American Barbecue, Dead Hippie Burger Worth the Wait in London

The Pitt Cue Crew
"The Pitt Cue Crew." Co-owner Jamie Berger with (from left) Violet Alvarez, Thea Cumming and Fran Astbury. They are standing behind the London restaurant's tiny bar. The restaurant is rated by Zagat. Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

There’s nothing new about standing in line for restaurants in London. Call Dabbous and you may be told there’s a three-month wait. It’s similar at Le Gavroche.

We normally wait virtually, with a distant date in the diary and the suspicion that while all men are created equal, it’s self-evident others are jumping the queue. Diners are not used to standing in line for a table.

The message on the website at Meatliquor, a wildly popular speakeasy-style venue near Oxford Circus, is refreshing: “Qing policy is straightforward and we believe fair: If there is a Q when you arrive, you join the end of it. NO exceptions.”

It’s much the same at Pitt Cue Co, a tiny restaurant in Soho where a friend waited for more than two hours on a recent Tuesday evening and still didn’t get fed.

Pitt Cue, which started life as a food truck, is a barbecue joint -- a real one, not a place where they paint any old piece of meat in a sweet and cloying sauce. One chef previously worked for Adam Perry Lang, owner or Daisy May’s in New York, while another was with Brett Graham of the Ledbury in London.

The menu is small, as is the venue, which seats 18 in the basement and eight on the ground floor. There are daily specials as well as the five mains, which include pulled pork, house sausage and beef ribs. Each comes in an enamel tray with a chunk of bread and a side. Nothing costs more than 10 pounds, and you can add a second meat for another 5 pounds.

Devon Beef

I’ve never tasted barbecue as good. One reason is the quality of the meat. The beef was 28-day North Devon from Cornwall in Your Kitchen, which supplies a handful of leading London restaurants. The other is the care, dedication and experience of the chefs.

Perry Lang -- who co-owns Barbecoa with Jamie Oliver -- came along with me on one visit and enthused. He’s a champion on the barbecue circuit in the U.S. and could even place Pitt Cue’s plates in that context, saying the brisket had the sort of sweetness you tend to find in the Midwest rather than Texas.

The smoky depth of flavor was striking, while the underlying sweetness was far removed from the sugary assault you can encounter elsewhere. The meat is cooked to the point of softness, without sacrificing texture.

We ate at 2:30 p.m. when there was no waiting time. The basement is stark, the tables squashed together. The service on both my visits was friendly and efficient. There are craft ales and bourbon-based cocktails, not to mention desserts such as sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel bourbon sauce, bourbon sultanas with Armagnac and prune ice cream.

Food Truck

Meatliquor started out as a food truck in a car park, then turned into a pop-up venue called Meateasy before landing on a corner near Oxford Street. The site once housed an Italian restaurant called Vecchia Milano, which opened in 1973 and in 2006 became Brera. Beneath the urban, graffiti-styled look today, you can still make out a small dance floor.

Burgers are the specialty at Meatliquor, which was founded by Yianni Papoutsis, a pioneer of street food. The cocktails cost 7 pounds a pop.

There’s a choice of about 10 dishes, including the Dead Hippie, with two patties featuring dead hippie sauce. (While it contains mustard and chopped-up gherkins, according to the waitress, the recipe is secret.) There are also pickles, lettuce, cheese, pickles and minced white onions (7.50 pounds).

Perry Lang says the style is of Irvine, California-based In-N-Out Burger. The meat is good, the texture appropriately loose, the surface nicely charred and the interior pink, telling you that the seasoning hasn’t been chucked into the mix. The bun has the right soft texture and the jumbo onion rings are crisp.

The dim lighting and loud music -- from rock ‘n’ roll to bluegrass -- are designed to attract young people and repel the unyouthful. The service was surprisingly sweet for a venue that looks more Teen Spirit than team spirit, but I couldn’t read the menu in the dark and conversation was difficult.

Time for my pipe and slippers.

The Bloomberg Questions

Cost? 10-15 pounds each, plus drinks.

Sound level? Loud (75-80 decibels) at Pitt Cue and louder (80 decibels and rising) at Meatliquor.

Inside tip? In both cases, avoid going at peak times.

Special feature? Great food at bargain prices.

Will I be back? Yes, if there’s no queue.

Date place? Good places to take your niece (or nephew).

Rating? Pitt Cue *** Meatliquor **

Pitt Cue Co is at 1 Newburgh Street, London, W1F 7RB. Information: (No phone.)

Meatliquor is at 74 Welbeck Street, W1G 0BA. Information: or +44-020-7224-4239.

What the Stars Mean:
****         Incomparable food, service, ambience
***          First-class of its kind.
**           Good, reliable.
*            Fair.
(No stars)   Poor.

Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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