There are some places you just don’t want to review – not because you think they’re going to be bad, but because you don’t want everyone to start going there and sitting in your favourite seat.
This certainly looked like a risk when a specialist barbeque and whisky bar opened on Caxton Street, just opposite CSW towers in Westminster. I could see it being refurbished when I walked home from work: first the comfy Chesterfield sofas being carried in, then one day, a gaggle of test customers supping scotch and chatting by lamplight. Outside, I’d pull my coat collar tighter, huddle under a brolly, and stare wide-eyed through the windows.
Eventually, though, they started letting in paying customers. My pal and I wandered around hoping someone would tell us how we could get something to eat, but struggled to find anyone in the oddly gloomy restaurant and headed back to the bar. The barmaid handed us menus there; bafflingly, they didn’t seem to include a single vegetarian option.
Luckily we are both omnivores, so the bar menu sufficed (there is, apparently, a lunch menu). And eventually we managed to flag down a passing waiter with our napkins, in the manner of a toreador gesturing to a passing bull. Our waiter was a good listener, staying silent, smiling happily and writing nothing down, before wandering off. Twenty minutes later we flagged him down once again as he thundered past, to check that we really had managed to order. Just then our food arrived, so he kindly decided to finally fix our drinks for us.
Sadly, my pal’s steak (£12.50) was utterly dismal: small, barely warm, covered in cheese and rocket, and for some reason cut into chunks as if we were going to feed it to a baby. In a place celebrating American gastronomy, I’d expected ‘Man vs Food’-style gluttony.
The large bucket of ribs, however, was everything I’d expected: a huge scoop filled with sticky, tender, meaty ribs covered in gloopy barbecue sauce. The flavours were excellent: a peppery, chilli heat; sweet molasses; rich, slightly bitter sauce; and just a slight charcoal crispness. I was addicted, and quickly started chomping through them like a hungry hyena with its nostrils buried in a gazelle. The accompanying French fries (£4.00) and skin-on chips were perfectly fine, but nothin’ special.
At £41.50 for two without wine, the meal was far too expensive for what it was. Barbecue cooking is currently in vogue, so there are plenty of places in London that serve better for cheaper.
I thought I was in for an early Christmas present, but this final column of 2012 finds me miffed. And thus my verdict chimes with the most cynical stance I take on Christmas: overpriced, overhyped, and somehow rather disappointing.