(Theguardian) – Queueing and ’cue-ing: neither of these is high up my list of top activities. I went to Tom Adams and Jamie Berger’s Pitt Cue when it was a gleaming trailer on the South Bank in London, waited in line for my sloppy box of barbecued meat, beans and slaw, necked a couple of picklebacks, and it was fabulous, if you like that sort of thing. Then I queued for its tiny, cramped corner shop in Soho, all folksy and net-curtained, and, again, I couldn’t fault the food on its tin trays, or the quality of the produce, but queueing time was about five times longer than eating time, a ratio I simply don’t get.
So news of Pitt Cue’s move to a bland development in Spitalfields didn’t thrill me to the blackened and seasoned marrow. Yeah, yeah, another barbecue joint, even a good one: whatevuh. But I couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, it’s the City, so the large space is rammed with bellowing blokes; and yes, the textbook exposed ducting, wooden floors and open kitchen decor is so clattery, you wind up braying along with the best of ’em. But one mouthful of their sausages, and all I hear are choirs of angels.
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The kitchen is built around a remarkable piece of kit, a colossal, bespoke grill (made in Michigan at a rumoured cost of 60-odd grand). Its wheels and gears for fine-tuning proximity of flesh to heat remind me of the one at Basque restaurant Etxebarri, the grill lovers’ Mecca. This no-holds-barred spoddery extends to what’s cooking: they raise their own pigs, curly haired, rare-breed mangalitzas blessed with a genetically high level of unsaturated fat. Our first introduction is as ham in two cuts, loin and belly. Both are savagely, sexily porky, the belly luxurious with sweet, throat-flooding fat. It’s served simply, just a few fresh and creamy walnuts for texture and a jab of bitterness.
More mangalitza comes in a “Denver cut”, or underblade, its intense marbling self-basting while the exterior blisters into a crust. There’s a puddle of sauce, fruity with leeks and beer, and leaves of soft, just-charred pickled onion. Beef features, too: Dexter, or Hereford on today’s specials board; we have onglet, ferrous, loose-fibred and deeply flavoured, with fine béarnaise and a slab of their own bread soaked in dripping and blasted on the grill. What a thing this is.
Pitt Cue is, of course, overwhelmingly carnivore. One pal has just recently started eating meat again and the occasional item defeats her, notably crumbly black pudding topped with a sludge of pear ketchup and glazed with fruity, sour-sweet gastrique. I’ve never liked that word “gastrique” – sounds like stomach acid – but to me the dish is murky perfection. There’s even fish: we have a crackly skinned mackerel brushed with oil and lemon; this with a fennel, apple, and toasted almond salad is an absolute love match. There’s offal as well, and, for those who like fossicking about in piscine crevices, collars of turbot or brill.
But it’s those patty-shaped sausages I dream about: one of beef spiked with more walnuts and kale in a slick of pungent cheese sauce. And one, a trotter sausage – salty, fatty pigginess dialled up to 11, topped with pickled fennel and reduced meat juice underneath – is my idea of nectar on a plate. Yes, plates! Not slates or trays, shovels or bin-lids.
The only thing I don’t love is a dish everyone else is raving about, a supremely photogenic bowl of rippled, butter-packed baked potato puree pooled with gravy that’s as glossy and sticky as demi-glace. Whipped through it are mushrooms and, on top, teardrops of jiggly bone marrow. It’s too many riffs on the same notes – rich, fatty, brown – and deafens the palate by mouthful three.
Tasty, Glasgow G5: ‘The beef is so overcooked, you mourn the cow that died in its name’ – restaurant review
The Pitt Cue guys could have leveraged their success into a chain, pocking every high street from Truro to Tobermory with pulled pork, so kudos to them for not taking that lucrative route. It must gall them that, at the time of writing, their Google listing reads, “US-style ribs & pulled pork in a vast, trendy space”. Reductive and inaccurate: there’s not a fibre of the hackneyed horror in sight. Pitt Cue is sophisticated, thoughtful, surprising; it offers chic cocktails (no gin or vodka: I suspect they think those are for softies) and interesting wines. They brew their own beer. This isn’t a barbecue joint, it’s a restaurant that barbecues: and a thunderingly good one. They even take bookings. Hallebloodylujah!
• Pitt Cue 1 The Avenue, Devonshire Square, London EC2, 020-7324 7770. Open Mon-Fri, noon-3pm, 6-10.30pm. About £30 a head, plus drinks and service