Blink and you’ll miss Neil Rankin’s new barbecue restaurant in London’s Soho. From ground level it looks like just another wine bar, but head underground and it’s a dark den of mezcal, smoke, meat and, er, Pickled Onion Monster Munch.
It’s cavernous, with booths and tables filling every corner, but if you want a piece of the real action, grab a counter seat around the open kitchen where tacos are hand-pressed, flatbreads are blistered, and whole animals are butchered and roasted over glowing coals. It’s not for the squeamish but this waste-little, love-food attitude did it for us. (As did the surprisingly ergonomic bar stools and Irn Bru spritzes and mezcal negronis.)
The menu defies convention – no starters or mains here, instead snacks, tacos, chopped, smoked and grilled meat, sides and vegetables, sauces and sprinkles. The idea is to graze with wild abandon until your greasy fingers can’t raise another morsel. Start with the tacos (the corn is ground on site) – little mouthfuls with mighty flavours.
Cubes of beef fat, bitter green chilli slices, sharp red onion and crispy fried onion flakes epitomise what this place is about: slow and gentle cooking but with loud and unapologetic results. Aged cheeseburger taco and its chewy, crispy grilled cheese was crudely beautiful, while another of crab, avocado, tomato, lime cheeks and Pickled Onion Monster Munch crumbs (yes, really) proved mostly male/beardy/tattooed kitchen crew here can do delicate, too.
Whole animal cookery isn’t just talk here. Everything is used. Fat is rendered for flatbreads, bones are boiled into broth. The oink is even saved for dessert – it’s the noise you’ll be making when the pan cookie comes out, squidgy enough to require a spoon to dive into. Fall-apart hunks of animal are served piled on the flatbreads, which you’re then encouraged to tear and roll up with the sauces and sprinkles – get them all, they’re all brilliant, especially the blackened pepper salsa, and shrimps with peanuts and lime zest. Burnt end Thai larb, too, was exceptional – fire, umami and sucker punching sourness.
Temper could have been another carbon copy American-style barbecue joint but it’s far from it. This is a restaurant that understands the true potential of meat and gives animals the respect they deserve. Just be prepared for greasy fingers and smoky hair.