Do you remember those summer days when your family would get together? Grandfather would fire up the smoker and the scent of barbecue would fill the air as your uncle mounted a full pig on the spit and it would spin there, slowly roasting, the scent of its juices causing your belly to rumble as you handed out bottles of ice cold beer to your family members. Remember those days?
No, me neither. My family barbecues were spent waiting for dad to burn the bangers as we huddled under the garage awning, sheltering from the incessant British summer rain. However that idyllic hog-roasting, smoky scene is exactly how Robb Shannon grew up, which is precisely why his new restaurant Midtown BBQ, just a short distance from both Fushimi and Nagoya Stations, is such a roaring success.
You may know Robb from Sienna, a restaurant famed for the Super Jack Bacon Burger, for me the best burger in the city, but also renowned for their occasional authentic barbecue nights.
“I always wanted a barbecue place,” said Robb “and the success of those evenings just fuelled the fantasy. As we were outgrowing Sienna to a certain extent, for the barbecue place I wanted to find the perfect location.”
And find it he did. While Sienna had a more of an exclusive air, Midtown BBQ is a lot more casual and relaxed with an open, expansive dining area. Comfy armchairs sit at wooden tables, and is thus very much befitting of the cuisine. It’s somewhere that you can either drop in and knock back a few beers with mates after work, or entertain a first date. Casual, cool and stylish but not unnecessarily flash.
Upon arrival the first thing you notice is the three huge Kamado keg smokers. Here they cook their ribs, chicken and pulled pork using Japanese binchotan charcoal, a fuel that is so clean and odourless that it can be used to purify water. This means that anything you eat is going to taste of just meat and spices – including a19 spice BBQ rub, the recipe for which Robb has perfected since his childhood, and as his signature taste keeps it such a secret that not even his other chefs know – and that alone.
When NAGMAG paid a visit we were served a stunning barbecue set dish with a slab of juicy pork, succulent smoked chicken thigh and a huge helping of pulled pork. These had been made in the smoker and they were moist, mouth-watering and, importantly, as authentic as if they had come straight from the southern States’ BBQ belt. The side dishes included crispy fries, house pickles, a vinegary coleslaw that worked as a piquant counterbalance to the sweet BBQ sauce that was slathered over the meat, as well as a chilli con carne that wasn’t really spicy enough for my asbestos-lined innards, but NAGMAG’s photographer Rangi couldn’t get enough.
If you do go for this set, I can recommend that you make a small sandwich of their homemade buns with pulled pork, coleslaw and the BBQ sauce. And then more BBQ sauce. Because this sauce, again using Robb’s signature spices, is out of this fucking world. I apologise for my profanity, but there are no other appropriate words in the English language for it, and ‘out of this f@£ing world’ does not do it justice.
While Midtown BBQ is predominantly a barbecue restaurant, they still do the burgers and flame-grilled steaks for which Sienna was rightly lauded. Everything on the menu is made from scratch with fresh, locally sourced ingredients, right down to the bread and desserts.
Of course, I know there are those of you out there who don’t do meat, whether it be for taste or ethical reasons. Now, personally I can’t understand your way of thinking. If God didn’t want us to eat animals, he wouldn’t have made them out of meat.
However, Midtown BBQ does not share my opinion. In fact, one of the chefs is of the same persuasion, and if you so wish they can make you a vegan, gluten-free dish to order. All you need do is say the word and they will match a meal to pretty much any dietary requirements. A steak, burger and barbecue place that does vegan? Ironic as it seems, it’s true.
Those of you who had been to Sienna probably recall that they had a fine line of bottled craft beers, and like everything else at Midtown BBQ, they have picked up Sienna’s baton and run with it. Here you can choose from 10 great craft beers on tap that come from both the west coast of the States – such as Elysian from Seattle and Russell from Vancouver – and Japan – including one of my favourites, Minami Shinshu, and Shonan’s exciting new Blessing in Disguise IIIPA – and the menu is constantly changing so you can pretty much guarantee that you can find something different each time you swing by.
And swing by you must, because much like the family get-togethers of Robb’s childhood, Midtown BBQ is pretty much barbecue heaven. In fact, I can’t find a single bad word to say about it other than the fact that I can’t stop raving and am thus running out of my word count for this article, meaning I might not be able to even finish this