Meat and the City: why Barbecoa is thriving

Q.One year in, can you shed light on the City’s love affair with beef?

A.It’s a funny one, beef. It seems to be the most robust thing through these difficult economic times. Certainly there’s something very manly about red meat – in an environment dominated by suits and business, having a big steak on your plate somehow appeals.

There are numerous steak restaurants in the City. How is Barbecoa different?

Where most other meat concept restaurants buy their meat from a supplier, we’ve built very strong relationships with abattoirs and farmers. Because we’re not tied to one farm, we have a much wider pool of meat to choose from.

Why is this good?

It gives us more control over our cuts. Some abattoirs go through thousands of sides, but for us they’ll pick out 10 or 20 that are Barbecoa spec. We receive the meat four days after slaughter – that’s the point of difference as we get it really fresh and early and can have a good look at what we’re cutting. If there’s something we don’t like, we can send it back.

What’s your most popular cut?

Rib-eye for two. We age it for 8-13 weeks, longer than anyone would dream. It’s on a big bone, we slice it off the rib and bring it out to share. Men like that big slab of beef – it’s 1.1 kilo. But get a really good mix – our rump steak is a beautifully prepared piece of meat. And people will always pay a little more for fillet.

Do the women always choose fillet or fish?

No, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Women go for a mix of everything – they’re learning that fat is flavour. Sometimes you get a table of two guys and two girls; the guys have fish, the girls will share the rib eye.

Have you been busy on the weekends?

Yes, we’ve been really surprised. You’ve got families going shopping and coming up to the cathedral. Saturday nights are as big as any other night of the week. At first we were asking ourselves: how do we make weekends work? But we don’t have to do anything – no discounts or anything. Weekend lunches are more of a challenge.

Have you found a symbiosis with the shops?

Yes: it’ll be coats in workbags in the cloakroom during the week, but on the weekend, there’ll be a good stack of shopping as people hit the shops to work and work up an appetite.

How has the London restaurant scene changed over the last few years?

The formality and etiquette of going out for a meal has gone away. People want to be welcomed by knowledgeable and efficient staff. If we’re not brilliant, we really want to know. We have stripped back the etiquette and formality and given you a really honest experience.

Why also have a butchery?

Well, it’s really developed a strong following, but first we had to learn that catering butchery and retail butchery are very different things. The butchery cuts all of the meat for the business. Now that we’ve really got that working well, people are coming in and getting extraordinary things – taking whole sides, four quarters, then sending amazing imagery of the work they’re doing at home.

Aren’t first-timers a bit scared of butcheries?

Butcheries are intimidating places – but we don’t want this one to be. People can come in and just ask: what’s a slow cook, what’s a quick cook, what’s a slow braise. Plus, people are getting more adventurous: we’ve got people coming in for hare, game, wild boar, venison. One guy comes in and buys pig heads.

Do you only do beef?

No, we’ve built brilliant relationships with artisan suppliers who do fabulous chicken; our pork is magnificent and we’re getting some beautiful lamb from Kent.

What do you suggest for a weekday dinner?

The classic cuts are always popular: rump, sirloin, rib. If you want quick: we’ve got bavette, anglais and a south American cut that you can flash in the pan. These are also great value if your budget is limited. But if you want to treat yourself, have a serious rib eye. You can’t beat it.

Any top tips?

My advice is that if you’re going to buy steak, don’t buy individual, thinly sliced ones, figure out how many people you’re feeding and get a slab. That way you can control the temperature when you’re cooking, and make sure it’s caramelly on the outside, medium rare on the inside. Or just speak to the guys. Be brave: go and ask; just say: “hey fellas, what’s good.” They’ll give you 10 options. Finally, remember to try different things.