Pit masters of the universe | Big Easy Covent Garden, 12 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7NA
It’s been roughly 655 days since our first visit to the original Big Easy on the King’s Road. On that occasion we were blown away by the whole experience, the atmosphere, the food, the service, everything! We were also told that they had secured another space in Covent Garden’s Maiden Lane. We waited with bated breath for news of the new Big Easy‘s grand opening. We waited and waited and waited and sometimes forgot about it. Maybe what we’d been told was a sick and cruel joke, or perhaps the deal had fallen through, whatever the reason, it had gone very quiet on the west end front.
It was Big Easy’s founder, Paul Corrett who threw open the original King’s Road Crabshack and shared his love for all things American and his desire to offer ‘Good food, served right.’ Fast forward twenty years and the Covent Garden branch is finally ready to rock and lobster roll, and finally that invite arrived.
The new restaurant is in the original home of the Charing Cross & Strand Electricity Supply Corporation (click here for a history lesson.) Where as the original Big Easy modelled itself on simple a Gulf Coast crabshack, the new one is a lot more refined, the King’s Road branch looks like it evolved whilst Covent Garden was designed. Very well designed. Many of the Victorian power station’s features have been kept, the copper conduits, heavy girders, exposed brickwork and concrete floors all remain. And industrial lighting, planked walls and aged leather chairs and banquets have been added. The two bars are spectacular, hundreds of bottles backlit for a stunning effect.
The restaurant may look and feel more ‘London’ but the menu is definitely still 100% USA and thank God for that! Actually it’s not God we have to thank but one of the biggest names in American BBQ, pit master Pete Daversa (Hill Country, NYC). He works his magic in the massive open ‘wall of fire’ kitchen with its Argentinian parrilla grills, rotisseries, wood-burning ovens and two monster smokers imported from Texas. Rumour has it that these smokers had to be lowered in by crane and the restaurant refurbished around them. Sounds a little extreme to be true.
We were seated downstairs and as the live house band sang the Blues we got over excited about the menu. First, let’s get the drinks sorted. There were a couple of cocktails on tap and once I discovered that their Old Fashioned £8.50 used in-house infused smoked maple syrup it shot right to the top of my hit list. Don’t be disappointed by the size, this is a sipping cocktail to be enjoyed slowly, although a tad more in the glass wouldn’t have gone amiss. Saff went old skool with a ‘Slushie’. Her frozen Piña Colada £8.50, retained all the totally tropical flavours but had an extra alcohol fuelled kick! That’ll be the two different white rums, Koko Kanu liqueur and the Absinthe!
Starters were an easy choice – the Original voodoo chicken wings £7.95, served with a blue cheese dipping sauce. I’ve had them before and I’ll have them again, they are simply the best buffalo wings this side of the pond (with Meat Liquor coming a close second). Saff wanted to try the Pit smoked thick cut bacon with pickled watermelon £6.95 as recommended by Rachel Phipps, but this bacon came with our main. So to avoid a meat overload, she ordered the Pick ‘n’ lick shrimp in the shell £8.50, in a hot and spicy sauce. Proper big and juicy prawns, the sauce wasn’t hot enough for Saff and it hid in a puddle at the bottom of the bowl, but the prawns had that authentic grilled flavour. By the way, if you want to see some Big Easy food pictures that are far better than ours, take a look at Rachel’s post.
The pit masters here don’t use any BBQ sauces on the meat in their low ‘n’ slow cooking process. Everything is smoked over oak chips, using rubs not sauces to flavour the meat. With all this pit master pedigree we skipped past the seafood (although the lobsters are flown in fresh from Nova Scotia, we’ve tried them before) and dived head first into the Bar B Q Blowout £17.95 each (for two or more to share).
The portion was gigantic and served up on a tray the size of a dustbin lid. The sticky blackened BBQ chicken wings got us off to a flying start, the North Carolina chopped pork packed a smoky punch. The dry rubbed St Louis pork ribs were just that, dry (but nothing a good dollop of house made BBQ sauce couldn’t fix). My favourite by far was the Texas sliced slow smoked brisket, thin slices of tender beef with an incredible salty rub crust. We need to go to Texas real bad! The pit smoked thick cut bacon mentioned earlier was missing but we didn’t notice till the following day as we were immersed in meat heaven. The second black mark of the evening, but we’ll let them off – it was soft launch week after all. And I shouldn’t forget to mention the blue cheese dip, slaw, potato salad and pit smoked beans that come on the side. Don’t worry folks, it’s totally acceptable to ask for a doggy bag.
We asked for a time out before dessert to give our digestive system a fighting chance to recover from our meaty marathon. During this little break Saff asked Mike, our fantastic and chatty waiter, to choose her a cocktail. He came back with a Miami Vice £14, half-frozen strawberry daiquiri and half piña colada – a perfect 2-in-1 combo. I went for the other on tap cocktail, Vieux Carré £8.50, this was even smaller than the Old Fashioned. Smaller yet stronger, too strong in my option, Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Martel VS Cognac, Benedictine liqueur with bitters. Enough to give me an involuntary head twist.
My stomach was will suffering from our super-sized Bar B Q Blowout, so I decided to order a colonel Parker X-rated Shake £9.50 of Bulleit Bourbon, banana liqueur, milk and peanut butter ice-cream [yeah right, because that won’t be filling, Ade]. I also ‘borrowed’ a couple of spoonfuls of Saff’s Chocolate Fudge Cake £5.50. She ordered this cake at the original Big Easy, this Taste of the West Gold medal winner was made in small batches by a ‘secret’ Cornish company. We asked Mike if the fudge cake here was from the same supplier, he said that it was baked in-house. Wherever it was made didn’t really matter, it was dense yet moist, sweet but not sickly and came swimming in a gooey chocolate fudge sauce and a big dollop of vanilla ice-cream.
We loved the feel of this place, there was a real buzz about it. The live band certainly adds to the atmosphere but it’s the authentic US menu that makes the difference. Sprinkle on great portion size, excellent service and an interesting drinks list and, the slightly dry ribs and missing bacon aside, we couldn’t really find anything to fault. The original holds a special place in our hearts but the King’s Road is just that little bit too far from our Bankside base. Covent Garden, on the other hand, is dangerously close…
12 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden,
London, WC2E 7NA
Telephone: 0203 728 4888
Book online here
Opening hours: Mon-Wed 12:00-00:00
Nearest station: Charing Cross