Barbecoa, St Paul’s


It’s been a long while since I reviewed a restaurant, so to be welcomed back with a view of St Paul’s quite as spectacular as the one that greeted me at the top of the stairs into Barbecoa was pretty heartening.

That, and the prospect of steak.

Ah, steak. The subtlest of arts. Getting it just right requires a knife edge balancing act that can so easily end in disaster.

Not so at Barbecoa. Here, a fat, shimmering fillet can make you forget all the sinewy nightmares you’ve had in the past. My companion Dan and I both had fillet cooked medium/rare so we cannot testify for the other cuts, though it’s hard to imagine the quality waning.

Everything we had was amazing, you see. Not once did the Barbecoa chefs so much as suggest that they’d ever made anything short of exceptional in their lives. Dan and I also ploughed our way through a comforting bowl of truffled mac and cheese, a mountain of crispy onion rings and a maddeningly tasty cup of beef dripping chips.

As I’ve discovered at other Jamie Oliver digs, this is not a chef who tends to do things by halves. It’s either waistband-busting indulgence or nothing. Don’t come to Barbecoa (or, indeed, Jamie’s Italian) and expect anything less than excess. You’ll arrive hungry and leave drunk (I recommend Burnt Out Sidecars).

Visit, certainly, and while you’re there: order with abandon, harness the ethos that wellness is for wimps and rediscover the unadulterated joy of eating.

Find Barbecoa here and IRL at One New Change, 20 New Change, London EC4M 9AG.

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Nostalgia: 2016’s Drug of Choice


Last week, I had a panic attack. Swallowing a little pink pill, I rang my dad (/life coach), took a walk along the canal and counted down really slowly from 300. Then I went inside and watched Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

I’m fortunate because although I have panic disorder, the frequency of my attacks are decreasing. When I do have an one though, my coping mechanisms are always the same: beater blocker, mindfulness, Harry Potter.

And let’s be clear here: Harry Potter is not a quirky add-on that I use to make my mental illness sound palatable and quaint (it isn’t: scream crying never is.) Nope, the truth is that Harry Potter is a bona fide coping technique of mine.

Because – I’ve discovered – there’s nothing like a little bit of nostalgia to soothe the pain. And it isn’t just me that’s using it as a balm.

Nostalgia is fueling an international army of Pokémon Masters. It’s making misogynists of a million eighties kids horrified by the Ghostbusters reboot. It’s helping JK Rowling break yet more records with her tales of witchcraft and wizardry.

2016 has been a toughie, and nostalgia is just one thing that’s helping us on the way to recovery.

But what is it about the blooming, misty-eyed past that’s so healing?

For me at least, it’s an indulgent, harmless escape. Ensconcing myself in the lull of Stephen Fry’s words is a substance-free trip back to a time when I’d push the big green button on my plastic cassette player before I went to sleep beneath my princess’ net canopy.

My dad has this joke that I’ve started to adopt. “Maybe it’ll be different this time” he’ll say when I complain about a film I’ve seen a million times before. I like that joke. Not only is it nostalgic in itself (by their very nature, dad jokes are), but it encapsulates everything great about the well-worn. It isn’t going to be different this time. It’s going to be the same.

And that’s what’s so wonderful about a wander down memory lane: there aren’t any nasty surprises. You get what you get, and in a world constantly updating, there’s something very settling about that.

There’s also that fact that nostalgia connects you to a past you; a you that was more together, or at least a you that you can pretend was more together. Engaging with something that your ten year-old self loved serves as a reminder that you and that carefree girl are connected; that no matter how much shit has happened to you since then, you can draw a straight line from that girl to the person you are today.

I don’t think it’s surprising or embarrassing that tonnes of us are tapping away on our iPhones catching Rattatas…after all, the fabric of society is burning at our feet and though keeping abreast of the news is certainly important, if we look for too long, we risk burning our retinas.

Playing Pokémon takes us back to 1997, and in 1997 David Bowie was alive and well, the UK was a member of the European Union and the words ‘NHS’ and ‘privatisation’ didn’t exist in the same sentence.

Listening to/watching/reading Harry Potter transports me back to 2001, and in 2001 I didn’t have to worry about renting a house that won’t bankrupt me, how the hell to break into journalism, or if the guy I like is going to ghost me.

It’s the same reason Troll Dolls have a movie starring Justin Timberlake coming out.

It’s the same reason Lego continues to unseat Ferrari as a global power.

It’s the same reason I was willing to pay out of my nose for all seven Harry Potter audiobooks. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Hermione’s about to give Malfoy a good thump on the nose. Unless it’s different this time.