Pitt Cue, one of London’s most respected and cult-followed restaurants of the past decade, has signalled its revival.
Jamie Berger, who co-founded the meat barbecue restaurant and bourbon bar with chef Tom Adams in 2011, has told Eater he will reopen the restaurant in London, probably in Soho, no earlier than the spring of 2020.
Before that, Berger will formally relaunch the brand this Thanksgiving, on Thursday 28 November, at a one-off dinner in the basement of Maison Bab Basement, Mercer Walk in Covent Garden. Only 50 tickets will be on sale, here, priced at £75. He says he has got the old head chef and his team, including two ex-GMs and ex bar managers. “A real reunion,” he calls it.
For now, as the brand is rebuilt, Adams will not be involved, such are his personal and professional commitments at his restaurant-with-rooms, Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall. “The door is always open to Tom,” he said. “He’s a perfectionist.”
In an odd twist of fate, Berger bought the IP rights (the brand logo, name, and social media accounts) out of administration, following the business’ collapse this summer, on the 4 July this year. “Independence Day, of course,” he said, laughing. Berger says he remained in touch with staff members, helping to get them jobs in other restaurants where he could.
In some respects, it is an ironic cautionary tale for the restaurant industry today: creators of street food struck generate interest, get a first bricks and mortar site, generate even more interest, turn into a brand success story, receive critical acclaim, generate investment, creators sell, close original site, open new, bigger site divorced from the original DNA, restaurant closes; original creator buys back the brand he co-created on the cheap. And here it is, at the start of the journey it began, nearly a decade ago.
Berger, together with Adams, sold the business to Tavern Restaurants — owners of the Albion in Islington — in 2015, but were retained in a part-time capacity by the company until October 2018.
“There’s been an extraordinary amount of goodwill,” Berger said in a call. Few restaurants in London have been able to generate the kind of cult-following of Pitt Cue, partly because of the dearth of Southern American barbecue, but also because of the timing of its arrival, when a new sort of restaurant story gained a foothold in London; when pickling, fermenting, devoting a bar to Bourbon entered the mainstream. There’s an underlying sense, too, that it was the victim of corporate overreach and poor decision-making. This is a narrative, not explicitly discussed by Berger, which supports the back-to-the-beginning revival.
Before the new restaurant opens, Berger will also run a series of “bun drops” — or Flesh Mobs, as he’s calling them — and “get back to the origins of the brand.”
Berger is though sure of what he wants to do in the long-term: “Barbecue, Bourbon, and beer — a few things and do them very well,” he said. Everything people associate with the original Soho restaurant on Newburgh Street, he wants to bring back.
When asked why he thought the brand closed its much bigger restaurant in Devonshire Square in the City, he said: The site didn’t make sense at all and it was further hamstrung by when the development was bought by We Work who took back the leases from offices in the surrounding blocks.” The result, he said, was a massive reduction in footfall. Plus, he added, there were building works which further impeded its ability to trade unencumbered.
Political and market uncertainty will prevent Berger from making a call on where the site will be. So too will his emphasis on finding the right site. Soho is the preference, but it’s not a red line. What he wants to do, more than anything, is “bring back that initial vibe” — 30-50 covers, “an intimate space, nothing corporate.” Although he acknowledges that the city, the restaurant industry, has changed and moved on, he says that people still care about provenance and source: “There’s still a market for the best food, the best menu,” he said, reasserting that it is known we need to eat less meat, but better meat. “We were ahead of our time in that respect,” he added.