Bodean’s restaurant analysis | Grace Dent

At a recent sojourn in Bodean’s, I was slapped again by a fact about the “casual dining crunch” that most industry experts never mention: diners voted with their feet. The food got too bloody casual.

Chains like Pizza Express, Prezzo, Jamie’s Italian and myriad others presented themselves as friends: there to do the heavy lifting on your social life and family occasions. And they abused that friendship. My love for Pizza Express dwindled over a dozen missing-in-action side salads; the waiter eventually brought me undressed leaves. And I am still murderous over a night in 2012 trapped at Prezzo in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, where the microwave’s ding heralded bolognese resembling the innards of a Whiskas beef-flavoured casserole pouch. Yes, Britain may arguably have grown more skint over the past decade, but its palate has become more refined. We’d rather eat Lidl prosciutto at home than have it hurled at a sharing “plank” by a surly teen in Jamie’s Italian, Guildford.

Bodean's Soho

Bodean’s Soho, London W1: ‘Some of the worst slap-dash nonsense masquerading as hospitality I have ever endured.’ Photograph: Liz Seabrook for the Guardian

Back in 2003, Bodean’s was one of the only places in the UK serving pseudo-authentic American “barbecue”: pulled pork, babyback ribs, burnt ends. These days, though, weddings, small festivals and your child’s school fete may well feature a street-food truck flogging marinated, faux-Tennessee piggy bits. And that street food will be brined, marinated, smoked, shredded and seasoned with a hell of a lot more love and attention than Bodean’s, which transpires to be some of the worst slap-dash nonsense masquerading as hospitality I’ve ever endured. And I’ve eaten fajitas that tasted like Clarks Polyveldts while sat in a big, stationary, fake New York taxi at a shopping-mall TGI Fridays.

The clientele are duped tourists and potential incel freedom fighters bulking up on protein. My labrador would not have eaten Bodean’s cremated babyback ribs, and that stupid hound will wolf down fox poo with vivid glee. Does Bodean’s care about this? Or will it rumble on until it’s turfed out of the market, when it will be everyone else’s fault, including you and naughty me?

Bodean’s Cajun swordfish: ‘Blackened fish with a mountain of overcooked okra and cherry tomatoes.’

Bodean’s Cajun swordfish: ‘Blackened fish with a mountain of overcooked okra and cherry tomatoes.’ Photograph: Liz Seabrook for the Guardian

Bodean’s ribs put me in mind of when Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons go out of control in Game of Thrones and aerial-bombard the local goats. My “Cajun swordfish” emerges in such a blackened state that I could have used it to bang out a rudimentary Afro Left by Leftfield. The fish is served with a mountain of overcooked okra and cherry tomatoes. The chips are McCain’s-style, served dry and dusted with some sort of sweet, not entirely offensive hickory flavouring. The coleslaw is unseasoned, loveless mulch. I ordered a side of “Cajun vegetables”, which turned out to be more okra. I’m not certain if anyone, historically, has ever consumed an entire kilo of okra in one sitting.

The Bodean’s menu offers no vegetarian option save for the ubiquitous mac’n’cheese. It’s 2018. Go mad, guys. Stick a box of beanburgers in your trolley. You can’t mess them up more than your burnt ends that taste of jam and have the consistency and vibe of something a kidnapper might begin posting back to your parents. Still, if Bodean’s profits begin to suffer, be sure we will endure industry rumination about this wholly perplexing affair.

I ordered a banana split because, by this stage, I had drunk two rather strong old-fashioneds on a nearly empty stomach. The first because I love an old-fashioned, the second to blot out the bartender’s Nikki Sixx bandana. The banana split is very dear to the heart of British diners of a certain age. It evokes memories of 70s and 80s childhood largesse. It should, by unwritten culinary law, involve a banana, cream and ice-cream, yes, but more than this: sprinkles, and drizzled sauces in raspberry and chocolate flavours. I will accept a glacé cherry. If you have a sparkler, I want that sparkler lit. I don’t care if Aunty Sheila loses an eyebrow: this is about me. The Bodean’s banana split is a passive-aggressive act. It’s what you give a bad child on their birthday if they have recently drop-kicked a guinea pig. It’s just a banana covered with squirty cream. While Instagram rocks with freakshakes and bespoke cronut-duffins catering to a Bake-Off showstopper-spoiled audience, over at Bodeans they’ve created the perfect post-Brexit banana split. It’s 1944 again and we should just be excited to see a real-life banana.

Bodean’s version of barbecue is a great example of how the casual dining game got so “crunchy”. I shan’t apologise for getting all up in its grill.

Bodean’s 10 Poland Street, London W1, 020-7287 7575. Open all week, noon-11pm (10.30pm Sun). About £25 a head plus drinks and service.

Food 1/10
Atmosphere 1/10
Service 1/10

Grace’s week in other dishes

1 Pod’s ‘Slow Burner’ salad. They lied: I was still asleep at 3pm when my editor asked for copy.

Pod’s ‘Slow Burner’ salad. They lied: I was still asleep at 3pm when my editor asked for copy.

Meatless meatballs at Leon.

2 Meatless meatballs at
Leon. Yes, they look atrocious. Yes, they are wonderful.