By James Eaton
Miss P’s smoked ox cheek saved my life.
Well, maybe I’m exaggerating.
The first time I sampled the simply fabulous meat at Miss P’s I felt like death. Some good friends had been staying and we’d had a pretty intense couple of days with an alarming amount of alcohol consumed, resulting in one of the biggest hangovers in history. The night before the day in question had featured a Top Gear-style race back to SW9 after dinner (and wine), with four of us in a taxi and the other two taking the bus. We rushed in and sprawled on the sofas – it was important to look like we’d been there for ages. By the time the bus party had arrived, the taxi crew had already broken into a second bottle of wine and that set the tone for the rest of the night.
As I watched their train depart from St Pancras the next day I realised I needed aid in the form of food. I’d heard of a street food market called Kerb nearby so tottered off in search of something to help me get through the day. I was tempted by kedgeree from What the Dickens! but suddenly a subtle whiff of smoke and meat pervaded the air. It urgently needed investigating and, after some scouting about, I discovered a man deftly pulling apart a huge shoulder of pork into a large server. This man was G, the pit-master who learned his craft from his family in Atlanta, Georgia – and, in my hungover fug, it was truly hypnotic watching him work.
‘We don’t officially open for ten minutes or so’ he said.
‘That’s OK,’ I replied, ‘do you mind if just stand here and watch all the meat?’
He looked a little baffled (quite understandably) but was happy for me to stay and by the time the stall officially opened, there was a large queue of equally transfixed people, hungrily awaiting their BBQ fix. I was going to go for the freshly pulled pork but I saw something on the specials board that spoke to my delicate disposition – smoked ox cheek. This was what I needed.
So I had it. A huge serving, without a bun, served with coleslaw and hot sauce. I cradled my steaming, joyful box of meaty treats to a nearby bench and tucked in. Rich, tender, juicy meat that just about held together, laced with a deep ring of smoke and coated in a sumptuously crunchy and savoury ‘bark’. The hot sauce soon had my hangover in check and the parsley that ran through the slaw added a wonderful herby background. It saved my life. Simple as that.
Over the next months, I was at Kerb nearly every week, eager for more of the miraculous meats that Miss P’s had to offer. I had a beef rib the size of my head, pulled pork that beat pretty much any other, and the juiciest, most superbly brilliant brisket I’d ever had. I was hooked. Sometimes I’d walk all the way to King’s Cross to justify having the largest portions possible.
I was thrilled when, last year, it was announced that Miss P’s would be doing a residency at Market House in Brixton and I was there for the opening night where, alongside the mighty meats, I feasted on Cajun catfish that had been lightly battered and deep fried – carefully spiced and seriously good, smoked and fried chicken wings that were nicely fiery and totally delicious, proper BBQ beans, and hearty potato salad. I went back at least three times and every time it was BBQ perfection.
So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that Miss P’s was going to be part of the Pop Brixton project which opened earlier this year. No more walking to King’s Cross for me! Although I should probably do a couple of laps of Brockwell Park to make up for every time I’ve been down and stuffed my face.
G smokes all of his meat himself and recently had a new larger smoker created to his spec. He gets only the best stuff from Smithfields and insists on USDA beef for his brisket, ribs, and ox cheek – the corn fed beef has a much higher ratio of fat and this is what lubricates the meat as it smokes for hours and hours. He once told me that if he did twenty USDA briskets he might get one that was a bit dry whereas if he did the same number from British beef, he would be lucky to get even one that wasn’t tough, shrivelled, and disappointing. So there you go.
The menu varies depending on what is ready but you’ll pretty much always find pulled pork and brisket on offer, as well as catfish (so good), and smoke-fried chicken. These are served in standard or large portions, with or without a bun, and accompanied some an expertly made range of hot and BBQ sauces and that punchy slaw.
I have never had a bun (unless I’m getting the catfish burger) – I’m not anti-bread in any way but for me, it’s all about the meat and plenty of it. Brisket is chopped to order and if you’re lucky you might get a load of burnt ends thrown in too. Someone recently commented that the brisket at The Blues Kitchen was better than Miss P’s and I have to disagree most fervently. The meat served at the new place on Acre Lane is good but, for me, doesn’t come close to the quality and flavour of Miss P’s.
And of course there are the specials – keep an eye on their Twitter feed to see what’s coming up and you too could be devouring ox cheeks and megasaurus-sized beef ribs. I’ve also seen (but sadly not made it to try) St Louis pork ribs – my absolute favourite – and smoked pork belly, fried shrimp po’boy sandwiches, and more. I could go on. And the quality certainly hasn’t changed since the Pop Brixton opening. Not one bit.
Obviously the venue dictates the eating experience and anyone who’s been to Pop Brixton will be familiar with the grab-a-bench seating arrangements but this does nothing to detract from the splendour and craft that goes into Miss P’s food. The guys serving are always friendly and happy to talk you through what is on offer, which sauce works best with which meat, and even which beer from the nearby bars would be best. Sometimes you have to wait – if the meat isn’t ready then you just have to hang on but it is more than worth waiting for. And then you get it properly fresh too.
So, if you like meat, if you think you’ve eaten good BBQ, if you want to taste the best, get yourself down to Pop Brixton and order a huge pile of unctuous delights from Miss P’s. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.
James tweets @cradlefish as I’m guessing the handle King of Brisket was taken…