The best barbecue restaurant in London. If you can wait.
"That was mighty meaty. How're the passages? Mine were hectic this morning."
So went a text from my dining companion at Pitt Cue the following day. Note how, despite enduring a difficult morning, there is not a hint of criticism in his tone. No implication of regret. It was all worth it.
And worth it is probably the best way to describe Pitt Cue. There are barriers a-plenty to you getting a meal there, and we came up against all of them when we bit the bullet and decided, once again, to queue for our dinner, like communists in war time.
We arrived at 6.11 on a sunny Thursday evening, expecting that not many people would want to chow down on pork in a meat dungeon on such a beautiful day. So we joined the HOUR LONG QUEUE and set about getting to know our neighbours, which was a good plan, as they came in handy a little later.
I will never understand the need to make people queue for food. Booking doesn't deprive anyone. It just means the organised people get the best dinners, which is a form of natural selection. Letting anyone turn up and wait for a table is ruining the theory of evolution. If this trend for queues continues, we might all end up with tiny upper bodies, massive legs, and an unhealthy patience for queues. Society would fall apart, even if the Post Office has a resurgence.
We'd been working up a sweat in the queue for about 15 minutes when we clocked that our fellow prospective diners were drinking beers from the pub opposite, a system that we thought was probably championed by both establishments. Sadly we were mistaken. Not only did the depressed bouncer, who looked a lot like Neil Warnock, take exception to us taking glasses off the premises, but he decided to accuse me of starting the trend. The whole queue moaned and stared as they were ushered into the pub by Neil. For what it's worth, I apologise to you all.
Luckily, the couple in front of us who we had got chatting to had paper cups, so we transferred our drinks and looked sheepish as the rest of our future co-diners scowled at us.
45 minutes in and the novelty of the beer, and the beer itself, had run out. We had been second in the queue for most of that time and made no progress, however chirpy and friendly our tireless future waiter was being (and she was VERY chirpy). Finally though, just as the sun threatened to dip below the buildings of Carnaby Street, we entered the restaurant.
One hour fifteen into queuing we were offered a seat in the upstairs bar. Our waitress assured us that, while it meant sitting in high chairs, with our feet dangling like bemused toddlers, we would jump the queue and avoid having to enter the sweat dungeon formed below by the sweltering heat. We took that option, and revelled in our position, overlooking those we had been queuing with just hours ago.
Sadly we were also in direct sun, protected only by some flimsy net curtains. It was only a matter of time before one of us passed out. To be fair, once we had ordered, the food came incredibly quickly. I guess because they can only seat 34 people at a time. I ordered the dish they are known for - pork ribs - while my friend went for the more adventurous deep-fried pig's head terrine burger, otherwise known as diabetes in bread. We were told the chefs were extremely excited about the latter dish. When there are only five dishes on offer I'd expect the chefs to be excited about every one. They need to justify their place on the menu.
The ribs did. I've tasted more succulent meat (and not had to queue for it) but the marinade was fantastic - smoky, tangy and dynamite with my BBQ beans. The terrine burger however, in a sweet Chinese-like sauce, had a limp texture and distinct Bird's Eye Sweet & Sour chicken sauce feel to it - all sugary and processed. The kind of late night ready-meal you buy from a suicidal moonlighter in an Esso Garage. My companion's chipotle slaw, however, was something else. Creamy but light, spicy but subtle and satisfyingly crunchy.
The flaws in the meal only made Pitt Cue feel more like a local secret - a fact these almost-pop-up restaurants all over London must feed off. That's no bad thing, the small, homegrown feel of these places makes me fall for all of them. You really get the sense of a business brought together by friends, family and couples. You feel that rewarding sense of small-time ambition; of one person's dream to open a restaurant coming true when they find one dish they can do better than anywhere else. The passion and excitement about the food is somehow clear in the ingredients, flavours, presentation, atmosphere and, most obviously, in the people themselves.
Pitt Cue isn't so much a meat lover's paradise. The portions aren't huge, even if they are presented on beautiful Shawshank Redemption-style iron trays, and the food isn't as decadent or indulgent as expected. It's more of a meat-geek convention. You could get great ribs for less money without queueing in several places in London. But you wouldn't get the beer list, the stunning sides, the invention, the crude texts the next day, or the wonderful sense that this queueing malarky is so. often. worth. it.
1 Newburgh Street