It’s one of the most consistently tasty, lovingly-prepared ten pound plates of food you can buy in central London
Baggage. It’s something Pitt Cue Co doesn’t really have to deal with, but in the category of BBQ, it’s rife. Of all our favourite American imports, BBQ is the one that has been given the roughest treatment in Blighty. Before the Pitt Cue truck, there was, and still is, Bodean’s. Much as we are in like with Bod’s1, it is apparently run by a Canadian. In the BBQ playbook, that’s bordering on a declaration of war.
But now we have a permanent Pitt Cue in a tiny little shop round the back of Carnaby Street. It is a pretty wonderful thing. Recently we reviewed Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas. It’s often placed very near the top of the ‘Best in America’ lists by people who apparently know what they’re talking about. We also talked about BBQ back home and our general cluelessness with all things ‘cue.
The important thing to remember is that as Brits, we collectively know fuck all about proper barbeque. Nothing. We’re a nation of grillers, of carbon charrers and of awful supermarket sauce.
We resolutely stand by that statement, although will concede that things are changing. All the gushing reviews of PCC so far have had very little to compare it to. There’s very few places that hold a candle to what they’re doing, but even so, it’s still worth approaching them from a critical perspective. So let’s get some very mild grizzling out of the way first.
We are becoming increasingly allergic to the quasi-reclaimed-crate-blue-enamel-tableware aesthetic that has London in its grasp. Perhaps it was Bread Street Kitchen that tipped us over the edge. Once RamsayCorp has done it, you’ve got to move on, yes?
PCC’s aesthetic could almost make it the sister restaurant to Honest Burgers in Brixton (which incidentally we totally respect, but also totally did not like). To illustrate the point, here’s the layout of their respective menus:
- Is the same guy being hired?
- Is it all an accident?
- Are we the only people who notice this sort of thing?
Anyway. It’s bothersome. It gets very hard to own this kind of thing when everyone is doing it.
The meat is superb. Other people that know things have told us they source it from the same suppliers to the big boys. American visitors might be taken aback at the lack of corn-fed cattle on offer, which let’s face it, does affect the flavour quite considerably. The PCC guys know this, and that’s why their product is so tastefully English. It’s not a theme park ride tribute to southern BBQ - it’s a proper intepretation that’s had a lot of the flashiness and chemicals pushed out of it. Maybe that’s why they’ve got dinky blue enamel high-sided plates instead of brown paper too.
The St Louis ribs were satisfyingly pink, with just enough bite on the outside before the meat effortlessly released itself from the bone. If their flavour wasn’t good enough, the sauce that laced the bottom of the bowl was ridiculous. A deeply gravy-like flavour and a slightly-thicker-than-jus consistency. Truly immense.
The beef ribs are understandably thicker, but just as juicy, with a thicker and equally appealing smokey crust on them. The brisket is the best in town (not that there’s any real competition), with slightly sweet notes laced through the beef. It’s very different to brisket we’ve had in Texas due to the cows not being corn-fed. It’s also a punishing cut when not given the required amount of respect - here it’s beautifully smoke-ringed and tender.
The pulled pork is juicy and textured, housed in a cracking brioche most burger joints would be jealous of. The sandwiches stand up equally to the meat + side competition. We like the hunk of local sourdough that comes with each plate too. It’s another example of Londoning, since stateside you’ll typically get industrial white bread straight from the packet. And we haven’t even talked about the sides yet, blimey the sides. The pot of mash with sauced burnt ends on top was impressive. More impressive was the chipotle slaw which was sharp-but-creamy, fresh and moist without being annoyingly drippy. They have been well thought out as accompaniments to the meat.
For those exponing this as American-style BBQ, it’s not really. Despite the sense of Americana that the array of bourbon, PBR, and boilermakers might imbue, Pitt Cue isn’t really American. Sure, they’ve done their homework over there and pulled off a very satisfying translation. They’ve pressed the reset button on another food type that just wasn’t up to scratch and elevated it to where it needs to be. If anything, it’s the Downton Abbey of BBQ - all the same ridiculous drama of Dallas, but anglicised and refined. Smoke and meat are the stars here, not sugar and gloopy sauces.
The size of the place. There are crates of beer just sitting on the stairs because presumably there’s nowhere else for them to go. The kitchen is two shoeboxes glued together. If you sit upstairs at the tiny bar and its environs then you’ll be elbow-duelling your neighbours. On one particular balmy evening visit (we arrived early and were the fourth group in the door) we had to forcibly pull the pregnant Mrs D back out through the bar upstairs just to exit the building sixty minutes later. It was Double Rush Hour Tube Carriage rammed. And people didn’t seem to mind.
In general, our visits have been very off peak, very on purpose. Queuing for the best brisket in London just doesn’t hold the same romance as it does in Austin; in fact queueing in one’s home town is time that could be better spent in the pub.
We’re pleased to hear that the little truck on the South Bank is being dusted off and going back into service this summer. Ideally, we’d love to see the next iteration of Pitt Cue (and there’s always a next iteration) to be more takeaway focused, and to have a little more space. That’s where the American-ness can come in. It doesn’t need to be where it is - we’ll travel for food this good. It shouldn’t be BBH’s local lunch spot. They don’t deserve it.
It’s one of the most consistently tasty, lovingly-prepared ten pound plates of food you can buy in central London, and for that we are massive fans. They’re also not trying to fob us off with bullshit American tribute food, which is the strategy for most of their ‘competition’.
- Simon & Rob.
- It’s the only place that has enough televisions in it to vaguely emulate a Proper Sports Bar. ↩