Three brilliant BBQ joints in Soho and Covent Garden

Rewind 10 years and London’s BBQ joints were few and far between – in 2004 only one of our three choices, Bodean’s, existed, and it had only been in business for two years. Restaurants that served US food tended to be unfocused and formulaic, churning out easy versions of popular dishes for undiscerning punters. The art of real BBQ – the big smokers, the carefully guarded dry rub recipes, the precise temperature control, the long cooking times – was barely recognised, let alone practised.

What changed? If you ask us, the growth of pop-ups and food trucks helped; it allowed people with passion and knowledge to get a start in the industry and begin opening up new dining trends. That’s roughly Pitt Cue’s story, and as businesses like it grew in influence, they set the scene for bigger investments like Big Easy. Either way, good BBQ is now all over town, and we’re lucky to have three of the very best within walking distance.

Bodeans

Sat on a corner in the heart of Soho, this BBQ and rib joint comfortably pre-dates the trend for hipster junkfood – you’ll struggle to find a trace of irony anywhere. There’s table service downstairs and a livelier fast-food-style diner upstairs, with US sports channels on the TV. Is it the best BBQ food in London? Probably not, but it has earned its keep in a demanding part of town, and continues to thrive despite the flood of BBQ newbies in the neighbourhood. Plus it’s perfectly located for a post-pub feed in Soho, and, unlike at Pitt Cue Co, it doesn’t take a minor miracle to get a table.

Address: 10 Poland Street, W1F 8PZ
Walking time: 20 minutes
Landmarks on the way:

  • Zimbabwe House, designed by Charles Holden, who did extensive work for London Underground (including its headquarters in St James’s Park
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • Leicester Square

Big Easy

Housed in an old power station, this reinvigorated version of a once rather uninspiring brand earned an approving review from the Guardian critic Jay Rayner when it opened – and if the fiercely carnivorous Rayner tells you a meat-focused restaurant is good, you listen. Their revamp consisted of hiring both staff and equipment from the US: over came Kenny Callaghan and Pete Daversa, from New York’s Blue Smoke and Hill Country Barbecue Market respectively; close behind them came a set of real-deal smokers. Relaxed and quiet it ain’t, but that isn’t what BBQ is about – on flavour and authenticity, Big Easy delivers the goods. Even better, it’s literally just around the corner from our front door.

Address: 12 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7NA
Walking time: 3 minutes
Landmarks on the way:

  • Vaudeville Theatre
  • Maiden Lane is a former bridleway marking south side of Covent Garden

Pitt Cue Co

Pitt Cue began life as a food truck on the South Bank, making the leap to a ‘proper’ restaurant around two years ago. We’ve put proper in quote marks because this is some of the most casual sit-down dining in town. With only 30 seats it’s strictly first-come-first-served, and things get decidedly crowded in the ground-floor bar, where there’s some space to prop yourself up by the wall. Ribs are the clincher here, and they come up beautifully, rich and slow-smoked with that elusive ‘bark’ on the outside. If ribs aren’t your bag there’s pulled pork and brisket too, but the menu offers little else except a range of sides (beans, mash, sprout tops). They stick to what they’re good at, and no wonder – they’re very good at it indeed.

Address: 1 Newburgh St, London W1F 7RB
Walking time: 20 minutes
Landmarks on the way:

  • Zimbabwe House, designed by Charles Holden, who did extensive work for London Underground (including its headquarters in St James’s Park
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • Leicester Square

7 surprising things that have happened to (and on) Leicester Square

When the Odeon Leicester Square is demolished later this year, it will mark the end of an era – with the Charlie Chaplin statue and movie star handprints removed in the square’s 2010-2012 renovation, few traces of its cinema heritage will remain.

That may disappoint film fans, but we prefer to look on the bright side: it’s all true to the square’s unpredictable history. Over the centuries it has been an open field, a fashionable address for the aristocracy, a haunt of writers and artists and a venue for raucous popular entertainment.

As the square prepares to change its identity once more – a trickle of new luxury hotels like the W and One Leicester Street hint at its future – we thought we’d compile a list of some notable, spectacular and downright strange things it has seen since it first emerged in the mid-1700s…

1. A stately home

The house that started it all is Leicester House, built by Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester, in 1635. King Charles I insisted that he leave part of his newly-acquired land open to parishioners, sowing the seed of the public square we have today. In the centuries to come the house would host several of the square’s most famous residents and attractions. It’s visible in this picture of 1750 – look for the large building set slightly back from the north side of the square.

Leicester Square

2: A notorious duel

In the late 17th Century the area, then known as Leicester Fields, became a prime spot for settling gentlemen’s disagreements. One of the most famous took place in 1699, after the drinking buddies of Captains French and Coote fell into an argument outside a Charing Cross pub. It ended in tragedy, with Coote dead – run through twice with a sword – and French badly wounded. The subsequent high-profile trial saw a Lord charged with murder and an Earl convicted of manslaughter.

3: Barker’s Panorama

English painter Robert Barker coined the term ‘panorama’ to describe his huge cityscape paintings. And in the late 1790s he created the first purpose-built gallery for them – a large rotunda in Leicester Square, where punters viewed his work from a raised central platform. It was a hit, and made Barker filthy rich. Best of all: it may be invisible from the street, but as you can see in this satellite view, the rotunda still stands.

4: Wyld’s Great Globe

Imagine a hollow globe some 60 feet in diameter, with scale models of mountains and rivers on its inside surface. And imagine going inside it, and exploring it on a multi-level scaffold. We’re not making this up – that’s what mapmaker and MP James Wyld designed for the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Globe’s size and commercial focus kept it out of the exhibition, and it ended up occupying the central gardens of Leicester Square until it was dismantled and sold for scrap in 1862.

Baker's Globe

5: A king’s childhood

In the mid-17th Century Leicester House went up in the world – it became the family home of the young King George III. Although George moved out after his coronation in 1760, his mother stayed on for another six years. After that, the house’s glory days were largely – though not quite – over, and it was demolished in 1806.

6: The ‘Holophusicon’

In 1775, just eight years after the royals’ final departure, Leicester House opened to the public as a natural history museum. Its founder was Sir Ashton Lever, the model of an eccentric aristocratic collector, and so impressive were his ‘cabinets’ that Captain James Cook donated a host of object from his celebrated voyages to the Pacific. Lever spent faster than he earned, and his oddly-named attraction was forced to move from Leicester Square in 1786. The collection was finally sold off at auction in 1806.

Holophusicon

7: The original ‘picnic’

No, we aren’t claiming Leicester Square saw the very first outdoor meal. But it did play host to the society that coined the phrase. The “Pic Nic Society” was a club founded by actress Lady Albina, and along with sharing the cost of theatrical entertainment its members each provided a home-made dish for a collective supper. Commercial theatres were outraged by the model, and the controversy catapulted Albina and friends into the popular press – they were even caricatured by the satirist James Gillray:

James Gillray ‘Dilettanti Theatricals’ from goldmarkart.com on Vimeo.

Connect with us