Barbecoa, St Paul’s

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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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Is Food the Last Acceptable Vice?

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Illustration by Joël Penkman

It’s 19.58pm on a nondescript Tuesday in April. Nothing out of the ordinary has happened today. I’ve done the commute; been to work; done my thing. I’m also experiencing feelings of intense guilt.

I’ve not had alcohol in over a week, nor has a cigarette touched my lips since October last year. Ditto to drugs. Yet here I am, sitting miserably on the Circle line, sated by an irresistible sense of wrongdoing. I’m uncomfortably full and I reek of fried food. I am, in short, addicted to eating.

Many like me are conscientious when it comes to the typically toxic. Years of reinforcement have taught us to go easy on the binge drinking and totally avoid substances like cocaine and MDMA. Sure, we may dabble here and there, but for the main, we approach with caution and in the certainty that we’ll repent and not repeat our sins. Conversely, we’re totally and irrevocably addicted to food.

In 2013, Britain was revealed as the fattest country in Europe, with 24.9% of our population obese. That’s a figure that has trebled since the eighties and that could double by 2050. I don’t need to tell you that this downward spiral is killing us, because obviously you already knew that.

But if we do know it, why aren’t we as conscientious about our food choices as we are about whether to take drugs or not?

I think that food has become the last vestige of a hedonistic lifestyle. Denied the bliss of ignorance when it comes to harmful side-effects from other drugs, we’re scrabbling with ketchup-stained fingernails at the last pleasure we know we can enjoy out in the open.

“Nutella straight out of the jar with a motherfucking ladle”

 

While our grandparents were engaging in promiscuous sex, mind-bending drug-use and clattering rock ‘n’ roll with wild abandon, we’re scolded for even looking at a spliff. So we turn to donuts. And burgers, and curries and cakes. Great towering clouds of meringues and Nutella straight out of the jar with a motherfucking ladle. And with that much fat and sugar trooping into our system, is it really surprising that it’s mostly this – and no longer drugs – that’s killing us?

Legions of people better at life than me are already leaving the gluttonous arena of binge-eating, favouring enviably angelic lives free of 3 ‘o’ clock Creme Egg breaks. In 2016, it’s cool to be healthy, and so even food is becoming a vice many are increasingly choosing to avoid.

I’ve tried, yet I can’t join these people. I watch them from behind my self-erected wall of chocolate croissants and feel a mix of jealousy and smugness. For the meantime, that’s fine: I’m in the majority of people who love nothing more than to face plant a pizza every other day.

“How disgraceful will my greed appear in fifty years’ time?”

 

But I am beginning to wonder just how disgraceful my greed will appear in another fifty years’ time, perhaps when the risks of over-eating have become too much to ignore and fast food adverts are part of history like the tobacco ones that came before them.

Will ordering a twelve-inch pizza to ourselves be the chain-smoking of the future?  Will our great-grandchildren choke on their quinoa when they hear just how many calories we shovelled in? Could the food baby be the smoker’s cough of 2100?

My grandfather quit his 30 a-day habit the moment news broke that cigarettes were killing him. Conversely, I knew that overeating was killing me years ago, and yet here I sit, uncomfortable host to the 700 calorie burger and 800 calorie milkshake that’s sitting in my stomach.

The problem (and the pleasure) of food is that we need it to survive. There’s no going cold turkey on it like my grandfather did with cigarettes.

And yet I feel as though food is something I also need on a totally emotional level. When I’m bored or down or frustrated, food will keep me company and lift my mood. When I’m elated and celebrating, I feel equally deserving of a culinary treat.

Like cigarettes in the fifties, over-eating has become a totally normal vice. It might even be the last acceptable one. Despite well-documented health risks, it fuels social occasions and gives us what we feel to be a well-earned stress-reliever. And I don’t know about you, but I’m going to clutch onto that for as long as I’m able. No matter how bad it makes me feel.