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DISCOVER JAMIE OLIVER’S BARBECOA LONDON
'I TAKE THE SKIN OFF CHICKEN' - JOHNNY UTAH, POINT BREAK
Just quite simply, an orgy of fine meat. And no I'm not making a misogynist glib reference to the eye-candy on reception at the Barbecoa (although technically I just have). I'm eying up the menu, having just ordered an American Red Beer. I should really go for the Chateaubriand Steak in Truffle Butter, it’s undoubtedly the show-pony on the menu, but I swing for the Smoked Beer-Can Chicken.
Situated on New Change Passage, the view overlooks the arse of St Pauls Cathedral. And what an arse! My starters arrive, the Beef Carpaccio and the Tandoori Wild Prawn. The latter is presented in a cylindrical glass bowl - lifted to a plume of birch smoke. The waiter refrained from doing the 'voila' theatrics, possibly because we're Greater London and not in the heart of Le Gai Parie. The Wild Prawns were just the finest specimens, substantial, to other prawns they must have been foreboding gladiators of the deep. The Beef Carpaccio was suitably doused, saddled with pickled mushrooms, caressed with resplendent ticklemore cheese.
The Barbecoa is a celebration of fire-based cooking. Their in-house butchers are renowned for handpicking and preparing the very best meat in Britain. In order to achieve the deliberately charred finish the chefs utilise tea-pit smokers, tandorors, robata grills and wood fired ovens. The Smoked Beer Can Chicken arrived, marinated in a sticky glaze sitting majestically above a collection of neatly stacked apple slices.
I asked for some HP sauce to plunge my beef-dripping chips into and the waitress gave me a face like I had just asked her to wring out her knickers into a gravy boat. HP sauce should be ubiquitous across London restaurants. It stands for Houses of Parliament for pete's sake! Of course the Beer-Can Chicken needed no condiment with its flavoursome tangy-spice after taste. It's why we keep the skin on the chicken, do you hear me Johnny Utah?
I managed to get an interview with Barbecoa's Chef Director - Davide Bargione to find out more...
How much time did it take to compose the menu for Barbecoa and how does it represent the image of the restaurant?
“Roughly 4-5 months. The menu represents every aspect of what Barbecoa is all about, rough and ready with an elegant edge – we do meat really well whether it’s our real hunks of barbecued meat like our short rib and smoked ribs or the more luxurious, refined cuts of the best beef in London like our rib-eye for two. Plus, we cook it all on open fires and grills so it’s all authentic and packed with big smoky flavours.”
How often does it get tweaked or altered?
“We change the menu every 2-3 months so we can work with produce that’s in season.”
Was it always the dream when you were in Sicily to come to London to work?
“Not really. I started my culinary career in a little family run restaurant in my hometown during the summer holidays then after that, when I finished school, my first stop was to work in Milan for another small restaurant owned by a close friend of mine. After a six month stint I decided to come to London and the rest is history.”
Were you approached to be the head chef for the Jamie Oliver restaurant in Oxford?
“No I applied for the role, and was very lucky to get it – it’s worked out well!”
What is the hardest thing about fire based cooking when learning new techniques?
“Learn how your ingredients are going to react and behave with the live fire because it is such a natural way of cooking, you really need to understand and trial a recipe until you get that perfect balance.”
What advice do you give to chefs starting out and wanting to reach similar heights that you've achieved?
“Be open minded and enthusiastic about the job – no matter how tough it is. Have a humble approach and always be willing to listen to people. Most of all, be ready to put in a lot of hours on the stove!”
How often does Jamie come to the Barbecoa?
“Roughly once or twice a month – he still loves it and gets so excited about the food coming out of the kitchen. He has a really big input into what goes on the menu.”
Have you ever worked in a restaurant with a better view of the City?
“No, you can’t get a better view than ours, especially at night when St Paul’s is lit up – it’s quite special.”