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

Learn a skill, have some fun: one-day courses in Covent Garden

One of this year’s buzzwords in travel circles is “experiential”. The definition is a little hazy, but it refers to travel that enriches you in some way – think cooking lessons with local people instead of topping up your tan by the pool. With that in mind, we’ve been looking at some of the coolest, quirkiest courses in our neighbourhood. Whether you’re into flowers or street art, these experiences that’ll take your visit to another level, leaving you with unique skills and memories to take away. If you take one, tweet us at @strandpalace and let us know how you got on.

Screen printing at Print Club London

In action since 2007, this workspace at Somerset House provides education and equipment to amateur and professional printers and designers alike, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You need to be a member to use the hardware, but beginners can sign up for a fascinating one-day course that covers history and basic techniques, and finishes with producing an A4 design to take home. If you’re serious about design or just curious to know how cool posters, tees and tote bags are made, this is the course for you.

Asian cooking with School of Wok

The pun may be terrible, but if you’re a fan of Asian food, School of Wok is the place to brush up on your skills and knowledge. It runs scheduled group classes throughout the week, ranging from dim sum to street food to knife skills. If you’d like to see a bit of the area too, try the food tour of nearby Chinatown – you’ll spend a few hours sampling delicacies and shopping for ingredients, before returning to the school to cook what you’ve bought.

Designing with flowers from New Covent Garden Market

Floral design school The Academy of Flowers offers a day-long tour and workshop aimed squarely at the tourist market. The days starts at the school’s Covent Garden headquarters at 8am start (stay with us here), then shifts to the wholesale flower market over in Vauxhall, which is at its bright, bustling best in the morning. Course leaders will help you select your own flowers, then it’s back to the academy to turn them into something modern and stylish.

Dance classes at Pineapple

Pineapple tends to be associated with serious, even professional dancers, but dig into the schedules and you’ll find several classes suitable for complete beginners – and the calibre of the school means you can be sure of a good instructor. Fleur Murray (who has popped up as a boot camp instructor on The X Factor) teaches a jazz class for absolute beginners, and there’s also a come-one-come-all burlesque session led by Covent Garden-based team Burlesque Baby.

Street art with Graffiti Kings

Based over the river in legal graffiti hotspot Leake Street (which is worth a visit in its own right) the Graffiti Kings can organise both group and one-on-one workshops, and they’re more than happy to welcome absolute beginners. The business also does professional commissions, and demand for its services is high – so if you fancy giving this one a go, get in touch with them to discuss your session well ahead of your visit.

BFI’s sci-fi season: 4 screenings and events we can’t wait for

We’ve talked about the bfi before in these pages – we love it, and it’s just over Waterloo Bridge. Now the film-lovers’ paradise on the South Bank is gearing up for one of its biggest-ever special seasons, and it’s going to be a serious treat for sci-fi fans.

The theme is timely, because the genre is set for a cracking summer. For mainstream fans, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy looks like a(nother) critical and commercial triumph – Wired’s reviewer even called it “this generation’s Star Wars”. If you’re into meatier fare, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is coming later this year, with trailers suggesting a brooding, philosophical piece in the vein of Contact, Sunshine or 2001: A Space Odyssey.

While Guardians won’t be part of the Days of Fear and Wonder season, you’re likely to see Interstellar at the BFI IMAX (a short walk south of the main building) when it releases on November 7. And the core programme, running from October right through to December, will feature plenty of classics, oddities and special events to whet your appetite and build up your genre knowledge, including some pre-season outdoor showings at the British Museum.

The BFI is still finalising the programme, but here are four events worth keeping an eye out for:

DJ Yoda Goes To The Sci-Fi Movies

When: November

There’s no exact date for this yet, but the BFI promises a whole new show from the brilliant, witty cut-and-paste artist DJ Yoda, premiering some time in November. Be quick, because tickets will fly out of the door – Yoda has a passionate following.

Last Angel of History

When: TBC

Afrofuturism is an underexplored corner of the genre, and if you’re eager to know more, British-Ghanaian filmmaker John Akomfrah’s rarely-shown 1996 documentary is a great place to start. Combining interviews, archive footage and surreal narrative sequences, it’s an enlightening, enriching watch with flashes of humour.

Primer + Q&A

When: TBC

The time-travel feature divides viewers: some consider it an underappreciated gem, some think it’s a triumph of complexity over depth. Catching it on the big screen will give you a chance to make up your own mind, and the BFI is laying on a Q&A with director Shane Carruth – which might give you a chance to figure out what’s going on in the film.

Flash Gordon

When: August 30

One cool film, one enlightening film, one confounding film – so we’re rounding out the list with a dose of pure, campy fun, served on a huge screen in the British Museum forecourt. Last year’s outdoors shows for the Gothic season were a huge hit, and this year’s promise to be just as good, with an even bigger screen. Gordon, full of pulpy, quotable lines, is perfect stuff for a relaxed, boozy watch in a massive group.

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