An article by James Coldrey-Mobbs – A Coverpoint Consultant
Three months later and another street vendor has laid down foundations just off Oxford Street. This time, it is the turn of Pitt Cue Co. owners Tom Adams and Jamie Berger to trade in their wagon for a more permanent establishment, teaming up with Richard “Hawksmoor” Turner and Simon Anderson along the way. Take a well-established street vendor, famously known for serving up hearty portions of ribs and pulled pork, add the knowledge of how to run a restaurant from Richard Turner, and what you end up with is a winning formula, Pitt Cue Co.
Walking down Oxford Street on a cold, dark evening, I decided to go and have a quick look at MEATLiquor, which I had visited in November, to see how it was surviving in its new home. As I turned around the corner behind Debenhams, there was a crowd of 30 people standing outside Yianni Papoutsis’ restaurant. I couldn’t believe my eyes and on further inspection, and chat, I was told that ‘no, there is no special event tonight, this is just the queue to get in’. I walked off shaking my head in disbelief. 6.00pm and 30 people are queuing outside MEATLiquor to simply get in and get a burger when you are so close to so many other restaurants in and around Oxford Street. And who said 2012 was a bad trading start of the year for restaurants?!
So off we went, my partner and I, to go and find Pitt Cue Co. nervous and apprehensive about the prospect of having to queue outside to get in. We arrived at 6.30 and whilst there was no queue trailing around the corner, there were a couple of people standing outside. As it turned out, one of them was the Manager, who explained to us that unfortunately the restaurant, which only seats about 25 people (at a squash), was full and all the people in the bar (approximately another 30 people) were waiting for a table in the downstairs restaurant. So, in true English fashion we patiently queued outside, waiting for our call.
6.30 soon became 7.30 before we were then ushered into the bar area so we could at least get a drink and be warm. It must be said, the Manager was extremely apologetic and sympathetic about the fact we were waiting outside, bringing us regular updates and a shot glass of peanuts in an attempt to keep us happy. The first thing I remember about finally getting into this place, was not the warmth heating up my frozen limbs or the eclectic American pop music (R.I.P. Etta James), but the smoky, barbequey smell that filled my nostrils and lingered in the air.
The fit out of Pitt Cue Co. is much lighter and warmer than I expected, especially when compared to the dark, sinister and somewhat disturbing interior of MEATLiquor. A set of wonky lights dangle from the ceiling and the clean, wooden bar area reminds me of the ‘apres ski’ bars you get in the Alps, which certainly suits me down to the ground. As expected, the drinks menu is exceptionally American, awash with Bourbon, Rye and Beer. The signature cocktail, a ‘Pickle Back’ is a shot of Bourbon, washed down with a shot of pickling vinegar. However disgusting and awful it may sound, I assure you it works, with the vinegar taking away the harshness from the Bourbon.
7.30 soon became 8.15 and we were finally shown to a table downstairs. However, we were asked if it was ok for us to share our table with another couple. So off we went, downstairs into the basement on what looked like some sort of blind double date. And only then does it hit you, how small this place really is. Nine small wooden tables with a bench running down either side, one small toilet cubicle and that is it. There is no space for any decorations, ornaments, plants or anything. Every square inch, of which there aren’t many, is used to seat people. Unfortunately, and I must admit this was the only down side, we were tucked away under the stairs meaning I didn’t get much chance to see how the staff operated in such a restricting space, but I wasn’t going to let that spoil my meal, as by this time it had already been nearly two hours and I was rumbling and ready to get eating.
The menu consists of five meat dishes (one of which is a daily special), all served with one of a choice of five sides, along with a chunk of sourdough bread and pickles. We settle on a portion of beef ribs and some St Louis ribs, with braised sprout tops, burnt end mash and a side portion of crispy pickled shitake mushrooms. Both sets of ribs were delicious, burnt and black with sticky BBQ glaze and melt in the mouth tender meat that is stripped off the bone with little effort. The braised sprout tops, starting to become a bit of a fashion item, were served in a Kilner jar full of butter and garlic and the burnt end mash was incredible. Smooth creamy mashed potato topped with shredded brisket in a rich ‘tomatoey’, barbeque flavoured sauce. The crispy pickled shitake mushrooms were little nuggets of happiness with the meaty mushrooms breaded and fried creating a mixture of both textures and flavours.
One thing you really notice is that the portion sizes were very well controlled. Normally after eating out at other American ‘rib-shacks’, Bodean’s most noticeably, I have been so full that I am simply incapable of moving, but after mopping up my plate at Pitt Cue Co. I felt sufficiently full and extremely satisfied. The good thing about this is that it meant there was still some spare room to have a dessert, a choice of either sticky toffee pudding or rhubarb mess. Normally I don’t choose sticky toffee pudding because I am blessed to have a father who makes the most magical and incredible sticky toffee pudding ever. I am normally left feeling disappointed with the brown coloured sponge that has been blasted in the microwave within an inch of its life and drowned in an overly sweet sauce, so I’ve learnt to steer clear of this dish when featured on menus. However, this pudding was rich, moist and most noticeably sticky. The pudding had been laced with Bourbon and was served with a salted caramel sauce and rum and raisin ice cream, which came very close to taking top spot, (sorry Dad!)
The bill came to £40, including drinks and service, which again for just off Oxford Street is exceptional value for money. I must admit I did have some doubts as to whether MEATLiquor would work in its location, thinking the majority of tourists and shoppers using Oxford Street would head to the national, branded offerings that crowd this market place. However, MEATLiquor has successfully become a destination in its own right. Do I think the same will happen for Pitt Cue Co.? Well after my experience, where I queued for nearly two hours to get a seat, it seems that it already has a large and loyal following.
Around Carnaby Street this following will surely grow, as business people drop in for a burger and pulled pork bun on their lunch break. I think the only thing that will hinder the success of Pitt Cue Co. is that this unit is simply not big enough, but if rolled out to another larger unit, something the Manager admitted is on the cards, then I can only see it going onwards and upwards from now. Gets my vote.