The night was wet and Pitt Cue was full. Full as in crowded, heaving, bulging at the seams. People were being turned away from the door. I only just squeaked in because I am very small and I was on my own. I also raised the average age there by about 20 years. I don’t suppose there was anyone there over the age of 35, 40 max. Which is why, perhaps, a charming young woman took pity upon the elderly, deftly led me through the crowded, heaving, bulging etc masses, and found me a seat at a shared table downstairs.
It’s easy to see why Pitt Cue should be so popular. Tom Adams and his team who run it have pared an operation down to the essentials. It evolved out of a van serving much the same stuff under Hungerford Bridge. The evolution has the sense of being only slightly more permanent. It’s very small, with a bar and counters up stairs, five tables seating four each down. There’s no booking. It only takes a couple of good reviews, and it’s buzzing. The buzz is transmitted by word of mouth, and suddenly it’s hot and you have to queue to get in.
The food set up is disarmingly simple, too. It’s all about the meat: pulled pork, pork and beef ribs, ox cheek, house sausage, with a special of the day of loin taken from specialized animals, Gloucester Old Spot and Saddleback (loin chop) in the case of the pigs, and Galloway in the case of the meet, all treated with Southern-style, trailer-trash, BBQ delicacy and tact. There’s not much joy for vegetarians at Pitt Cue, especially as meat juices tend to find their way into the veg accessories such as baked beans, burnt end mash, chipotle coleslaw and grilled hispi cabbage.
Such simplicity cuts down the dithering over choice to a minimum, in my case to ribs (£12) with chipotle slaw (£3.50) and a bottle of Kernel Pale Ale (£4.50). 5 blackened ribs in a rectangular enamel dish like a dog bowl, with house pickles and the coleslaw in a ramekin. It was awesomely, disarmingly basic. Such an absence of frills inclines you to think that all the care and attention has gone on the food. And so it has, from the sourcing of the raw materials to the smoking for 8 hours or so, to the marinading to the charring so that there’s an agreeable sweetish burnt crust over juicy, chunky, chewy meat, with the pickles and coleslaw by way of counterbalance. It’s not sophisticated and it looks simple. It’s not sophisticated, but it’s not simple either, to do it to this standard on this scale. It requires love, understanding, technique and experience.
It was messy – you’ve got to tackle this kind of food with your hands – and fun and it was good. I had one or two quibbles. I’m not sure if it was my imagination, but there seemed to be an omni-presence of chilli, not heavy or brutal, but there, and that tended to flatten out the distinctive characteristics of the meats. And the slaw felt as if it had been sitting around a while.
I’m a wimp. I’m not ready for such unreconstructed carnivorous overkill every day of the week, but on a dank, wet night, surfing the good will of genial scrimmage of cheery people having a good time, it was just the ticket.
Pitt Cue, I Newburgh Street, London W1.