Big Easy has been operating in Chelsea since the early nineties. I’d never really been that interested to be honest as it seemed to be a bit TGI Fridays in style and after all, Chelsea is hardly a likely place to hunt out the finer points of BBQ cooking and when a second venue opened in Covent Garden this summer I thought very little of it. I was, therefore, intrigued to find this newer offering receiving some glowing praise from a range of well-known and highly respected carnivores and so, as a keen meat-fiend and sampler of American-style BBQ all over the capital (and indeed beyond – mmmm, Grillstock), I decided to give it a go. I had been warned you needed a map and compass to find the toilets but I brushed such notions aside – it couldn’t be that big a place.
The restaurant is housed in an old power station and the décor is certainly of the MeatLiquor school – bare walls sprayed with meat-inspired phrases, neon icons of pigs and lobsters, and a deliberately grungy and ‘stripped down’ feel. Unlike MeatLiquor however, the music was not so loud that we had to spend the evening shouting at each other over the table which was certainly a plus. The bar is vast, featuring a beautiful (an odd word to turn to when describing a bar) display of hundreds of bottles of bourbon, single malts, and other amber coloured liquids which bathed the serving area in a gentle, alluring glow. The wine list is extensive and so, it seems, are the locations of the bottles – it took several minutes for the barman to find the one we’d ordered which was worrying given it was the House wine. It also took two requests to get him to actually open the thing but there you go.
It is important to tell you that the food at Big Easy is very, very good. Some of the best American-style meats I have tried in fact – no joke. We sampled a starter of BBQ wings which arrived in a tangy, slightly spicy sauce and with a bit of extra on the side. The wings were soft and tender – perfectly cooked and the sauce was sticky and satisfying. Pit-smoked, thick cut bacon was almost ridiculously deep in flavour – smokey, moist, and rich but the portion was, I have to say, something of a let-down. We had been warned that it was ‘small’ but to charge £6.95 for four pieces of meat the size of a strip of chewing gum is pushing it to say the least. Wet wipes are cunningly provided between courses and if you go on a Monday and choose the ‘Big Pig Gig’, a steel plate stand is set before you and soon topped with a vast platter featuring a tantalizing selection of meaty treats. St Louis ribs (surely one of the finest examples of BBQ cooking) nestle alongside half a glistening chicken and a big pot of chopped (not pulled) pork. Such was the size of the thing, on our visit the hushpuppies -deep-fried corn balls- and properly crispy and chunky chips struggled for position on the table and the dishes containing beans and slaw had to be stashed underneath the main platter. The smell is incredible – properly smoked food has a distinct aroma and the spices from the meat rub mingle with the zingy BBQ sauce to create a mouth-watering temptation to dive in headfirst and not stop until everything is stripped to the bone.
I cannot sing the praises of the Big Easy pitmasters enough. The meat was juicy and well-flavoured – the chopped pork consisted of big hunks of smokey pig with a similar rub that the ribs had been covered in, the chicken was rich and moist, and the hushpuppies were alarmingly addictive. Beans were hot and tasty and the chips were fantastic. The ribs were amazing – exactly as I had been hoping for, they delivered big on flavour and perfectly on texture – and on a return visit they were possibly even better with meat flaking temptingly away underneath a crust of charred rub. Delicious. Also worth mentioning is the Lobster Fest – a decent sized crustacean that had been steamed and grilled, served with salad, chips, and butter – which is a bargain at £20 including a well-made cocktail and advice on how to tackle the monster before you.
There are a couple of things worth mentioning though which do, sadly, detract from the excellence of the cooking. Although the staff were very friendly and welcoming – there were occasionally times when they needed to pull their thumbs out and communicate. On one visit, having been asked by two different staff members if we wanted our ‘limitless’ platter topped up, a full 20 minutes went by and nothing happened. We eventually just asked for the dessert menu but as that arrived so did the long-requested savouries and a beer that I’d requested nearly half an hour earlier. And that brings me to another thing – the ‘limitless’ BBQ of The Big Pig Gig only applies to the chicken and chopped pork but not the ribs. This wasn’t clear on the menu nor the website and I have to say our server did seem slightly embarrassed to have to explain it to us and even though I wasn’t planning to eat all the ribs in Christendom I was at least expecting to be given a chance to try. Drinks that were supposed to be included in deals were charged for separately and all in all, such things did let down the experience somewhat. I should point out that these issues were addressed in a courteous and professional manner – the staff were generally pretty brilliant despite the odd mistake and the waiter who talked me into trying the spectacular smoked whisky was a shining example of top quality service. He also was excellent at demonstrating the correct way to dismember a lobster.
In summary then – should you go to Big Easy? If you’re keen on meat, the ribs alone make it worthy of a visit and although some aspects of the food (microscopic bacon starters, limited ‘limitless’ platters) were a bit disappointing, the quality of the cooking is exceptional. The occasionally neglectful service was only evident on one visit and generally all the staff were warm, cheerful, and professional – quibbles about unopened wine aside.
Oh, and the thing about the toilets being a bit of a trek? That is possibly one of the biggest understatements in history – they are MILES away, deep in the chasms beneath the restaurant. You have been warned!