Friday, 4 March 2016

Pitt Cue, Devonshire Square

I've always been a fan of Pitt Cue, right from when they opened a van underneath the Hungerford Bridge way back in 2011. Back then we didn't know a thing about proper American barbecue; sure, we had Bodeans, where meat was cooked until it fell off the bone, to be drenched in sweet, smoky sauces. People obviously liked it as the place was busy but every experience I had there left me feeling a little meh, a little over-stuffed and quesy. It felt, to me, like junky giant portions of mass soulless catering. Then Pitt Cue Co. burst onto the scene, and there it was; properly smoked meats and brilliant sides. 

A year later, the Soho baby was born. It was tiny. Queues were lengthy, and to eat there you had to really put the effort in; turn up early, turn up only mildly hungry to increase in the wait, get stuck into the cocktails while you tap your foot impatiently. I went a handful of times, whenever I could convince companions it was worth the wait. With a restaurant that small you can't turn enough tables in the service to make a decent profit, especially when you're using high quality ingredients. While it was a lot of fun down there in that raucous basement, it was obvious that it wasn't sustainable. It was also uncomfortable, unless you were more tolerant than I was with eating with your mates' elbow in your side. Finally, FINALLY, they've relocated to a much larger space.

Devonshire Square, near Liverpool Street is one of those hidden away little places that I've never set foot in, in all my years in London. It's wine bars and bouncers and blue-lit trees, festooned with fairy lights. It's suits and tall buildings and City. I got lost and a security guard guided me to the restaurant. It's enormous inside, and it's also incredibly beautiful with exposed brickwork and chrome beer tanks, bottles gleaming behind the bar. There's a bar area in which we sat at on high stools, sipping on pre-dinner, bright pink mezcal cocktails. The dining room holds around a million (roughly) more tables than Soho, backed by a gleaming kitchen, head chef Tom Adams at the marble pass. 

The menu, too, has evolved. Gone are the trays with hunks of meat served with a heel of bread. No, the menu now has snacks, starters and mains, while a blackboard lists specials of meat by the weight. The 'potato cakes' from the snacks menu is not to be missed; layers of potato pressed and deep fried, reminiscent of The Quality Chop House's now-famous confit potatoes, and served with a leek mayonnaise. I don't think we need chips anymore, guys. These are the one. 

Cep and black garlic mangalitza sausage showed off the kitchen's sophistication. Smoky, juicy and with an incredible earthiness, the puck of sausage was neither dense nor crumbly, but just the perfect resistance to the fork. 

Lamb's heart and rosemary was the most surprising dish of the night. Any hearts I've eaten - I sound like a serial killer - have always had some sort of  chew to them, a slight toughness from a muscle well used. This was different; velvety slices melted in the mouth, a light lamb flavour with just a hint of rosemary in the liquor. Simple, stunning, and very clever. 

For me, smoked eel broth with bacon toastwas less successful. The broth was beautifully clear, studded with cubes of carrot, celery and eel but I found the intense smoky flavour jarring with the format being broth, and the bacon toasts a little over-greasy. 

The Mangalitza chop seemed a diminutive portion for £16, but actually the richness and flavour of this rare-breed pork justified the price tag. Two slices of perfectly pink meat, topped with pickled onions with incredibly buttery, delicious fat; I knew I'd chosen well, despite my innate dislike for my dinner served on a board - maybe they'd run out of plates though, as this chap on the same night had one. The bone marrow mash that Pitt Cue were so famous for is still on the menu, now adorned also with mushroom. There'd be riots in the streets of London (ok, hyperbole. But only just.) if that came off the menu. I was in a rich, meaty heaven. 

For such a meat-centric restaurant, they really care about their vegetables. Grilled hispi cabbage with wild garlic was the perfect foil for all the meat we were eating; who needs salad when you can have smoky charred greens? And how better to dress a salt-baked celeriac than with runny cheese? These are the kind of vegetable dishes that make you really want to eat vegetables. 

Ahhh lardy cake. I usually avoid those warming spices in desserts, you know the sort - cinnamon, nutmeg and that - but this was something else. It's a slice of sweet bread studded with raisins, but with the most crisp outer layer, and soft cakey insides. It's traditionally made with lard and I have no reason to suspect otherwise here, so delicious was it. We also had baked custard with rhubarb, which while tasty enough felt a little on the boring side in comparison; it was very much a sum of its parts. 

You can get away with spending around £40 a head with booze if you don't go mad on the cocktails and then decide to drink a bottle of wine each (ahem) which, for the level of skill in the kitchen and the quality of the food, I thought pretty great value. For somewhere open in only its second week, the service was incredibly accomplished, our waitress was fun and nice and knowledgable which is all that I want. Those Soho stalwarts may lament a change in atmosphere, a glossy sheen added, suited City types on most of the tables, but we're on their turf now, and I'll take it for the ability to reserve a table. What novelty! So that's what happens up town. 

Pitt Cue 
1 The Avenue
Devonshire Square, EC2M 4YP 

To book: or 020 7324 7770

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