Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa opened in London right after I left this fair city back in 2010. It’s weird to leave a city before an entire complex — One New Change — exists, and then to return and have it all in full swing. I miss the old Balls Brothers that used to stand at the corner there with its tremendous (both in size and location) outdoor drinking area, but I also understand that the world and London in particular keeps changing and while we might miss the past, there really is no going back…no going back at all.
We had dinner at Barbecoa on a fateful evening — a week before the Brexit vote. Here we were: three Americans, albeit one born in Serbia and naturalized, all of us with UK work authorization, two of us also naturalized British citizens, two of us married to British citizens, all of us with long careers in financial services. Call me psychic but my contribution to the conversation was something like “If we vote out…1. the pound will crash 2. the UK credit rating will get slashed 3. interest rates will go down and 4. any global company who has been looking for any sort of excuse to get away from the high cost of labor AND real estate in London will move to Amsterdam or Frankfurt.” Thank you, University of Chicago. (Seriously, American companies in particular really don’t understand why they have to pay so much for everything in London AND give people 25+ days holiday a year. Please see here for average prime rental costs in major European cities. Also, different topic but same theme…see here for the UK — non-replacement! — birth rate of 1.83 and how 27% of births were to mothers born outside the UK Have a cup of tea and consider the future funding of of UK state pensions based on all this information + Brexit.)
Back to Barbecoa…so if you’re going to have dinner the week before the London economy starts tanking, you might as well have it at in the heart of the city of London, where finance predominates, at uh, an American-ish restaurant called Barbecoa. We had a great table overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral and the floor to ceiling windows made the most of the sunny and nice day. (Food bloggers everywhere will love the natural light, especially at this time of year.) I was surprised by the number of large parties out for dinner on a Wednesday but then again, Fidelity Investments is right next door along with at least one-third of the other fund managers in London. If you want to take guests somewhere “London-y,” you really can’t beat Barbecoa for the views and the buzz. Book ahead, because this place was packed. Also, ask for a table overlooking St. Paul’s.
Lee (you may know her as Feathers) had been to Barbeoca before and insisted that we start with the Devil’s Cornbread, which was a thin cornbread layer covered in cheese and Nduja, a word I had never heard before my return to London in 2014. Now Nduja is as popular as Peter Andre was in 2004, although to be fair, I haven’t seen Mr. Andre in the gossip mags in quite some time. Our Devil’s Cornbread was tasty and well, I could imagine it being even tastier if I had a hangover. (That is a compliment, to be clear. This cornbread is EXACTLY what you want to wake up to after a night on the lash. That and a fizzy Coke.)
Next up some tuna ceviche with watermelon, which some of us were nervous about but which turned out to be delightful. The tuna wasn’t as thinly sliced as I would have liked, but between the tuna and the watermelon, it was all very refreshing and I made a mental note to keep this dish in mind for a hot day. Now that being said, you know I’m not much of a cook but I’m sure I can convince Lee to make it for me.
We came to a place known for its meat but we played it coy. Just an order of pork belly — which came with a waffle and who doesn’t love a waffle — and the sirloin. The pork belly was densely rich — I could only manage a bite or two before my eyes started to cross — but if I had just run a marathon, I imagine this would be pretty much what I would want to eat.
The sirloin (£34) — medium rare of course — came with a little patch of tomatoes and a little drizzle of olive oil. While I definitely appreciate char, the char here was perhaps a little overpowering for me, taking away from the flavor of the meat. This is my bias though after living for so many years in Chicago and enjoying so many Chicago steaks.
We splurged on sides and they were party pleasers. The macaroni and cheese and the onion rings were particularly good. Really, really good actually.
I asked Lee and Natasa for their feedback and while I think Natasa is still trying to figure out Brexit, Lee responded with…
“I liked everything. I recall the steak tasting like a proper bbq steak. I have a flashback to my father in Philadelphia doing London Broil on the Weber Grill. This steak lives up to the restaurant’s name. (You will have to link in a definition of London Broil as I bet no one will know.) Pork: The Brits scoff when Americans put bacon and maple syrup together and this takes it to another level. Waffles, pork and jalapenos means spicy and sweet — the ultimate combo.”
So it’s fair to say that Lee liked Barbecoa a lot.
The Verdict: I received an invite to review Barbecoa and given £150 to spend on the experience. It gave me a nice excuse to catch up with Lee and Natasa. We had a nice time and I can see myself bringing my dad back here when he visits. The views are fab and the service (most of whom seemed to be immigrant like us) and design are also very nice. Note please…the happy hour cocktail menu at Barbecoa is a FANTASTIC value. £5 quid per drink! As we waited for our table, we sipped rose martinis and thought about our UK retirement plans and the hit they were about to take. Also, we tipped on the full amount. I hope our service person puts that money in a nice Europe ex-UK equity open-end investment fund.