I can’t confirm how far Boneyard makes good on its promise to serve you up a slice of Route 66, not having set wheel on that all-American highway before.
But road trips along that stretch of State Route are cited as the inspiration for the restaurant’s exterior, décor and menu – and the latest venture from Robert Newmark, the brains behind Beach Blanket Babylon, has an on-theme location. Officially launched a fortnight ago, Boneyard’s set up shack in an erstwhile petrol station at the Tea Building end of Shoreditch High Street.
The stripped back décor – bare wooden beams, neon lights, semi-industrial lighting – pays homage to the American road trip experience, while the drinks list is heavy on US breweries and Tex-Mex frozen cocktails. Some fairly arcane licensing laws, a throwback to the premises’ previous incarnation as a petrol station Co-op, means that drinking anything harder than a Coke float at Boneyard is an obstacle course of ordering from a segregated drinking-spot, and eating perched at a counter running along the outside of the restaurant. Charmingly ritualistic or pretty obstructive, depending on how strongly you feel a bone marrow burger should be washed down with a margarita and how much you mind perching in the little alleyway-thoroughfare for the sake of having both at once.
It turns out we feel fairly strongly about exploring the beer list, which covers some decent Sierra Nevada ales, and trying out that slushie-machine of frozen margarita churning behind the counter. So installed on that outside counter we hurl ourselves on the menu with more valour than caution. Because the décor might be stripped back but there’s nothing restrained about the food, more Highway Life than High Life and everything laden with cheese, salt, BBQ sauce and-or bone marrow.
Fortunately the staff are on hand for advice – Roxanne Thompson, in particular, fielding the front of house with a Southern States degree of customer service slickness, combined with a British level of enthusiasm for the lesser-known bits of Americana littering the menu. It’s Roxanne that steers us towards the tater tots, which despite being weighed down with cheese, potato – plus presumably a lot of whatever lurks in the fryers of Boneyard – are somehow still crunchy, light and served in a heap big enough to tempt you to stash the leftovers in your pockets, Napoleon Dynamite-style.
We owe Roxanne a debt of gratitude for that, though we fail to take her up on her advice to try out the standalone BBQ outside the the restaurant’s entrance. We’re alarmingly unable to contemplate any more food after a rapidfire tour of the restaurant’s menu that takes in a shared burger, tater tots, and some of the most impressively meaty ribs I’ve ever met with – and I say this as somebody who’s spent a glorious, sticky week touring the roadside barbeques of Texas.
So a dinner of almost unbroken beige, apart from a salad with an air of tokenism about it. Nobody’s here at Boneyard for the greenery. People are here for the meat, although vegetarians are catered for with a boneless burger and more variants on the theme of chips than you can shake a sticky-glazed rib at.
This restaurant offers so much, not least those tater tots – important cultural experience – and ribs larger than any you’ll see outside of Jurassic World. But to be completely frank, neither of us – both of us committed carnivores – leave Boneyard feeling great, although my date puts a braver front on it than I do. You should exit a meat-rich restaurants feeling like a beautiful savage, one who’s grown strong on the lifeforce of a mighty animal, and-or chicken. Leaving Boneyard, we don’t feel strong. We feel smited by our own indulgence and a bit enfeebled, something my date initially tries to suggest is because we’ve overeaten and because it’s very, very hot in that little alcohol-allowed strip. Both of those things are eminently true, although I do make a strong case for him having seen me overeat by much more and on many occasions. I also refer him and readers to that Texan roadtrip, where the meat was plentiful and the heat was fierce.
Verdict? Probably much like Route 66, Boneyard is a hot place with a lot of meat and a hint of danger. Bear that in mind and proceed with caution.
Boneyard, 168 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6HU.