The City has historically suffered a dearth of good restaurants because City folk keep business hours. Go back even a few years and many of the local pubs would close by 9pm as the suits migrated West, and as for weekends, it was a ghost town. The rise of Canary Wharf then bifurcated the deep wallet trade and suffered similar problems of its own. That left restaurants with the prospect of a five day week, a good lunch but only a modest dinner service (if lucky) and hardly enough income to pay their way. Good restaurants in the City can as a result be counted on one hand.
Jamie though has hit a sweet spot with his informal but still pricey BBQ proposition. The City workers give him one if not two lunch time covers (the banquettes have City written all over them), possibly an early evening cover also, then after about 7:30, as they migrate back to Notting Hill, the tourists take up the slack with the last bums leaving the last seats at a staggering 1am. For a restaurant in the City this is unprecedented but there again, so is Jamie Oliver. Before Christmas, his 30 Minute Meals book was selling 80,000 copies a week (a copy sold every 7 seconds) so making him the second best selling author in the UK after JK Rowling. The City venue then, once a graveyard for most prospective restaurants, seems a brilliantly smart move on the part of Oliver. Sadly, it’s not very good.
The interior is substantial with a mish mash of styles to accommodate all tastes: vanilla tables for small parties, red leather banquettes for small groups and metal cages for larger groups who like that kind of thing. And with a cooking style aiming to deliver ‘deep, rich earthy flavours’ through the use of ‘fire, smoke, wood and charcoal’ it sounds somewhere between curious and promising so where did it all go wrong?
Our starters were Baby Back Ribs (crunchy apple, coriander, shredded cabbage, jalapeno & citrus salad), and Crab Cake (blackened tomato and chilli salsa, citrus mayonnaise). We also ordered Pork Scratchings & Mole Sauce to snack on.
Let’s start with the positives. The ribs were really quite good and for me was the best thing of the day. They arrived with a good size portion with supple meat falling easily off the bone and a sticky glaze that gave at least a nod to their cooking mission statement. The apple in the salad too gave a nice cooling offset to the heat of the rib’s coating. Apart from the small serving plate that made things a little awkward, this was not bad.
In respect of the pork scratchings, they were just bland. They offered crunch and crunch only. Perhaps crunch with a little grease but no flavours, hardly even salty. We returned them to one of the serving staff though they stayed on the bill.
We also ordered a side of Curly Kale (rosemary, anchovy and garlic) and for Mrs CC, this was the highlight of the meal with the flavours of the ingredients coming through as flavours should.
Jamie Oliver meanwhile is undoubtedly a brand and he’s running at full steam in developing it but is he reaching the point of merely cynical exploitation of the customer base? Our meal was late afternoon when the kitchen had all the time in the world to get things right yet they didn’t. We wondered what the quality would be like if they were cooking for a full house. And what happens when the restaurant has capacity increased by a further one third?
Nothing we say of course matters because Jamie has his fans who will flock there for years to come while for City workers it’s a welcome if costly break from the daily repetition of Pret A Manger sandwiches eaten at the desk. Accordingly, this restaurant will be a huge success but sadly it just isn’t much good and somewhere like The Hawksmoor does everything so much better.
On a final note, as we were leaving Barbecoa we saw a sign up on the vacant lot opposite saying ‘Gordon Ramsay, Spring 2011’. More over extension, more exploitation. Lord help us.
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