Evolution. Some say the zenith of human intellectual thought and scientific method. The proposition that life evolved through natural selection of the fittest genes, that humans arose over millennia and not created from dust, has forever changed our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. Whereas the Big Bang theory ripped up Genesis chapter one, Evolution did it for chapter two, putting it squarely in confrontation with religious Creationists ever since. And here we stand today, in a world deluged in violent conflagration between the forces of progressive rational scientific enlightenment and those of a fanatical mediaeval barbarism.
Anyway, on perhaps a lesser scale, there’s also a spot of evolution going on in London’s food scene.
It starts with a protozoan pop-up, a simple organism secreting primal packages of protein and carbs (think ‘burger’, ‘wrap’, ‘ramen’, ‘doughnuts’…) from a niche habitat (think ‘hut’, ‘hole-in-the-wall’, ‘boot-of-Vauxhall-Astra’, ‘in-a-box-with-a-fox’…). The food is good. The demand is strong.
Natural selection plucks this much-loved organic outlet from the primordial soup and gives it roots and a trendy wooden interior; it becomes an eaterie. It has 3 dishes, 12½ seats, and a queue of bearded hipsters winding its way through half of Soho like the classic ‘Hungry Snake’ computer game. And then, at last, the fittest of these eateries survive and evolve into mammal, its litter of diners desperately suckling at its gastronomic wonders, having reserved online through automated booking systems and sitting at tables with full compliments of cutlery already laid out. It has become a restaurant.
London has myriad examples of such eaterie evolution, from Som Saa (thai pop-up → residency under railway arch → restaurant) to Bao (taiwanese street-food stall → restaurant). But none epitomises this evolution such as Pitt Cue. It started life hidden under the Hungerford Bridge, a culinary troll enticing the Billy-Goats-Gruff hoardes down into the darkly shadows with promise of barbequed brisket and pulled pork. Back then, it was a van. And it became hugely successful, enough to evolve into a corner premises off Carnaby Street. Its popularity became renown, with more people queuing outside than accommodatable on the rickety stools inside, whilst reams of foodie writing acclaimed its innovative barbeque cuisine.
And now, finally, it has upped sticks East and established itself in a vast industrial-chic unit, clad in exposed brickwork and ventilation piping. Where it once roasted meat over a neanderthal fire sparked by two sticks rubbed together, its centrepiece is now an $89,000 piece of high-tech grilling gadgetry, powered by cutting-edge nuclear fusion and (as the rumours go, but apparently government-classified) the extraction of quantum energy from mysterious dark matter. Where once tacky pyramids of Coke cans adorned its van frontage, now it houses a micro-brewery to provide its discerning punters with home-brewed libation. It is now not just a restaurant, but one lording it at the top of the food chain.
Evolution also describes the culinary trajectory through London of which Pitt Cue is the current carnivorous torchbearer. Back in the day, barbeque was introduced by the likes of Bodeans, serving solid American favourites, from burgers to brisket. In parallel, the likes of St John brought nose-to-tail eating, with simple dishes from cheap cuts and offal, championing local produce and British culinary tradition. Cross-fertilisation has since spawned the sophisticated hybrid cuisine served by Pitt Cue. Grilled lamb hearts. Blood cake. Cured and smoked jowl. Salt-baked celeriac.
Pitt Cue’s evolutionary journey, from rough-and-ready burger van, to innovative if ramshackle barbeque joint, to cultured restaurant in the City is also a metaphor for our own life journey. We start raw, young, earnest, frivolous, idealistic; our feet are itchy and our hearts full of hope. Then we settle, perhaps it’s just a cheap rent somewhere, and our housemates are a revolving door of old school mates or college friends. And then comes commitment, a job, a home, perhaps a family; our roots become set, our lives mature, and we become a little world-wary. (Except for dye-in-the-wool hippies who still remember what it’s like to be free and liberal, and keep the beacon alight for us all.)
But wait! Enough of this psycho-babble! This blog is meant to be about a simple dish of food, a 20-cm disc of porcelain framing a few morsels of sustenance. Focus, man, focus!
So, which dish to review? Pitt Cue is unashamedly a gastronomic shrine to all things meaty: beef, lamb, veal or pork; baked, stewed, sliced or raw; hogget, faggot, rabbit or mutton; fast-cooked, slow-cooked, off-cut or sirloin; feather-blade, shoulder-blade, or USDA prime grade; ribs or chops, steak or stew, all tenderised in marinade. Welcome to Meat-opia!
Anyway, I’ll go for the mashed potato.
Mash? What the…? Am I vegetarian? A vegetarian going to Pitt Cue? That’s like Donald Trump having a quiet drink in a Mexican bar. Or, with even greater risk of serious violence, my two boys going to a Frozen fancy-dress party. No, I’m not vegetarian.
So why the mash? Simple. It’s just so good. It arrives beautifully prepared: whipped and swirled into a wispy spiral. It’s reminiscent of jungle python Kaa’s hypnotic eye, seducing you towards its misty depths. Or the ethereal Milky Way, revolving round a black-hole of bone-marrowy goodness. Atop is a mushroom-rich gravy, oozing its way along the concentric ridges like that old Castrol GTX oil advert. Then there’s the texture, so smooth, so unctious, and surely sieved to within a micro-inch of its molecular composition. It’s like gliding through pillowy clouds of marshmallowy fluff.
And then there’s the taste. Firstly, it’s so buttery that the Advertising Standards Agency should forcibly rename it ‘potatoey mashed butter’, rather than the other way round. Then there’s that intense potatoey flavour. Although Maris Piper is heralded as the ultimate potato for mash, I wonder if they’ve used King Edwards here, for the flavour is more reminiscent of that earthy nostalgically traditional variety more commonly used for floury roasties. And finally there’s that savoury gravy, cutting through the creamy goodness with its hit of mind-blowing umami.
This is not just mash, this is mash at the very top of the evolutionary tree. It is the best mash this planet could possibly have produced.
Pitt Cue. The very epitome of the London food scene right now. Is Mark 3 a sophisticated upgrade? Or has Pitt Cue sold its soul? Meat-opia? Or Meat-opolypse Now? And is the humble mash its best dish anyway?… For another review featuring a trail-blazing restaurant, you may like this review of ‘Rochelle Canteen‘.