London’s Pitt Cue Co. Talks Smoked Meat and Whiskey
With its wide and vibrant demographic, London has never been short of diverse cuisine choices. While there’s something to nourish everyone’s palette, meat eaters have enjoyed a more bespoke array of options in recent times. As it seems, red meat is in fashion and booming. The carnivorous option has always served its role on the menu, yet nowadays, specialist steakhouses and trendy pulled pork joints sprawl across the city. Taking to the West End high streets, sandwiched next to family-run jerk chicken shops, or popping up on weekend market stalls.
Alongside popular destinations like MEATliquor, Tramshed and Hawksmoor, Pitt Cue Co. is another standout eatery dedicated to artisanal meat culture. Having honed its craft serving out of a trailer under Hungerford Bridge on South Bank, Pitt Cue opened its SoHo brick and mortar in 2012, with a dedication to bringingits urban British take on American BBQ to London’s street food scene. Without overwhelming its customers with choice, Pitt Cue’s menu is small but precise and centers around mangalitsa — a natural breed of pigs descended directly from wild Hungarian boars — and bourbon cocktails. With only 30 seats, Pitt Cue operates on a no-reservation, first-come-first-served policy. Arriving just before the after-work rush, General Manager and cocktail specialist Danny Habron welcomed us with a classic Pickleback — a shot of bourbon chased by a shot of pickle juice — before we learned more about Pitt Cue’s no frills approach to dining, and why smoked meat and whiskey should always be consumed together.
“When you go out for a meal, you want it to be comfortable, stodgy and nice. Meat is comfort eating.”
Can you introduce Pitt Cue?
Tom Adams is our head chef and owns Pitt Cue. He’s 25 years old, comes from a farming background, and has always had an interest in hot smoking and barbecuing techniques. He’s traveled across the Southern states of the U.S. studying various techniques. Pitt Cue started from a truck in South Bank and moved onto a restaurant in 2012. We took on this space in Soho because it’s a great area for food and shopping, and has a good demographic mix.
Why are meat-centric restaurants in London so popular at the moment?
Meat gives off a richness and taste you can’t get from other foods. When you go out for a meal, you want it to be comfortable, stodgy and nice. Meat is comfort eating. We butcher a lot of our own pigs and mangalitza – a cross between wild boar and pork — so we know exactly what kind of meat we’re going for and which part offers the most flavor. The fat on our meat’s not saturated which makes it unique and clean.
Could you describe how the interior was designed?
We’ve gone for simplicity and tradition. The entrance of Pitt Cue resembles that of a corner pub. The wallpaper features illustrations of margalitzer, and also showcases a list of bourbons and rye we stock. We’ve gone for a no-frills approach that doesn’t take the attention away from the food and drinks.
“We don’t want to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Our focus is bourbon which we’re passionate about.”
Your drinks menu is very whiskey-heavy, what’s the reason for this?
You go to a lot of bars and they have a whole menu full of spirits. We don’t want to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Our focus is bourbon which we’re passionate about. There’s also a North American connection, with our barbecuing techniques deriving from Southern states which complements bourbon which is from Kentucky. The sweetness of the bourbon complements smoked red meat, bringing out a rich flavor. Aside from a selection of bourbon and rye, we also have a single barrel 10-year-old bourbon that’s unique to Pitt Cue. We handpicked the barrel on a visit to a Kentucky Rick house where it was left to mature for over a decade. When we discovered it, we bought the whole barrel.
What’s the most popular dish on the menu and what would you recommend to go along with it?
While our food truck was best known for its pulled pork burger, a lot of people go for the Caramel Ribs — specially smoked to retain a crunchy caramel glazed skin while the meat in the middle is still tender and full of flavor. For sides and extras, you can’t go wrong with the Duck Sausage, Lamb Heart and Mangalitsa Shoulder Chop, finished off with Strawberries & Cream for dessert. Cocktail wise, a Side Truck would be a perfect match. This is an iteration of the classic cocktail, Sidecar. We replace the cognac with bourbon before mixing in freshly squeezed lemon juice, Cointreau and orange bitters. Side Truck gives you that refreshing kick and goes hand-in-hand with a meat feast.
Based in a city where competition is fierce, how do you promote the restaurant?
The food speaks for itself. We put our emphasis on quality. We have 25,000 Twitter followers, and rely on social media a lot — an essential tool that we continue to use from our food truck days. Every time we have a new mangalitsa and pig in our farm, we take photos of them roaming around for our Pinterest and Tumblr. We’ve secured a loyal following from our food truck era, and the popularity continues to grow thanks to London’s food aficionados.
Pitt Cue’s developed a loyal following and always has a large queue around meal time. What tips can you give on dealing with a busy night?
People sometimes queue for two hours, so they can be a bit irritated when they get in. It can get stressful when it’s busy. You have to keep a level head. Via training we make sure all the staff know the background on every dish and cocktail. Smile lots and believe what you’re selling. Make sure the customers are informed on what’s going on at all times and make sure they’re nicely juiced up.