Barbecue food in London no longer means just pulled pork and ribs with too much sickly sweet barbecue sauce. We have some excellent chefs doing very exciting things with fire and smoke; think global flavours and more than just meat (though there’s lots of that, too). There are two styles of cooking over coals. The first is grilling, which is cooking over direct heat (the familiar ‘cooking your bangers or burgers’ method) and then there is slower cooking at a lower, indirect heat. This method produces very tender, smoke-infused pieces of meat, for example. The one thing both styles have in common is that food is enhanced by charred and smoky flavours. Good barbecue is a real art; here’s where to get the best in London.
Smoking Goat burst its doors open in 2014 with a fanfare of sizzle, spit and smoke. This Thai restaurant is a place to roll up your sleeves, grab at least 20 napkins and prepare to really get involved. It’s loud, it’s small, it’s quite dark and you might have to queue to get in, but blimey, the food is worth it. The whole Cornish crab comes covered in a spicy brown sauce, which is sweet, hot and intensely moreish. You’ll be sucking every last piece of it from the shell while you pick the meat from your neighbour’s hair before rushing to the bathroom to wash the drippings from your top. It’s a slurp-fest of cracking, digging, mining and mopping. This is a dish to be worked over, savoured and celebrated. Don’t miss the chicken wings either, which come lacquered with flavours that are full on feral-tasty. Smoking Goat isn’t the place to eat with a knife and fork; it’s a place to get down and dirty with the food. Oh — and make sure to keep on good terms with your dry cleaner, because you’ll be needing their services to remove the smell of smoke from your clothes.
Smoking Goat, 7 Denmark St, London WC2H 8LZ
Andy Oliver’s Northern Thai dishes will grab you, shake you, wow you and then discard you like a bone nibbled clean. This food is so vibrant and punchy, so generous and fragrant that you’ll wonder what we were ever thinking going to other Thai restaurants in town (with a few notable exceptions). Andy’s dedication to authenticity is obvious: he ferments his own pork sausages on site, for example, and he makes his own coconut cream.
While the fish and meat options are brilliant, why not try the ‘yum makeau yao’, which literally translates as ‘salad aubergine long’. The fruits (yes, they’re fruits, not vegetables) are grilled over a wood fire then peeled to reveal their creamy innards. They’re served warm with a smoky, sweet and tangy chilli dressing with soft boiled egg, prawn floss, coriander mint, kaffir lime leaf and Thai shallots. Hello.
Som Saa, Arch 374, Helmsley Place, E8 3SB
Neil Rankin is something of a legend in the world of London barbecue. Executive chef of the Smokehouse restaurants in Islington and Chiswick, he’s worked with renowned BBQ chef Adam Perry Lang and was head chef at another restaurant on this list, Pitt Cue Co.
The menu includes dishes like Somerset goat tacos with chipotle aioli and green sauce and smoked lamb shoulder for Sunday lunch. You’ll find Korean influences in Neil’s food, too, inspired by his time spent living near New Malden; expect to find kimchi and gochujang (a fermented chilli sauce). The rare breed beef burger with Korean pulled pork is out of this world, and we are very fussy here at Londonist when it comes to pulled pork.
Smokehouse, see website for locations.
Pitt Cue Co.
Pitt Cue Co. started out as a trailer van under the Hungerford Bridge before settling in a tiny, permanent space in Soho. This is true American style BBQ and it’s extremely popular. Again, go early or prepare to queue. Pitt Cue Co. are keen to point out that their no-reservations policy is down to the fact that the restaurant only has 30 covers — they are “not trying to be cool”.
Co-owner and chef Tom Adams comes up with some glorious dishes in that tiny kitchen, some of which are now famous, such as the bone marrow mash, regularly changing, towering sandwiches and grilled lettuce. Tom also raises his own Mangalitsa pigs — a curly-haired breed from Hungary and Austria which are exceptionally delicious because their meat is particularly marbled with fat. If you see any of this special pork on the menu, order it.
Pitt Cue Co, 1 Newburgh Street, Soho, W1F 7RB
Berber & Q
This East London grill restaurant has influences from the "Middle East and North Africa, via Brooklyn, New York". The chef-owner, Josh Katz, has serious pedigree and almost everything at Berber & Q is worth your money. Even small plates of hummus are gussied up with chickpeas, egg, herbs, pine nuts and chilli — perfect to swipe at with fluffy pitta as you wait for your main course — a tray of grilled delights, pickles and salads. Our recommendation for meat eaters here is to order the lamb, which comes teased apart into pieces just small enough to wrap inside a lettuce leaf with fresh herbs. There is a garlic sauce so strong it made us sweat the stuff for days. This is to be admired — many other places would’ve toned it down for the masses. The real star here though is the grilled cauliflower (yes), which comes charred, soaked in shawarma spiced butter, and dressed with tahini sauce, pomegranate molasses, rose petals, pine nuts and parsley. It is magnificent, and it is sold by the quarter, half, or whole.
One odd decision at Berber & Q is the choice of music, which is loud and incongruous. It’s a little like eating in a nightclub when service gets into swing, so we recommend going early.
Berber & Q, 338 Acton Mews, E8 4EA
This is the first London opening from the Grillstock group who started their empire in Bristol as a barbecue festival and competition in 2010. There are now three sites for the competition (the UK’s only professional BBQ comp) and six restaurants. You’ll find all the classics here: brisket, ribs, wings and burnt ends. There’s a beer menu which lists American and London brews, plus their own ‘Grillstock Pale Ale’.
If you’ve never experienced any ‘proper' American-style BBQ then this is place to go. You’ll never darken the door of a Bodean’s again. This September will see the first London Grillstock festival, which is a serious BBQ competition, but also just an incredible weekend out. There’s music, large amounts of beer, and lots of BBQ to taste, cooked by people who really know what they’re doing. We wouldn’t miss it for anything.
Grillstock, 198 Hoe Street, E17 4BF