Jamie Oliver and Adam Perry Lang’s Barbecoa

It would be hard to think of two things more quintessentially English than St Paul’s Cathedral and Jamie Oliver.

Which is why it’s occasionally strange, when sitting in Jamie (and Adam Perry Lang)’s new venture, overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral, to feel like you’re in Las Vegas.

It might be something about the space. Here in the One New Change Centre it’s all very  commercial and new.  There are shops, store fronts with placards promising more restaurants by other big name chefs,  and there’s not a scuff to be seen on the shiny new flooring.

Once inside Barbecoa, the space is dominated by the floor to ceiling windows.

As you advance it evolves from a swish bar, through to ruby banquettes, to smaller tables flanked by an open kitchen, where there’s a chef’s equivalent of a garage full of toys. There are fire pits, tandoors, smokers and robota grills- all noble assistants to the quest of submitting meat to flame.

Out the back there are more tables (the restaurant can seat 150 covers at present) as well as some truly strange cage like contraptions for private booths.

I’m not sure I’d like to be the person in the centre who needed to get out to go to the bathroom. They look a bit stern for my taste.
What is perfectly friendly, are the prosecco cocktails. I’d recommend a visit just to have a Breakfast in Milan- a brash mix of bubbles, campari and  gin with  English marmalade muddled through it.

Barbecoa may be serious about its meat (there’s even an branded butcher downstairs for those who are keen to try it all at home) but there are also plenty of things to entertain in the seafood section of the entrees.

Calamari is crisped and curled, studded with fennel seeds and chilli. With it is a mound of smashed avocado and some mustard greens. It’s the kind of food that makes you look for summer, even in the darkest days of an English winter.

So does the crab cake. It’s the size of a tennis ball, with the the outside crust revealing a centre made of sweet threads of crab meat bound together. Thankfully it’s not weighed down by potato, like so many are.  The citrus mayonnaise on top has a light touch, although every time we visited the underlying blackened tomato and chilli salsa seemed a little limpid.

Fish aside, most visitors to will have come to sample some more carnivorous delights.
The beef tartare (£10) as a starter is a good pick. Well flavoured and seasoned beef, topped with aioli and some long rafts of croutons with watercress and olive oil for an extra peppery kick. 
Similarly, the baby back ribs (£9)  won a fan in my dining companion, aka The Hungry One. Anyone expecting slow braised meat that’s going to melt off the bone is barking up the wrong tree. They’ve been smoked and basted and carry a good kick of spice. The cooking gives them a rougher texture, that’s more akin to other smoked pig products than anything that’s been slow braised. 
These ribs are the kind of food that mandates you get your hands dirty. The ribs need to be sliced- and then the only way to get at the best bits is  to eat with your paws. Don’t worry, everyone else is doing it too (with silk ties slung over their shoulders to boot).
What you might need your fork for is what comes on the side. Rather than the traditional indulgence of fries with ribs, here there’s a coleslaw of apple, cabbage, jalapeno and coriander. It’s a very sensible foil for the spice and fat of the pork. 
If anyone was after more pig, then they could get stuck into the crispy pig cheeks (£8). They’re an interesting construction- the meat has been slow roasted, then moulded back together into a log, sliced into pucks and fried. We know it’s been moulded into a log because our serving came with a collar of plastic wrap still around it, crisped slightly from the grill.

With it there’s some lamb’s lettuce salad, spiked with some long strips of chive and a mustardy mush of picallili for further cut through.

I think those after a serious dose of juicy meat would be better off ordering the burger (£16).

The burger itself is ruby pink in the centre, a true interpretation of ‘medium rare’. There’s a cap of Westcombe cheddar melted over the top and some softened and sweet onions too. The patty is a loose compilation, with plenty of marbled fat leaching into the bun.

A trio of condiments; dijon and hot English mustard, and ketchup are cheerful additions, however the chips were slightly sad specimens- some flaccidly fell when picked up.

For those wanting a slightly more refined main course there are three cuts of steaks to choose from and the braised beef short ribs with a Worcestershire glaze oozing over a base of Irish champ is sound comfort on a cold night.

If there’s still room at the inn (and if there’s still some left in the kitchen), it’s very hard to go past the Chocolate Nemesis for dessert – which pays homage to the River Cafe.

It treads a very fine line between ganache, mousse and a cake. It’s dark and not particularly sweet- which is just how I prefer my chocolate desserts.

A quenelle of creme fraiche and a little sprinkling of orange zest give a slight Jaffa make over. It’s a very rich and sexy dessert, fit for a not-so-cheap and quite sexy space.

These are some of the reasons why Barbecoa feels less like Jamie’s other ventures (Fifteen and Jamie’s Italian) and more like a Vegas extension of a brand.

While the food skips all over the globe for inspiration, most of the heavy lifting comes from dishes that are well attuned to a US palette; ribs, burgers, crab cakes, pulled pork and steaks.

Secondly, it’s  very very large.  And the service, like so many large restaurants can be patchy, depending on whose section you’re seated in . While at Jamie’s Italian they seem to have perfected  the art of drilling the warm and friendly ethos of the place into every aspect of the customer interaction, here they  are yet to completely nail that brief.  We experienced exactly the same thing at the Bouchon outpost in the Venetian.

There’s also a more US habit in play where some floor staff clear and others serve, which can lead to confusion when you’re wanting to discuss wine options- of which there are many.

It’s worth saying at this point that the drinks list is impressively large and constructed for both oenophiles and those who prefer like a whisky on the rocks before dinner. Beer drinkers will also find  some interesting options.

Barbecoa is at its best at night, if you’re seated by the window, looking up at the lights of St Paul’s.

While you’re there, there may be a small part of you that may feel displaced, like you’re in a shiny casino, looking at a fantastical replica of one of London’s most famous landmarks, right next to a 3/4 version of the Eiffel Tower.

If that’s what happens, you might as well embrace it.

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.  Consequences be damned.

So go ahead, order another slice of the chocolate nemesis cake.


20 New Change Passage
London, EC4M 9

Barbecoa on Urbanspoon

  1. One of the first positive reviews I have read of this place but I have heard the thing to order at a BBQ restaurant is the ribs rather than the steaks (which is what you did) so perhaps this is why your experience was better?

  2. Perhaps! Though they are a particular kind of ribs- which may not be the stuff of everyone's rib fantasy. I'd go back for the Breakfast in Milan cocktail, crab cake, steak tartare and the chocolate nemesis. And the novelty of sitting next to St Paul's, all done up in lights… but then, that's just me 🙂

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