Review of Barbecoa St Paul’s (Permanently closed)
The purpose of life is to eat steak. There is no greater occasion to celebrate that purpose than the anniversary of the date when each of us was put on this planet. Occasions like birthdays, date nights, new jobs or catching up with an old mate naturally call for eating glorious chunks of steak. So to celebrate survival of another glutenous 365 days on this planet, I arrived at Barbecoa St Paul’s for the fourth successive year.
My affair with Barbecoa is long standing. While it has never been a passionate affair, it has always been memorable: the wine has flowed and large chunks of charcoal seared steak have been served.
Barbecoa is one of Jamie Oliver’s more upmarket restaurants, specialising in BBQ style, charcoal cooked meat. The visually stunning restaurant is located in the shadow of St Pauls. The ‘U’ shape layout of the restaurant is dimly lit with the kitchen placed in the middle. Despite windows into the kitchen, which show large chunks of meat being grilled, it does not take centre stage. Rather, centre stage is dominated by the imposing 17th Century dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The menu consists of a variety of meat options such as fish, short ribs and a standard but limited variety of steak cuts (ranging from a rump to a chateaubriand for two). The prices are on the upper end so you can expect to part with at least £40 (after service charge) for one of the smaller steaks. Unlike most other steakhouses that provide an overview or introduction to the steak menu, the menu wasn’t explained to us and there wasn’t any story or pitch about their cows, butchers or what makes their steak special. Naturally, the menu wasn’t sufficient for me and like a true steak princess, I insisted on ordering off menu and subjecting my friends to a cruel 40 minute wait for their food.
Barbecoa had, on special, what they called a 1.3kg bone-in rib eye steak. It was a little more expensive than the Chateaubriand for two, so I decided to go for it. It was ordered rare along with sides of chips and roasted carrots (we skipped starters) and Barbecoa’s Vina Alberdi Reserva 2010 Roija.
The steak arrived on an enormous platter with a token garnishing of greens and a very large bone. The yield of steak was smaller than expected (the weight of the bone must have been much of the 1.3kg). There were about 5 or 6 larger slices of steak with a large number of pieces about the size of a pound coin. I grabbed a thick piece of steak which was perfectly cooked (charred on the outside and very rare in the middle). The immediate taste was satisfying, the charred crust had that distinctive charcoal taste and the beef itself holding a mild taste. But apart from the crust, the rest of the steak had very little taste and no holding value (any taste was lost on the second bite). I asked the waitress about the steak. It was grass feed aged Angus steak, but the age of the cow at slaughter was unclear.
The smaller pieces of steak were tasty but not tender at all. Some had been overcooked and were crisp losing all succulence. The steak had not been carved well with a large amount of steak still on the bone. I fixed that problem by cutting off the steak myself, managing to yield a substantial amount of steak. The waitress came over and quipped that I could take the bone home to my dog. I quipped back, “I am the dog”. I picked up the bone and started ripping off fibres of meat with my teeth.
The wine and sides were good and the service was prompt with some decent chat from the waitress. But, as I often experience, the steak just didn’t live up to the occasion or the price point (of £90). It’s unfortunate for Barbecoa because although the method of cooking did add taste to the beef, the beef itself was not that tasty.
And so it is somewhat bittersweet that all too often it’s the people who you celebrate an occasion with rather than the steak itself that makes eating steak memorable. I’ve got another year to reflect on whether I continue my affair with Barbecoa for the fifth time. However, life is short and there is so much more steak to discover.