Sam Daffin started BBQ Whisky Beer at a boozer on Shepherd's Bush's famous Goldhawk Rd as a pop up restaurant, and after looking for a more central location, has now moved to the Wargrave Arms in the Marylebone/Edgware Road area. There's been a great deal of buzz about the place, so when I was asked if I would review it, I was only too pleased.
The Wargrave Arms is a lovely pub. How it has escaped the modernisation and blandification that has blighted many pubs, I don't know. It has bags of character; stained glass, tiffany lampshades, panelling, bar stools and high tables. Well done to brewery Youngs for not subjecting it to the sterile makeovers of the 1990s and Noughties.
Aiming to deliver some of the most famous American Barbeque favourites, like chicken wings, roasted ribs, burgers, pulled pork, Mac Cheese, barbeque pork, roast chicken etc, the team are passionate about the food they serve. Just chat to any of them, and they've all tried the entire menu, know how each dish is made and what it contains in unbelievable detail. They want to recommend their favourite dish, or work out what's the thing you'll love the best. And their genuine joy when you tell them you are enjoying your food just can't be faked.
Sam is something of a barbeque and outdoor cooking expert, having learnt his craft over many years. His stories about cooking on the beach, using wood fired sand pits with smoking tunnels to channel heat and smoke made me realise that whilst fun, this type of cooking takes a lot of practice and skill. Many people find home cooked barbequed food a little lacklustre; burnt on the outside, raw on the inside. Little wonder, when we only dig out the barbeque on a rare sunny weekend. We just don't have the nous!
Before coming, I had been advised that several dishes were stand out, such as the beef burger, pulled pork burger, wings, and both the pork and beef ribs. I had wanted to try everything, but being a rather diminutive woman, this was not going to be possible. The eyes are willing, but the stomach too small! So it was a question of prioritisation. Him Indoors came out with me to offer his meat-loving company and meat eating chops. We did our best to partake of the menu...
We began with the starters....
Hot wings, Blue cheese dip and celery, Small £6 (if you want large, it is £10)
The wings arrived in a zinc bucket, piled high. We could hardly believe how many little winglets there were in the bucket! The BBQ Whisky Beer team take each whole chicken wing and cut them into 2 parts, but unlike many other establishments, count the two parts of the original whole wing as a wing (if that makes sense!). So 6 wings means 12 luscious bits of chickeny goodness. Goodness, even KFC are guilty of the Great Chicken Wing Robbery! So, what did we think of the wings? They were glazed generously with a lovely roasted texture on the outside, but soft and moist on the inside. The sauce was... incendiary! We needed the blue cheese mayonnaise dip to quell the satisfyingly tasty but powerful heat. A must for chilli lovers.
Fryer trash, Pulled pork, BBQ sauce £5
I really wanted to try the pulled pork, having heard much about it. It is lovingly cooked for 24 hours! But I knew that if I were to have the pulled pork burger, I would end up getting filled up on the bap and accoutrements within, leaving me less space for the meaty treats to follow. So Him Indoors and I thought that the Fryer Trash, pulled pork on top of triple cooked chips, was the best way of getting a portion of pulled pork without any drama. When the portion arrived, we nearly fell off our seats! It was massive! Heaps of pork on top of a pretty substantial portion of fries. The pork was cooked low and slow, and was tender as can be. The chips were crunchy and crispy. It's not the typical English way to do chips, but I enjoyed the combination of the crunch with the moist pork. The BBQ sauce brought the whole thing together in a wonderfully naughty way. All this was just £5 and was more than enough for 2 to share as a single starter.
I should tell you that BBQ Whisky Beer produce all of their own sauces, glazes, dips and marinades. This is impressive, not only from the point of view of the effort required, but they are also so well matched to the food overall. A real labour of love.
The starters were very big, very tasty... but we were beginning to fill up by now... how were we going to manage a main course each?
One thing Him Indoors and I hate more than anything else, is food waste. It is insulting to the cooks, it shows disregard for the ingredients themselves and with many in the world unable to enjoy a ready supply of food it's just plain insensitive. So ordering two main courses would have resulted in lots of food going uneaten. We were not going to do it. But we SOOOOO wanted to try the award winning ribs. What were we going to do?
We decided to (somewhat sheepishly) ask Sam if he could do us a modestly sized portion of the Jacob's ladder trimmed award winning beef ribs. So this picture is NOT what you would get if you order the £12 portion.
****THIS IS A SMALL SIZED PORTION MADE ESPECIALLY FOR LITTLE OLD ME****
****YOU WILL GET A PROPER SIZED PORTION WHEN YOU COME, NO WORRIES! ****
The ribs are smoked and then grilled. Somehow they are lightly blackened with a crust on the outside, but retain tenderness and moisture (and hence flavour) on the inside. It's ribtastic! We understood completely why they had won the ‘Great British Rib Champion 2013′ award at Ribstock 2013. It was a pleasure to eat this tasty, flavoursome finger food. And we didn't need to care about the mess as the staff had provided us with a big box of wet wipes to help us keep our hands clean!
I then got tempted with puddings. Very full, I was still curious. Part of me didn't want to order a pudding and not eat it, but part of me was not wanting the experience to end. Sam found it easy to tempt me, so in the end, I elected for the Brownie....
Chocolate Brownie, Dulche de leche ice cream £5
Indulgent, chocolaty and full of home made charm, this is a lovely end to a lovely meal. The ice cream was a lovely foil to the richness of the brownie.
I should give a mention to the drinks, given that this is BBQ Whisky Beer. There are many types of Whisky - 2 pages, in fact. They are sourced from around the Whisky making world. You will find varieties from the USA, Ireland, Japan, England and Scotland. I am not an aficionado so I can't comment further suffice to say that if the same care is taken on the food, then the chances are the Whisky list is excellent.
In relation to beers, since The Wargrave Arms is a Young's pub, they are only able to serve Young's beers.
The wine selection is small but select. I did not have any difficulty in finding something very pleasant and drinkable.
Informal and unfussy food like this appears easy to make. The proliferation of "posh" burger and "classy" fried chicken joints shows that many restaurateurs think this kind of food can garner them a big profit margin while riding on the coat tails of this current food trend. But I would say that unless you really know what you're doing, steer well away. Nobody wants dry, burnt ribs that taste like your colleague Dave's last BBQ experiment. This food might be not be complicated, but it certainly isn't simple.
BBQ Whisky Beer will continue its residency at The Wargrave for the forseeable future. However, I am sure they have ambitions to open their own establishment. Keep your eyes and ears open!
Snigdha and Him Indoors dined at BBQ Whisky Beer as guests.
The Wargrave Arms, 40-42 Brendon St, London W1H 5HE