It’s five minutes to six on a bitterly cold February evening and I’m waiting outside a bar near Carnaby Street. There are about eight people in the queue, rubbing their hands, stomping their feet and puffing cold air.
The door opens and somebody sneaks out. “Are you open yet?” shouts a bald man wearing a puffa at the front of the queue. It slams shut.
“For fuck’s sake”. He kicks the closed door and leaves.
Now, I’m not going to pass judgment on these diners—what inadequacies or obsessions would make anyone wait in the cold until a restaurant ‘allows’ them to enter and eat. The reason I’m not passing judgment is because I was one of them.
There’s something cultish about food in London at the moment. And Pitt Cue Co. is yet another church for the converted.
One of its specialties is the extensive cocktail list. Delicious drinks, though served in those tiny little glasses you get at hotel breakfast buffets to stop you drinking too much orange juice—annoying when shuttling a thimbleful of Tropicana to the breakfast table. Even more annoying when it contains £6-worth of cocktail.
The marketing is reliant on Twitter, the non-reservation policy guarantees a snaking long queue round the block, and fact that the bar is rammed like rush hour on the central line has the peculiar effect of making passers by want a piece of the action.
I should explain how the restaurant works—because, believe me, it’s not as simple as going in, sitting down and eating.
First you queue outside. Then your name is taken (they seemed oddly amused when I said ‘Smith’—I don’t think many of us have come through the door). The next step is the bar area—a tiny holding room where you’re invited to add one cocktail to your tab, (or two, or three, or four—dependent on the length of your wait). Eventually a table downstairs will be cleared and you can descend to the 30-seat underground dining room.
The food is sinfully good. We started with a glass of pork scratchings—my lovely friend who works at Good Housekeeping (note her loyalty to the brand through manicured, red nails) aptly described them as ‘dirty’. Not in the sense of them being non-clean, but more in the ‘dirty film’ sense. So good, so naughty—an ‘X Rated’ appetizer if there ever was one.
Pitt Cue Co. know where their strengths lie. The menu is pared down, but mouth wateringly good. Unless you’re a vegetarian or on a diet in which case it’s a nightmare. Think pulled pork, brisket and oh-so-sticky ribs with some edgy sides such as ‘slaw’ and cowboy beans.
I polished off a pulled pork burger and beans. February really is a little late to be justifying an extra layer of fat to help stave off the cold…but the temperature has dropped recently, so we shared a sticky toffee pudding to make sure that I could avoid the onset of hypothermia making my way back to the tube. Interestingly it came with ice cream and sultanas—a triumph of a combination—absolutely delicious. Potentially the best I’ve ever eaten.
I parted with just £20 (1 cocktail, 1 main, 1 side and a shared pudding), and left feeling more than contentedly full. The food was great. But I think that could have contributed to my sadness. When Pitt Cue Co. was still a burger van, people made a pilgrimage to it, and reaped their rewards. Now it’s cosied up in Soho with every Tom, Dick and Harry scrabbling through the door it has somewhat lost its charm. The damned food bloggers are to blame!
I’m all for pop-ups, and food-entrepreneurialism, and I don’t mind the odd queue, but somehow I felt that Pitt Cue Co. was straddling the line between serious restaurant and social-media-induced gimmick.
Would I go again? I’m not entirely sure that the delicious food counterbalanced all the hassle…but then that sticky toffee pudding is worth the wait…
Pitt Cue Co.
1, Newburgh, Soho, London W1F 7RB
Open: Monday-Saturday 12pm-3pm & 6pm-11pm
No reservations: “We are not trying to be cool but sadly there are only 30 seats and we just can’t think of a better and fairer system than first come, first served.”
Nb. I disagree. They are just trying to be cool. No reservation policies were designed to prejudice organized people who are capable of planning and booking, and they favour the lucky people who aren’t trapped in a 9-5 grind and can visit at odd hours.