The Year of the Pig?

New Year, new me.  New Year, same clichés.  I’ve joined a gym.  There’s another one.  Yesterday, I had my first date with the ‘sit down and pull the handle things’ machine, the ‘lie on me and lift your legs up device’ and a rather splendid swimming pool with a bouncy floor.  My membership includes discounted booze and food so I’m all set for a winter of exercise, my way.

What I am trying to say, inarticulately, is that the week commencing 6th January 2014 was the swan song to a 2013 of quantum foodage, but at least if I manage a few sessions and work on the gins guns, I can continue to get out and about London, and beyond, to eat vicariously.  In the words of Dragonette, “Cause this city can’t live without me”

It also seems that in the last couple of years, London cannot live without Burger & Lobster, a fad which, through my preoccupation with other places, has passed me by, though what is not to like about those two words?  So one night last week, as my swan song continued to permeate a grey and thoroughly depressing version of the city I love, we decided to get on the fad and go.

They were all shut.

Ah, OK, plan B.  Sarah, more known to me for her Northernness than ability to sniff out a good place to eat, astounded me with the suggestion to head to Bodean’s, just as we were about to call it quits in a sinister part of Soho, as the rain fell again.

Bodean’s has a lot in common with Burger & Lobster.  They’re both what I would call hipster mini-chains (though Bodean’s uses the term ‘diner deli’), a chain restaurant for people who would either a) wear a checked shirt or b) not mind queuing a bit for relatively unassuming but decent food.  Both operate five restaurants in London; Bodean’s fifth is coming soon, to Balham.  Both their websites piss me off – Burger & Lobster’s is one of those unnavigable art house shithouses that exists simply to tell people that there might be restaurants out and about that possibly serve burger and/or lobster, but why don’t you turn up, queue and find out for yourself?  Bodean’s website looks like it was constructed by a five year old, on one of those old GeoCities platforms I remember from when I was marvelling at the internet on the school computers.  In 1997.

Anyway, who am I to judge websites?  And if I vetoed restaurants based on their web design, I wouldn’t need to join a gym as I’d never go out.  I spared Sarah all this bollocks and we headed in to the Bodean’s on Poland Street in Soho.  It’s laid out ‘deli up, dinner down’, and we headed through the open-planned upper level and down to the restaurant.  It was full – putting the ‘queue’ in BBQ – but having been quoted a wait time of twenty minutes and registered on a cool app/text/net thing that alerts you when your table is free, and what number you are in line, we headed off to a Starbucks next door to wait.  Soon the app thing binged ‘1’ (1st in line) and back we went!  Ah, technology for the sake of technology.

The restaurant is what you might expect a barbecue restaurant to look like.  And smell like.  They had me at the first whiff of pig.  It’s all tight tables, mustard in yellow squeezy things, ketchup red ones and two barbecue sauces in browns ones, one hot, one apple.  You’re sat on brown, looking at brown, with a few Olde Worlde trinkets and plates on the walls, like a diet TGI Fridays (not my favourite place at the moment after an awkward evening at the Wembley one a while back).

Unlike the menu at Burger & Lobster, the food offering here is massive.  We were only dropping in really, and stayed way from an equally large and well-appointed cocktail menu, though I made the (in hindsight) catastrophic mistake of ordering a double-chocolate milkshake.  The menu is brilliant because you have to search damn hard to find anything veggie or healthy.  The best I found was a veggie quesadilla or a non-chicken Caesar Salad.  Everything else is fresh from the ‘oak burning smoke pit’ – for all we know that’s a burning bin with a grid over it, out back – but it’s a sheet of paper killing me softly with burgers, dogs, brisket, pulled pork and ribs, dangerous repetition of the words ‘BBQ’, ‘jerk’, ‘smoked’, ‘grilled’ and the phrase “served with fries”.

Predictably, the wealth of choice and rumbly tummies got the better of us and we went for a sharing ‘pig platter’.  When it arrived, with fires and coleslaw, we knew we were beaten before we even started.  The plate was heaped with with the most tender brisket, sliceable beef and pork ribs, grilled chicken that actually wanted to vacate the bone, sausages, all lying on a cushion of pulled pork.  It was exactly what it should be, dirty, voluminous and damn tasty, because face it, NO ONE apart from Nick Clegg could stuff up barbecue.  But there was so much.

We grazed, caught up and dug deeper into the pile of meat, both of us admitting defeat as we started to see the first glimpses of china peeking out from the gradually cooling flecks of pulled pork and the most perfectly sharp coleslaw.  We were offered a doggy bag by the waitress, who was seemingly familiar with people whose eyes were bigger than their stomachs wasting good grilled grub in here… but we’re polite and said no.  And would you believe it, we had to skip dessert.

Much like Wayne Rooney’s fling with Jennifer Thompson, eating at Bodean’s is a quick and cheap affair.  The meal is swooshed along by friendly but no-nonsense staff (we were scolded by the hostess when we arrived, as we were fifteen minutes late for our booking “You know, I was about to give your table away…”).  And suddenly, it was over, and we were back out on the street.

We’d barely spent twenty-five quid each, and no-one can argue with that.  Poland Street on a rainy Monday night was empty, with a capital E, and it felt strangely similar to the basement of Bodean’s.  Sure, the place did great food and tidy little milkshakes, but there seemed no fuss, no excitement, no soul – and let’s face it, barbecue is as close as you can get to Soul Food, without it being Soul Food.

Nevertheless, it was good – and I didn’t think of Burger & Lobster once.  I’d go back – but with a party (no offense Sarah!) – Bodean’s is definitely a place to share en masse, where you and your buddies can sit and share, laugh and libate and join together in good honest food, and fight each other over the last morsel of rib or whatever.  Oh, scratch the last one, because here, the food will always conquer.  And my gym will save the day.

Mains from a tenner to £twenty-ish for steaks, £twenty to £thirty for two-person sharing platters, £ten for cocktails and £four for milkshakes. | @BodeansBBQ | Five locations, Soho, Tower Hill, Fulham, Clapham and Balham (coming soon!)

Square Meal Bodean's on Urbanspoon

© Mike Dalley, January 2014

© Mike Dalley, January 2014

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