Searcy’s Bonfire – Burgers and Barbeque Before the Show:
I can’t pretend to be a regular at the Barbican. But, I do love the Arts Centre there. One of those products of the 1980s I can remember going to the opening of the concert hall when I was a student. Although the theatre is massive with a capacity of over a thousand, I’ve never found myself sitting somewhere with a restricted view of the stage – and since I’m not the tallest person in the world that is quite an achievement.
The RSC have been running a series of Shakespeare History Plays and I had the chance to go along to the much lauded Richard II last week. Ahead of the performance, we decided to try eating at the Barbican, which I remembered having an excellent restaurant serving tapas-style plates of food. In fact, there are a number of other options for Barbican theatregoers – in the past I’ve stopped at the Chiswell Street Dining Rooms and the Jugged Hare and I know that Malmaison Hotel with its funky steak stripbar restaurant isn’t far either. But, if you have to pick up tickets, then there’s a convenience about staying at the Barbican itself and when the weather is cold that convenience is multiplied.
The restaurant which used to serve tapas style plates has now been converted to ‘Bonfire’ – a burger and barbeque joint that has divided visitors to the arts centre. Of course, one of the challenges may be that people remember the small plates with fondness. Do burgers and fried chicken really make for good pre-theatre dining?
We went along to find out.
You order with a kind of tick box service. We arrived with plenty of time to spare and the restaurant wasn’t busy at the time. But, I can imagine that on a busy evening, having a quirky ordering system could be a little confusing. There’s a definite attempt to be on trend – pint milk bottles to serve our tap water, blue rimmed enamelled serving dishes and industrial styling throughout the restaurant. It wouldn’t be out of place in Soho. But of course, the Barbican is NOT Soho.
The operation is run by Searcys – better known by me at least for champagne bars -so I was easily tempted to order a glass of Searcy’s house champagne while my companion picked a glass of red wine. Food pricing is quite keen – half a rotisserie chicken is less than £10 and is a perfect portion size for two, with fries and a salad.
Our order arrived quickly. Everything was nicely presented and our selection of main courses were really very good. A good part of the menu is set aside for burgers, there’s a short selection of salads and sides include mac and cheese (available as a large portion), sweet potato fries and ‘dirty fries’ with blue cheese and bacon.
We shared a (large) portion of apple pie and vanilla ice-cream between us – something of a bargain at £4.95 but rather an unremarkable dish.
Whilst we enjoyed our meal, there was something just a little incongruous about this ‘trying to be Shoreditch’ restaurant in the heart of the Barbican. Service was immaculate and there was nothing wrong with any of our food. If, like us, you were about to sit through a long show (Richard II is nearly 3 hours), you might feel the menu options to be just a little heavy. Perhaps I also have a tinge of disappointment because I really did enjoy Bonfire’s predecessor.
I had absolutely no reservations though about Richard II and ended up regretting not having bought the series of tickets for the History plays. David Tennant was movingly sensitive in the title role and the production was thoughtful and beautifully paced. For those of my friends in the USA, this series is worth catching and will be at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York from 24 March – 1 May 2016