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This Week I Ate...Barnyard

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My life is a joyful tear (a rip not a weep) between town and country. As I scribble I can see green grass, a gate, a horse and tree. Around my house are fields, woods, hedges. Cows moo, birds tweet, horses neigh. I dig, I water, I plant, I move things about in a wheelbarrow. I lug earth hither and thither. I love it here.

Then I'm off to London. There I cycle through traffic, work in an office in the shadow of the A40, cars honk, pneumatic drills pummel the concrete, streets are full of people. I chain my bike to lampposts and go into restaurants. I love it there.

Some of my rustic acquaintances in the country probably think I'm a bit of a townie (the sort of people who wonder why I'm wearing 'gym shoes'). Some of my London pals probably think I'm a bit of a yokel (I'm always complaining the office is too hot while they shiver).

I'm equally at home in both places, while always being glad to get home. But I'm happy, meanwhile, cycling along that concrete. So Barnyard felt like an interesting experiment. Here is the country, transported to Soho.

In the country we are happy to eat in barns, on a straw bales even. We are happy to mix wood and corrugated iron in our field of vision.

Thus it is at Barnyard. The walls are clad in corrugated iron. There's rustic wooden panelling too. The staff wear checked shirts and have beards (which come to think of it is rather more Shoreditch than Northamptonshire). The food is also a kind of mythologised offering. I mean where else would you put 'lard on toast' on the menu?

This is actually a rather remarkable item. It's a classic example of what so often happens in food, across our culinary history. What was once desperate, unimaginative food for the poor becomes the fashionable sought after item for the rich.

Likewise, what the rich ate can also become scorned food just for the poor. The story of bread reads like that. Once nobles presented white fluffy loaves like you might brandish the latest iPad. Now the posh eat teeth-breaking brown loaves, the poor are left with the fluffy numbers.

So imagine the scene. Grubby urchins in mid-19th century London return to their fish-stinky tenement blocks after a morning darting between the costermongers and pick-pocketing. Tea is made up of lard on toast. Their blackened hands grab the food, no consternation about filth going from dirty fingers to toast and into mouth.

Fast-forward 160 years later and there's yours truly entertaining two elegantly dressed women - both called Hemsley - and another called Eleanor (equally elegant, just not called Hemsley). There's me in a suit, and the girls in dresses. Our hands are clean and we're sipping nice white wine. We haven't done any minor thievery but we're still eating lard on toast.

Very good it was too. Crusty, crunchy toast, oily lard. Wickedly good. Eleanor thought it was the bees knees (she didn't say that, she doesn't talk like that) and she's food editor of Britain's most stylish food magazine.

So if you want to know what the fashionable food of the future is, go and see what the poverty-stricken are munching. Actually that'll be burgers and chips, right? And we can already get posh versions of those, so my soothsaying technique may be flawed.

But back to the country dance that is Barnyard.

The menu is divided into 'Pig', 'Cow', 'Lamb', 'Chicken', 'Egg', 'Vegetables' and 'Pudding' and is one of the loveliest menus I have come across. Simplistic but not crude, arch without being pretentious.

To be honest we were so carried away by this Morris Dance of a bumpkin session that with the Gavi sloshing down the dishes were a little hazy. But I clearly remember a constant feeling of serious satisfaction. Roast beef came sliced thinly with a mini churn of buttermilk, crispy chicken wings were dangerous for white shirts, but oily, soft, spicy heaven.

Grilled lamb was less epic, being a little short on flavour and a little tough. There was a fresh-tasty crunchy chicory salad. And yes, brown paper bags containing falling apart cornbread.

I think we ate pudding. I have a vague memory of a soft zesty lemon posset. Then, amid the wood and country-style metal white plates, we borrowed green boots from the staff, climbed on the tables and swung our arms about like local types.

Or maybe not. I love Barnyard. I'm not sure how you do urban in the country. Someone imaginative should give it a go. Me and the Hemsleys will turn up wearing bowler hats and start firing people.

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