In Britain we have to treat our barbeques with reverence. Any evening warm enough, any weekend not crashed through by April showers or May blizzards – we might not get to barbeque often, so by all that’s sacred we have to barbeque right.
That’s the spirit I visit the Hampstead Butcher & Providore shop in. And why I leave with half my bodyweight in free-range meat. They deliver anywhere in the UK, but the West Hampstead shopfront’s full of supporting acts for your barbeque – organic cheese and vegetables, niche beer, chili sauces, jerk marinade – so there’re practical reasons to go in person, as well as the way that carrying off armfuls of meat makes you feel like a fearless hunter-gatherer.
Behold the contents of the Barbeque Feast Box, and marvel at how strong – or how motivated by meat – I must be to have dragged this up two flights of stairs. 2 x 16oz T-bone steaks, 4 x spatchcocked poussins, 8 x lamb kofte, 8 x pork belly spare ribs, 4 x 170g steak burgers, 12 x Hampstead Butcher sausages. And a bonus pack of 4 pork chops. The chops are extra to the box and clearly we’re not short of meat as it is but, I mean. Pork chops.
The feast part isn’t hyperbole; the only way it could be more Tudor-banqueting-hall in tenor is if all the meats were stuffed inside each other, and then into a swan. Getting through even a fraction of it in whatever summer we have is going to take commitment. True, it comes vacuum-packed and freezable, and there’s no law of physics which says we have to eat this here, now and barbequed. All of this meat would do honour to a frying pan or an oven or a stew. But that’s not the point. I want barbeques. I want to cook meat by moonlight until I can’t remember a time when everything didn’t taste of smoke and smell of summer.
And that’s more or less what happens.
When we head outside to light up the barbeque that first evening, the sky’s already dark but the stones are still warm underfoot. There are stars, there’s a firepit, it’s a warm night with enough breeze to make the flames jump. And there are plates of meat on the table waiting to be cooked – one of the steaks, the poussin covered in Creole paste, a couple of lamb kofte – along with tomato, feta and pomegranate salad, and flatbreads for burning and ignoring. There might be other people somewhere in London doing a summer evening as well as us, but there can’t be many.
We cook the T-bone steak first, thrown on while the flames are still high and it’s an unqualified victory, grilled till the outside seared dark and the inside’s rare and soft. The kofte we lose pieces of to the flames, the parts we salvage enough to make us regret the parts we can’t. But the poussin go onto the grill when the charcoal’s darkened to red and the paprika caramelises steadily.
We stay out late, watching the fire, till the paving starts to cool to the touch, the embers turn to a steady glow and the steak is just a memory and that Jurassic T-bone pulled bare. This is a good night.
And that’s how the week of barbeques begins. A string of summery days, the evenings lit by firepits, by moonlight and stars and – alright, breaking my own rule about the reverence you should treat this meat with but in really forgivable circumstances: we were hungry – once a tinny, semi-squashed disposable barbeque tray balanced on a friends’ balcony ledge. We burnish the air over Willesden Green with the smell of T-bone steak and chops coated with paprika. We send the smell of steak burgers drifting over the gardens of Camden and the balconies of Hoxton.
This is the kind of meat that turns people poetic. Paul says the chops, covered in that Creole paste, taste like holidays, and Paul goes to a quaint Greek island every year. Jonny says the burgers take me back to Argentina, this burger is to me what those girly cakes are to Proust. My date says he’s never cooked a steak this big, which is only poetic if you can see the awe in his expression when he says it. Ross says things about the burgers which aren’t poetic and don’t belong in a family publication.
Paul says the sausages taste of English summer barbeques, which is, yeah, technically what you’d expect. But it’s true this is all meat that tastes like the Platonic ideal of English and summer and barbeque. Sophie says her burger reminds her of the time she had her first burger after eight years of being vegetarian, and thought that nothing would ever taste so much of burger again.
And my date says ‘you’re like a meat fairy’, which is Wiltshire for ‘fearless hunter-gatherer’.
Night skies, firepit, meat from the Hampstead Butcher over the flames. Maybe some music. Maybe some beer. Ideally good company. If there’s a better way to do justice to one of our way-too-rare summer evenings I want to hear about it.
Not tonight, though. Tonight I’m barbequeing.
The Hampstead Butcher & Providore Barbeque boxes are available for delivery across the UK, and the BBQ Feast Box is £79.50.
The Hampstead Butcher & Providore, 56, Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, NW3 1ND and 244, West End Lane, West Hampstead, NW6 1LG. For orders and enquiries please call 0207 7940096. Website.