A new meat-led restaurant, right by St Paul’s (of which some tables offer impressive views), which seems to owe its existence entirely to Jamie Oliver’s PR profile; the food on our visit was decent enough, but – especially given its simplicity – the delay is serving it was ridiculous.
You’ve seen the faces, now taste the food that made them famous – so says a current promotion on toptable.com. It’s illustrated by pictures of Marco, Gordon and Jamie – the three British restaurant chefs so starry that they need no identification beyond their first names.
Nonsense. It wasn’t the food that made any of them famous: it was PR. Admittedly, Marco and Gordon had culinary hits before PR propelled them to the big time, but Jamie certainly didn’t. He was a PR phenomenon long before he had a restaurant to his name. Thus he has always remained: a PR phenomenon first, and everything else – including a restaurateur – second.
It is difficult to see how someone who was primarily a restaurateur would have come up with the odd concept which is Barbecoa. In spite of the prime City location, and some similarities in appearance to the Mad Men-style Pool Room at New York’s famous Four Seasons restaurant, this a not a grand business establishment. Nor is it a City steakhouse – a genre still under-served, but which is at least readily comprehensible. And it’s not even a destination obviously themed-up for Jamie junkies (or priced to appeal to them either).
But we get ahead of ourselves. If you’ve been on Mars for the last few months, you may not know that the restaurant is located in the ‘stealth bomber’-look shopping mall across the road from St Paul’s (of which it has stunning views). Or that the culinary concept – in conjunction with celebrated New York barbecue chef Adam Perry Lang – is a celebration of meat.
For St Jamie, this is, of course, another oddity. Aren’t we all – on health and sustainability grounds – being urged to get away from the carnivorous obsession? The lavish layout of the restaurant and the profligacy of the lighting and so on seem to amplify the untimeliness of the message. Shouldn’t our leading Essex Boy be demonstrating that less is more, rather than – as if this were a mall in Houston – that nothing succeeds like excess? Some commentators have suggested that this establishment is the prototype for a chain, but we simply can’t see how the level of profligacy evident here could be affordable in many locations outside the Square Mile.
Chunks of meat variously cooked may sound a simple enough proposition for a world-famous chef to deliver, but service in the third week of operation was still desperately slow. We weren’t drinking fast, and two of us had pretty much consumed our bottle of wine by the time the main course arrived (and this in a half-empty restaurant!).
When it finally arrived, the food was pretty good. A hearty cuisine-grand-mère-ish dish of pulled beef, for example, was thoroughly satisfying, and a huge bone-in steak was very decent too. This came as a particular surprise to our dining companion. Disappointed on no fewer than three previous visits, he had responded to our initial ‘what do you recommend?’ query with a single word: ‘nothing’.
As things had turned out, we left on this occasion full and happy, in a physical sense. Otherwise, however, the experience seemed so entirely empty as to make one question why one would ever want to go back.