Barbecoa, 20 New Change Passage, London, EC4M 9AG

Before the TV shows, the bestselling books, the school-food campaigns and the browbeating of obese Americans, Jamie Oliver's approach to cooking was that of an experienced brickie – grab this brick, mix this cement, trowel the cement on here, plonk the mixture down there and bish, bosh, zing, zing, hey presto it's done. He convinced the nation that simplicity, rather than complexity, could deliver big flavours. Through the unveiling of his 15 restaurant, and his immensely popular Jamie's Italian chain, he has kept faith with the basic, the tasty, the honest-to-God. Devotees will be relieved to hear that his newest incarnation mostly maintains the tradition, at least when it comes to food. If only everything else about it were so simple.

Barbecoa is located in the new shopping centre called New Change, beside St Paul's Cathedral. Behind a glass front, you see a big B logo and a picture of a grinning J Oliver. Inside, a woman explains that no, no, this is the Jamie Oliver shop, you silly things. The restaurant is down there, turn right and take the lift to the first floor.

A sweet waitress led us into the startling dining room. It's like walking into a film set – the film being Welcome to Sarajevo. You walk past a brick wall, inset with brass-framed windows, through which you can see an arsenal of fancy barbecue equipment: a Japanese robata grill, a Texan smoker and a Tandoori oven like an anti-personnel device. Through the huge window is a view of St Paul's. Unfortunately, it's the arse-end of St Paul's, behind which are three concrete blocks. "I don't think Christopher Wren designed those," said my friend Lisa smartly. "More like Albert Speer."

The main dining area is designed by Tom Dixon, king of metal light fittings. Here, he has excelled himself with hanging lights in organ-pipe shapes – but they don't go with the banquettes, which are the dirty-rose hue of liver sausage. It's so confusing, you bury your face in the tabloid-sized menu.

The influence of Oliver's partner, Adam Perry Lang, is obvious. Lang is an American "bona fide barbecue expert" whatever that is, who runs Daisy May's BBQ restaurant in New York. He and Jamie are committed to showing off "the depth of flavours that smoke, fire and charcoal can bring to food". So the main courses are few and all are carnal: rump, fillet and strip steak and burger, lamb skewers and leg steak, pork belly, rib and shoulder, spatchcock chicken... Heaven help any vegetarian who walks into this hecatomb of seared meat.

Waiting for the main event, you can marvel at how odd the early dishes are. There's a £4 charge for bread and butter – you get four tranches, of tandoori bread, sourdough, rosemary toast and pumpernickel, but to get your money's worth, you'd have to eat the lot and have no appetite left. My starter of crispy pig cheeks was a classic case of over-production. The pig's head had been roasted until the flesh fell off, the cheeks had been boned, mixed with celery and carrots, rolled up, sliced, then cooked until the top was blackened. Its porkiness was muted rather than enhanced by all this activity, and its indifferent flavour wasn't improved by piccalilli. Lisa's baby back ribs, though, were excellent – the meat came off the bone easily and was properly sticky, with real chilli heat in the marinade.

Then the wait was over and my steak arrived. ("Be careful of that knife," said the waitress. "It's quite sharp." Did I really need to be told that?) It would be rude, in a major new steakhouse, not to order the most spectacular one, so I did – a 400g monstrosity like a slab of roadway, its right-angled bone palaeontologically solid and ancient-looking. It sat on a hillock of limp lettuce with a light jus of garlic, anchovy and lemon, and it was wonderfully, explosively juicy, its texture less clenched than most strip steak, its charred smokiness, a real treat. The chips were also ambrosial, lightly crisped like rectangular planks of perfect roast potato.

Lisa chose the fish of the day, hot salmon on a salad of glass noodles containing pork belly. The salmon was perfectly cooked, neither too dry nor fashionably slithery on the inside – "but it doesn't taste of very much, and I could have cooked it myself at home". As for the presence of pork belly – not so much surf'n'turf as surf'n'sty – they seemed to her "like bits of leftover Pad Thai". A side of creamed spinach was eccentrically topped with breadcrumbs and fried shallots. They gave the spinach "bite" – but I ordered the spinach to complement the steak, not to be given a bowl of spinach-plus-roughage.

We shared a yummy banana split with chocolate curls, butterscotch crackle, vanilla ice-cream, and a rather intrusive walnut and banana-bread base, and split (as we'd say in the Sixties). The war-zone aspect of Barbecoa is hard to love, but when it gets it right (as with the steak) you can forgive the slapdash approach to anything which isn't carnivore-related. Time will tell, but I'm not convinced this is a place to which Oliver's army will flock.

Barbecoa, 20 New Change Passage, London, EC4M 9AG (020-3005 8555)

Food 3 stars
Ambience 2 stars
Service 3 stars

Three courses à la carte £110 for two, including wine

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
books
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference