Fette Sau, 354 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg, New York
Meal for three starving people (excluding drinks): $75 or £46
It feels like it's all about BBQ here in London this summer. Not the burnt sausage, crappy burger kind but the sort of cooking one associates with the Southern States of the USA: all pulled pork, sticky beans and shots of bourbon by the pit. Within the space of a few weeks, we've had a new restaurant open up in Hoxton and a van pull up under Hungerford bridge (review on its way), both dedicated to the fine art of cooking with fire and smoke. However, whilst both make an admirable attempt at recreating that American stalwart, neither of them have quite got it and they fall short of smoky perfection. Even with our new-found love of the BBQ pit, we still have to leave our beloved city for the good stuff. Having put off writing up my recent (ish) visit to New York, BBQ disappointment has finally given me the impetus to blog about the opposite: BBQ heaven. For as I discovered on my last visit, our urbanite cousins in New York can hook themselves up with fantastic BBQ at the drop of an artfully distressed hat. Mind you, they do have to leave Manhattan which is perhaps just as traumatic for some. Fette Sau is the sort of place I would love to see transplanted to London. In fact, I would even sell a fairly vital organ in order to make this happen.
Located across the river in trendy Williamsburg, it's certainly hip. The bar taps are butcher's knives, the walls are painted with cuts of meat and the bar menu encompasses artisan beers and a plentiful selection of interesting American whiskies. Like so many places in New York, they don't take bookings so you take your chance with the queue, particularly at peak eating hours.
We queued for what felt like an age; the wait for food must have been about an hour. We had been on a forty mile cycle round the city that day, so a wait was always going to be unbearable. However, our New York-based friend assured us that it would be worth it. We persevered, drinking whiskey to stave off the hunger pangs. Finally, it was our turn at the counter where meat is piled on a metal tray and sold by weight. We chose a mountain of brisket, ribs and pulled pork; accompanied by big paper cups of pickles, beans, potato salad and an unusual broccoli salad. Tables are shared so we carved out a little niche, located the nearest giant squeezy bottles of BBQ sauce and got stuck in.
Everything tasted of smoke. Not overpoweringly but enough that you could tell it had been cooked over smoking embers. The absence of this flavour is something that constantly disappoints me about our UK equivalents. Without it, BBQ food might as well have been cooked in the oven. Brisket came in a big juicy, tender slab to be hacked at and dunked in sauce. Pulled pork was fatty, glossy and richly piggy. Ribs had a perfectly seasoned external crust giving way to tender meat clinging to gnawable bones. There was an unending supply of sauce including a wonderfully pungent mustard concoction. Sides were less impressive but were only really there to enhance the meat. The broccoli salad, though perhaps slightly soggy, was nonetheless a welcome tart accompaniment to all that flesh. Potato salad was respectable. Unfortunately the pickles were disappointingly soft and lacked any real vinegar tang. However, the beans were perfection: thick, sweet and wonderfully meaty.
New York is more than 1000 miles from Memphis and yet somehow proper BBQ is within their reach. Granted, London is more than 4000 miles from the Southern US states but, if a few Southerners can reach New York, surely we can tempt them over the pond to fill the hole in our restaurant scene? There's kudos, wealth and my left kidney on offer for the person that succeeds. If that isn't enough, we'll just have to start lying about the weather, the price of beer and the lack of air-conditioning on the Tube.