to make Americans healthy to teaching stupid UK kids is beyond me. The other night he was enlisting Rolf Harris to teach drawing in his utopian comprehensive. He ought to have been checking up on some of his other projects.

First impressions of Barbecoa aren’t bad. You’re in a shopping centre, in the middle of a ghost town, opposite an empty Ramsay restaurant, and a sole ‘B’ draws you into an impressively kitted out dining room. There’s wicker cages for groups of eight, Playmobil plastic seats in groups of two or four, and a low-slung maze of tessellated sofas for laid-back munching. There’s a mammoth wall of wine, waitresses in leather aprons and of course that view of the arse end of St Pauls.

Barbecoa St Pauls

The food, when it arrived, wasn’t exactly terrible per se, but it was a bit of a let down. While a roast baby veg salad yielded some expertly cooked beetroot, velvety and dotted with cumin seeds, slathered in just enough sauce and surrounded by carrots, avocado, curd cheese and fiery rocket, pigs cheeks were too fussy. Small discs of stringy meat encased in breadcrumbs and pan-fried, they’d been manhandled and lemon-tinted to within an inch of their life while the accompanying piccalilli was pretty much just cauliflower that had had a brief roll in some spices.

Pulled pork came out too dry (a cardinal sin) and with its barbecue flavour turned up to 11. It hit you before you got it anywhere near your mouth and it tasted so smokey it was like dining on a chimney with Mary Poppins. Pork belly was better, but not much tastier than your run-of-the-mill gastropub. There’s plenty of other choices (rump steak, ribs, spatchcooked chicken) but I deeply suspect they’d suffer the same problems – a combination of overly eager cooking techniques and little management from the true geniuses that created the place.

Jamie’s stretched himself too thin, that much is obvious. However, the place is so popular they had to expand by 50 covers and reports just surfaced that it’s pulling in £140k a week, so his devotees don’t seem to care. And in all honesty I don’t really mind him having too much on his plate – I’ll just fill my own elsewhere. And anything that keeps him from reforming Scarlet Division is A-OK by me.

Price per head: £28.50 (no booze)
Clientele: Tourist central
Soundtrack: Nothing
Website

Pictures of chicken coke can buggery at Skinny Bib

Barbecoa on Urbanspoon

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

timchester March 5, 2011 at 4:50 pm

*First, last and only Hunter S Thompson nod on £31.75 promise

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Claire March 5, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Sounds like one to avoid. And the Square Mile is indeed postapocalyptic feeling on the weekends…

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Mzungu March 6, 2011 at 11:01 am

I’m hearing the same stories from quite a few people that the food is really not that good, but somehow it is always packed. “The Cult of Personality” is working well for Mr Oliver it seems.

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Kay Ribsel March 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm

It was tasty, but why spend all that cash when you get better bbq at Bodeans!

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john March 7, 2011 at 9:57 am

hi

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Walshy March 7, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Interesting – all the bloggers’/reviewers’ impressions I’ve seen have been “meh”, while all the people I know who have been have really enjoyed it. I suspect if you work in area (as I do) and are therefore judging it against the alternatives, then it’s an enjoyable experience. Given it’s location, it’s hard to see why anyone would make a special journey to go there!

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timchester March 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Interesting perspective. It is among the best of a mediocre bunch I suppose. It would just be nice if they could push themselves a bit further towards greatness.

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Walshy March 7, 2011 at 2:16 pm

ps. You think it’s a depressing part of town to be in on the weekend?? Try coming to work in the office here on the weekend – THAT’S DEPRESSING!

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Rachel March 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I too found the place a bit of a let down. I came away wishing I’d just gone to Bodeans. Their pulled pork is a lot better and a lot cheaper. Must say the breads were pretty great though.

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Pam Flette March 12, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Interesting review…..I haven’t been but might stick to Bodean’s too where the burnt ends satisfy my meat cravings perfectly. I do find the whole thing a bit of a double standard though; Jamie sticking his oar in about healthy eating while opening a restaurant devoted to BBQ meat…

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