Eat Here: The BBQ Club at Jimmy’s Pop-Up, SouthbankBy Cass Horowitz
It’s always a risk launching your Summer Pop-Up in May and when I arrived at Jimmy Garcia’s latest on the Southbank, it seemed like that risk may not have paid off. The weather could only possibly be described as apocalyptic, only one thing was for certain, we weren’t going to be playing any lawn games anytime soon. If you’ve never heard of Jimmy and his Southbank venue you may wonder why I’m even mentioning lawn games. Every year the team here go above and beyond to transform their space into the most unusual, interactive and, yes, instagrammable pop-up around.
There’s been fondue, igloos and now it’s the turn of ‘Life’s a Picnic’. Launching last weekend the team here promise the chance to soak up the rays in their own riverside patch at Southbank Centre, playing classic British outdoor games such as croquet and Swingball, whilst indulging in a special BBQ Club hamper, packed with alfresco goodies. As always with the Jimmy team, there’s also the sit-down dining area which marks the return of the more familiar BBQ Club – an interactive seven-course tasting menu with big green egg BBQs installed along a long row of benches.
As mentioned, we never actually got stuck into the games and picnic experience, I’m sure it would be lovely in the Summer, but we were rescued upstairs into the seated area. My first bit of advice would be that this concept is probably the most fun in a group of six. The BBQs are shared between six people at the long tables and it’s a fairly intimate experience. If you don’t like the idea of a stranger cooking your flatbread then six is the magic number. That said, I’ve been a few times to Jimmy’s and there’s always a fun, relaxed atmosphere. If you do fancy meeting new people over bbq pineapple then this is definitely the place to go.
I better move onto the food quickly as, well, there was a lot of it. For every dish, they bring the base layer or accompaniments and then you leave to cook the protein. I was lucky to be dining with a very alpha-male character who immediately proceeded to roll up his sleeves and took to the grilling immediately. We kick off with ‘Posh London Flats’. Homemade middle eastern flatbread, garlic & chive butter and a red pepper dip. This course really was just about getting used to the grill and getting to know the people you’re eating with. Nothing quite breaks the ice better than brushing someones flatbread with butter and we quickly devised who and how we were gonna manage the making of this meal. Mow onto ‘Caulifornication’; Spiced roast baby cauliflower, red pepper puree, pickled red onion, pistachio, crumbled feta and fresh herbs. This was a nice dish, the cauliflower was cut a little small and perhaps got a bit over singed on our (at that point) overheating bbq. We also felt that it was one of the dishes that didn’t necessarily need or suit the format that well.
What followed these two starters, however, were genuinely two fish dishes that rival any London restaurant I’ve been to before. Firstly, ‘Trout on the Rocks’. Your bbq is prepped with smoking chips before large, fresh, vibrant pieces of maple hot smoked sea tout are placed on a wooden block within the BBQ. The addition of crème fraiche potato salad, fresh horseradish, caper and raisin vinaigrette create a truly stunning fish dish that was something I would never usually order but loved every bite. It would have been the best dish of the day if not for the fillet of bream that followed with a deliciously citrusy fennel ceviche and caramelised pink grapefruit. Again really exciting, unusual flavours that worked incredibly well together. As if by magic, the sun was also coming up at this point, Jimmy’s team were on a roll and it’s probably the moment I first thought, yep, this is really worth doing.
So two starters and two fish dishes down, you may be surprised to hear we had two meat mains to come too. I should note that none of the courses are big servings but definitely don’t have a big lunch if you’ve got this booked in later on. So bring in the meat in the form of ‘All Thai’d Up’ a Spiced ginger & lemongrass chicken thigh kebab with curried chickpeas, lemon cured courgettes, mint, pickled chillies and crushed peanut, lemon verbena oil. When you’re cooking with strangers you don’t want to accidentally give them salmonella, so we probably overcooked ours but that didn’t take away from the deliciously fresh summer flavours (it was also 100% our fault). Finally, there was ‘Wolf of Wool Street’ a duo of lamb; lamb cutlet & lamb ribs, salsa rojo, charred baby gem, crispy chorizo and chive oil.
Now I’ve never been a grilled pineapple man but the coconut pannacotta with the ‘Club Tropicana’ dessert deserves a special mention. It just goes to show that not all the magic at this BBQ takes place on the grill. In fact, I’d challenge a lot of chefs to make dishes this surprising and technical with the space and general restrictions the team have here.
So all in all Jimmy has done it again. Yes, it’s an expensive night but for the setting, quantity and, yes, the quality of food, it’s well worth it. Come prepared to do some grilling, leave time for some lawn gaming, and in terms of the weather, start praying.