Pigs And Mortar
The genesis of Pitt Cue Co. is a fireside story of foodie folklore. From a friend’s kitchen in Vauxhall, ferrying tranches of meat to the Southbank in a clapped-out car, to a T-bona fide restaurant in one of London’s coolest postcodes. Adam Layton of Noshable tells the tale, and Paul Winch-Furness takes the pictures.
Pitt Cue Co. chef and co-owner Tom Adams is a very modest man. But he doesn’t have much cause to be. He’s just opened his first restaurant, hot off the back of a victorious spell on the Southbank, where his own take on American-style barbecue classics did much to improve tourist-Londoner relations — some of them even shared tables.
It seems fantastical that, until May last year, Tom had no experience running his own outfit. He had worked in kitchens since he was 16 and before taking Pitt Cue Co. on the road he had been a chef de partie at the esteemed Blueprint Cafe on Butlers Wharf, ”I was fairly low down in the pecking order”, he laughs. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be opening a restaurant.”
2011 was the year that put British street food on the map, and nothing summed it up better than the pop-up stalls that lined the riverside between the Waterloo and Hungerford bridges. They all but overshadowed the neighbouring Festival of Britain. But Tom seemed very modest about the role that he played in it all.
“We just winged it really” he says. “I never thought of us as part of a street food ‘revolution’. I didn’t think anything would come of it. I expected to go back to work at the Blueprint Café with Jeremy [Lee, now head chef at Quo Vadis] at the end of the summer. It surprised us completely.”
It wasn’t easy. The smoker that Tom and his business partners ordered from the US arrived just the day before they were due to take up their coveted spot on the Southbank. They had to do all the prep in a friend’s domestic kitchen in Vauxhall and the car they used to haul the stuff less than three miles up the road frequently broke down. “But we got away with it” he says.
In fact they more than got away with it. They had a prime spot to ensnare the passing pedestrians — and an ideal place to get the London food bloggers interested. Even the critic Jay Rayner risked it for a brisket, braving the Big Ben snappers and meandering backpackers for bit of good honest barbecued grub.
Then things went pork-belly up. Still suffering periodically from a back operation a few years ago, Tom collapsed mid-service. He couldn’t get up, and had to rest for two-and-a-half weeks, meaning partner Jamie Berger had to work 18 hour shifts to keep Pitt Cue Co turning over. Tom has now fully recovered. But — for a while — the dreams turned into a nightmare.
Now Pitt Cue Co. has opened in Soho. And it’s doing a roaring trade. But the street is still at the heart of what they do. Unfortunately for the punters, so are the queues. “Queues really help to build hype” says Tom, “but hype also means stress. When they do get served, punters expect an other-worldly experience, which can make staff nervous, particularly when what you’re really serving is home cooking.”
That’s Tom’s modesty kicking in again. The new venture is a pig-out joint in the fine American tradition, which has been overlooked for too long by the London restaurant scene. Substantial meat dishes–you might recognise the Longhorn beef ribs from the opening credits of The Flintstones — need a robust setting. With decent crockery. Pitt Cue Co. Soho ticks all the boxes.
Pitt Cue Co. is open at 1 Newburgh St, Soho, (30 seconds from Carnaby Street) from 12pm, seven days a week. And fear not, claustrophobes – the original van is in currently in cold storage but will be back on the streets this summer.