Commuting into the City is a slightly unnerving experience for me. Not only have I been transplanted into a concrete jungle from marshy, spire-strewn Cambridge, it's actually a journey that is incredibly familiar to me. I took the tube into school in the Barbican every day for seven years and six years later here I am again, rejoining the Square Mile rat race for law school. It's no wonder that certain City landmarks fill me with nostalgia. St. Paul's was once a favourite lunch spot; I know I'm at a very different stage in my life when it forms the backdrop to a celebratory dinner with Roxy at Barbecoa.
The Basque word barbecoa is the origin of the word barbecue, so it will come as no surprise that this restaurant places a heavy focus on meat, particularly steaks. (Vegetarians, I promise I will find a veggie restaurant to blog about soon.) But it's a steakhouse with a hell of a view. Christopher Wren's instantly recognisable dome is visible at all times through the floor to ceiling glass windows, and with a view like this and a cocktail in your hand it's hard not to feel like you own the city, SATC-style. Especially when your best friend has just been promoted (well done, Roxy!)
If anything deserves a toast, it's a promotion. And to our delight, we discovered that Barbecoa serves £5 cocktails from 5-8PM - if that's not a deal in the City, I don't know what is. What followed was genuinely one of the happiest hours I've had so far this year. I chose a chartreuse daiquiri - a spellbinding concoction of white rum, chartreuse, lime and cane sugar which made my lips tingle. For Roxy, the Barby 75, which might as well have been made for her - London dry gin, prosecco, rhubarb bitters, lemon and sugar.
To begin, we shared a plate of crab hush puppies with a sweet squash salsa and chipotle mayo. I thought the fruity chunks of squash went exceedingly well with the crab and gave the fried hush puppies a much-needed light, fresh touch.
But it's the main event everyone's really interested in. Particularly when it looks like this. Roxy is a steak connoisseur (she's also pretty good with the wines - I let her take over the reins on this one) and immediately went for the fillet. It's one of the pricier cuts on the menu, but oh man, was it good. Tantalisingly pink from the outside, this steak rolls deep with the most appetising of companions - a hefty dollop of smoked béarnaise and luxuriant bone marrow dressed in a herb salad. I took one bite and immediately fell prey to the most insidious food envy.
Steak ordered, I decided to pick a main with a palpable barbecue element to it, and guided by the very helpful Charlotte (always patient, smiley and very knowledgeable about the menu - a real credit to her team!) I chose the pit beef from the Low & Slow section of the menu. The beast that arrived must honestly have been the same size and weight as one of my calves. Encrusted in a beef-dripping crumble, it came with a dash of bacon and Worcestershire sauce ketchup and a New York slaw.
The meat itself had a supremely smoky flavour, as expected! Probably owing to the fact that it was such a huge piece of meat, I found the top part of the cut slightly dry, but this was easily remedied with a splash of ketchup and the underside was juicy and tender enough to keep me happy. My vegetable cravings, meanwhile, were seen to by the little mound of slaw on the side.
Rather incredibly, Roxy managed to not find the bone marrow until the steak had nearly been polished off. We were wondering how she'd unintentionally avoided it at the time, but now that I see the photos I have my own theory on the clandestine bone marrow: Roxy's over-enthusiastic inclusion of the beef dripping chips. DCI Lim at your service. The chips themselves were fine, but at £5 I expected them to be a cut above - crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, all that jazz. Yes, I'm spoiled. Any dryness was again, easily offset by sauce - in this case, a pot of classic mayo.
The other side we chose was a delightful creamy spinach with nutmeg. Had Roxy not been there I would have hoarded this in the manner of Gollum and the Ring. My preciousssssssss.
A marathon of a meal like this practically requires an intermission for digestion. Luckily, it wasn't quite 8PM yet so we ordered a second round of £5 cocktails...
...and prompted by the dazzling array of bottles at the back of the restaurant, a few glasses of wine. To Charlotte's horror, Roxy daringly ordered a well-priced white in spite of the red meat-heavy meal (quick disclaimer: sacrilege committed, culinary or otherwise, when we're out together is her fault and not mine - I allude to what happened later that night. My halo remains thoroughly intact.)
Our second cocktails of the evening: femme for me and butch for Roxy. Coming Up Roses was an ecstasy of rose liqueur, cranberry, vodka, lemon and sugar complete with single floating rose petal worthy of Valentine's Day. For Roxy, Unkie Steeners Old Fashioned: a short masculine tumbler filled with a liquid so dark it'd prompt a warning from the bartender (do any guys out there get cautioned that their drink of choice is a bit strong, or is it just us delicate gals?) - bourbon, fernet branca, Islay whisky and a root beer reduction.
Our hunger for all things savoury wholly sated, our thoughts turned to pudding.
Our choice: the Snickersphere, a name that brings to mind childhood excursions to the newsagent for chocolate bars as well as something a little more sci-fi and fantastical. And that's pretty much exactly what we got. Topped with a sliver of gold leaf, this chocolate dome rivals St Paul's Cathedral.
A bisected Saturn ringed with peanut fragments and orbited by a scoop of malt icecream.
Inside the sphere: the ice-cream freezer tucked away at the back of the newsagent's. Icy strata of peanut praline, chocolate and vanilla parfait with a glistening river of salted caramel. Exceptional.
Thank you for a fantastic meal, Barbecoa! Knowing that there's a new Barbecoa-to-go branch on Watling Street is going to be a serious temptation where it comes to my lunch hour in Moorgate from now on. For now, I'll content myself with fantasising about the Snickersphere. And next time I visit, I'm heading straight for the steaks and no one can stop me...
Disclaimer: I was invited to review Barbecoa on this occasion; all opinions remain firmly my own.