An expert guide to London’s best BBQ joints by Melissa Thompson

Cooking over roaring live fire doesn’t have to be a lavish, medieval spit-roast hog style situation. It can be a delicate, precise form of cheffery, and barbecue cook and food writer Melissa Thompson is one of the experts. A mastermind when it comes to flame-licked foods, she’ll be returning to the annual flesh-fest that is Meatopia this summer to show punters how it’s done. 

‘I used to go as a punter and a few years ago I ​​got invited to cook there which blew my mind,’ she says. ‘It’s just the sight of it, the sounds, the smells; it’s such a celebration of amazing food, brilliant ingredients, and really fun people. I love it.’

Melissa won’t be cooking alone. She’ll be teaming up with south London legend Maureen Tyne, who also runs one of Melissa’s favourite BBQ restaurants in London, Maureen’s Brixton Kitchen. 

Here’s Melissa on the joy of Maureen’s, and five more of her favourite BBQ restaurants and take-out stalls and stands across the city.

1. Maureen’s Brixton Kitchen, Brixton

Melissa: ‘I’ve been going to Maureen’s for a very long time. Everybody knows her now, but at the beginning she was a little more under the radar. She was always really popular within the local community, but she wasn’t really on social media until I helped set up her Instagram account. I discovered it just walking past and seeing all the jerk drums in the yard. You feel a bit like you’re trespassing because you’re basically going into someone’s house, but you can sit outside and hang out. Maureen was born in Jamaica but came to the UK about 30 years ago and cooks proper Jamaican food; ackee and saltfish, oxtail, fried chicken, jerk chicken, curry chicken, and then on the weekend there are specials like jerk pork. All of it gets cooked outside, even the rice and pies is cooked outside on massive pots over fire. It’s legit.’  

Melissa’s go-to order: ‘I always get something to take home; I have on rotation oxtail, curry chicken and jerk chicken’.

52 Railton Rd, SE24 0LF

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2. Lagom, Hackney 

‘I think Elliot Cunningham is probably one of the best chefs in London. His approach to food is so beautiful. In a world where social media is massive and people are creating stuff just for the ‘Gram or TikTok, he doesn’t really pander to anything like that. His food is all about balance – which is what Lagom means in Swedish; not too much or not too little – and it just always tastes good and he’s always pushing the boundaries of what fire can do. We talk a lot about the fuel that you use and about how getting really good charcoal is an ingredient in itself. And nowhere else is that more evident than at Elliot’s place. He lets ingredients speak for themselves, it’s not about jazzing things up to make it look pretty. Whatever you have there will be the best version of it. He did this smoked crispy cauliflower which was the best cauliflower I’ve ever had.’ 

Go-to order: ‘Whatever vegetable is on the menu. He did this beetroot carpaccio with hazelnuts that was amazing. Meat’s quite an easy thing to cook on a barbecue but vegetables can be a bit tricky.’

Lagom at Hackney Church Brew Co, 17 Bohemia Pl, E8 1DU

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3. Cavita, Fitzrovia

I first met Adriana Cavita at Meatopia, and I was bizarrely starstruck. Her stall is always the most beautiful stall there and she wears all her Mexican clothing and has such a calm aura about her. Her food always looks incredible, too. People always talk about Mexican food in London, and how you can’t get a decent taco here. I don’t know enough about Mexican food to know whether that’s true, but I do know that the food that Adriana cooks at her restaurant is really good. I did a collaboration dinner there and I got to see her in action and it was really magical. She does these camarones, and I love prawns cooked over fire because they give off this aroma that really takes you to the sea. It comes with roasted pineapple.’

Go-to order: ‘Those prawns’.

56-60 Wigmore St, W1U 2RZ

4. Original Tasty Jerk, Thornton Heath

‘I love Maureen’s, but Original Tasty Jerk probably is my favourite jerk pork. Outside of Jamaica it’s the best jerk pork I’ve ever had. It’s one of those places that not everybody knows about, but there’s always a queue and it’s always really busy. If there wasn’t a queue I’d probably be a bit sad, because part of the enjoyment is watching the theatre of everyone just cracking on, taking the pork from the bucket to grill to the next jerk pan and getting it really caramelised and adding layers of flavour. What’s really special about their jerk pork is that it’s got the skin on and it’s crispy, which with marinated pork is actually quite hard because it burns so easily. The fat is so beautifully soft and the meat has got a really lovely chew to it. They also do jerk goat, which you don’t always get at jerk places.’

Go-to order: ‘Jerk pork. And if you’re bringing loads of food back for loads of people you have to get an extra portion for the car journey, because you will break into it on the way home’.

88 Whitehorse Ln, SE25 6RQ

5. Hawksmoor, Borough Market

‘I know they’re international now and across the country, but they’re a lesson in how to grow while still maintaining quality and integrity. Their food is really consistent – their steak is always really well cooked. I went there for Sunday lunch recently and they had bone marrow with caramelised shallots on top, and my god, it was so tasty. All the sides are amazing too and they get so much flavour on the outside of the meat. I don’t go that often, like twice a year or something, but every time I’ve gone I’ve been really happy. If I want a really good steak and I don’t want to take any chances and don’t want to be disappointed, I’ll go to Hawksmoor. I like the Borough Market one because you can make an afternoon of it and go ‘round the market after.’ 

Go-to order: ‘The Sunday roast, or any meat on the bone.’

16 Winchester Walk, SE1 9AQ

6. Cue Point, Walworth

‘Their food is pretty unique. I love the fact that a halal barbecue joint that strives to be inclusive is so well known. Smoked lamb isn’t something that everyone does. Of course, lamb is delicious, but it can also be a bit bland if it’s a lamb shank or lamb leg – when you get to the insides it can be a bit boring. But smoke and lamb are really great bedfellows and make for a really tasty bit of food. They also put so much thought into their sauces at Cue Point and their breads. Joshua [Moroney] and Mursal [Saiq] who run it are great as well, they’re just always so excited – when you see them cooking there’s so much energy. Like Elliot from Lagom, Joshua’s another Smokestak alumni, so he’s just really good with it all.’

Go-to order: ‘Lamb ribs.’

Cue Point at Orbit Brewery, Arches 225-228 Fielding Street, SE17 3HD  

Melissa Thompson, Maureen Tyne, Elliott Cunningham and Adriana Cavita will all be cooking at Meatopia food festival, Aug 29-Sep 1 at Tobacco Dock, E1W 2SF.

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