If there’s one thing that gives me hope about the future of British food – it’s the way we’ve embraced proper barbecue. Pulled pork is everywhere, there’s a slew of marvelous restaurants smoking their own meat and Neil Rankin received rave reviews on Great British Menu. Compared to the burnt sausages and cardboard burgers of yesteryear we’ve come a very long way. Nowhere is this renaissance more evident than Meatopia.
Now in it’s second year – Meatopia is a carnivore’s dream. Some of the best barbecue chefs in the world, cooking incredible food, in gorgeous surroundings, well lubricated by craft beer and and all to the soundtrack of great music. It’s an excellent way to spend a Saturday – here are my highlights.
Q Grill – Smoked Pigs Cheek with Foie Gras Butter in a Pretzel Bun
The slow, gentle heat of a smoker is the perfect place for tough, flavourful cuts like pigs cheeks. Add a decadent, buttery sauce and you’re onto a real winner. The bun was really clever, less greasy than a brioche version but with the same staying power.
Home Team BBQ – Pulled pork on white bread
Straight from South Carolina, these guys know a thing or two about pig. Achingly tender pork, simply served with excellent coleslaw. The sauce – which is more of a seasoning, is very delicate and gives the pig flavour nowhere to hide. You need great raw ingredients to do this properly.
Duck and Waffle – Hara Bhara Lamb Cutlets
A beautifully pink lamb chop with lovely Moroccan spicing, proving that barbecue really is international. I liked the fact that Dan was taking a little more effort on presentation with sum and the sauces were superb.
Sailor Jerry – Rib ‘o’ beef with Rum BBQ Sauce
I adore beef ribs – the texture and flavour is sublime. A generous portion, doused in sticky, sweet, alcoholic sauce. My only criticism would be that they left the membrane on the back of the bone intact – this stops the smoke penetrating so well and can be a bit chewy.
The Smokehouse – Goat Tacos
Neil Rankin is one my culinary heroes – he’s done more to revolutionise british barbecue than most. Whole goats, gently cooked overnight in an enormous temporary pit. Sticky, delicious and really unique. I’ll definitely be searching out some goat meat for my next barbecue.
Lockhart – Spatch-cocked chickens with mustard BBQ Sauce
Moist chicken, sharp, tangy sauce and one of my favourite sides – burnt leeks. Vegetables shouldn’t be entirely forgotten!
Grillstock – Beef rump hearts
I’ve been to their Bristol restaurant a couple of times and it’s always packed. Jon and Ben cook traditional barbecue and they do it really well – the beef was just pink and intensely flavoured.
Barbecoa – Lamb Breast Ribs
If you’re looking for stunning views then Barbecoa’s sweeping vistas of St Pauls are hard to beat. The fact they have their own butchers shop and serve up superb barbecue is just the icing on the cake. Lamb ribs aren’t a common menu item, but they really should be. They work really well with the exotic eastern spices and a very classy harissa.
The Granary – Smoked Brisket
This was the only slightly duff note for me – while the brisket had great flavour and a beautiful ‘bark’ it was really tough – the collagen hadn’t had a chance to dissolve and soften the meat.
Aside from the headline restaurants there’s a slew of other meaty delights – maple syrup and bacon gelato was delicious and the sight of a whole ox rotating on a spit is strangely hypnotic. For me the real highlight was watching Italian master butcher Dario Cecchini. He took apart the rear quarter of a forty day aged White Park cow. It was amazing to watch his skill and hear his passion for top quality beef. The fact that cuts were cooked and served throughout his talk helped illustrate his point. My favourite was a delicious Italian take on beef tartare – slick with olive oil and garlic. Delicious!