Firstly, I’d like to briefly mention the rubbish terrorist attack that happened on the High Road last week. It really was shit. Its ineffectuality and poor execution is almost the most significant thing about it, aside from being on fucking Streatham High Road of all places. Not that any one place is more or less deserving of a random knife attack but come on, Streatham High Road? Even the term ‘terrorist attack’ gives it a kind of unearned gravitas. What a dickhead.
Secondly, the ribs at Cattle Grid @ Exhibit B are the best I’ve had in a very long time, and the least I’ve paid for them. They were shockingly good.
Cattle Grid is another in a long list of restaurants I shamefully ignored until they died. It used to be sat opposite Balham station, a place I have been to over 1000 times, but I never went in, and then one day it wasn’t there any more. It had been replaced by something called Heidi, which, again, I’ll probably never visit.
It’s now the resident restaurant at Exhibit B, which is an offshoot of The Exhibit, another Balham staple. The Balham branch is a cinema-cum-nightclub that serves god-awful braying Balham blokes espresso martinis, which they pair with keys of coke in the toilets, turning them into supercharged ultra-cunts. The Streatham High Road version, though, has a sweeter touch, more of a date venue vibe. It isn’t very ‘BBQ’, however. The exposed concrete ceiling and smattering of plants are more evocative of a new media office space than the Missouri State Fair.
There’s of course no table service here, so orders are made at the bar. For me, baby back ribs and chips (£10, as part of ‘Rib Tuesday’ (there’s also ‘Wing Wednesday’)), for my dining partner the bacon burger, with some shared Buffalo wings and coleslaw. So far, so Bodeans.
The burger is a little over cooked, but is good and frankly is what it is. I’m not one to get emotional about burgers (has anyone else noticed the weird amount of media Gordon Ramsey does about burgers? You’d think he’d hate them). The wings are far better, a luminescent orange yet without the regular sickly tang, and just the right amount of heat. Even the accompanying blue cheese sauce, usually one excess too far, is rather demure.
The ribs, though, are the star of the show. Falling off the bone, with a perfectly balanced barbeque sauce glaze, and an endearingly superfluous drizzle of fresh parsley. Taking the first bite gives me a frown of confusion: ‘how are these so nice?’ The glutton in me couldn’t deny an up-sold home made blueberry cheesecake to finish. Very nice, but entirely unnecessary. Got to stop doing this to myself.
The only real let down is the coleslaw, which is flat and tastes suspiciously extremely similar to one you’d get in Sainsbury’s. To put poise and care into everything else and not with the simplest, cheapest part raises alarm bells. Is it all too good to be true?
I have no idea where the kitchen for this culinary refugee is inside Exhibit B. On the day I went, the sign for the venue had been painted over, and was just a plain white block in the middle of the street, totally anonymous. Eating there made me sad I never saw the original place in its heyday; spit and sawdust, probably some kind of rockabilly playlist, the normal trappings of the British ribs ‘n’ wings experience. I hope they’re keeping the spirit alive in the kitchen, maybe a mechanical bull sadly gyrates in the middle of the pass, knocking over plates and opening cupboard doors.
Perhaps I will give Heidi a try after all.
Total bill was £40 without drinks.