"Do you want to eat piles of meat and drink £5 cocktails in a former brothel basement in Soho?"
"Of course I do."
That, pretty much, is how I'd sum up Blacklock. Opened a few weeks ago, the slim doorway doesn't give away the cavernous space beneath. It's dark. It's noisy. It's not for vegetarians. The menu consists of pre-meal bites, a selection of 'skinny' chops, and some sides - you're here for the meat. The 'crisps' are perfectly circular crisp breads; of the lot, egg mayo and anchovy is my favourite. I'm not sure what is 'filthy' about a wafer of parma ham atop the crisps, but in any case, I favoured the pickled vegetables with a sharp, strong cheese over them.
I've been twice now - once for dinner, when it was a no-brainer to go for the 'all-in' option of a load of chops, a side each person and the crisps for £20 per person. It's enormous, a whopping great pile of charred meat on the bone. A blacklock is a type of cast iron press, and these are used to press the meat against the hot grill. Underneath the meat is crisp, spongy bread, soaking up all those meat juices and fat. Pork belly, lamb t-bones and chops, and beef chops were all present and cooked well, with incredible flavour from well-sourced meat.
I returned again for lunch, and we attempted to order a la carte at £4 per chop but we abandoned that idea when the order became too confusing. It's just easier to go all in. This time the beef chops were out of stock, so a pork and lamb feast was presented to us. My earlier criticism that the meat was aggressively salted seems to have been addressed.
But what of the sides? Oh, the glorious, glorious sides. Carrot and meat radish salad was a vinegared affair, shaved thinly and dressed with fennel seed and parsley. It's brilliant - well balanced, and it cuts through the richness of the meat. Kale and parmesan salad was the antithesis of this, what with being very cheesy and robust. Chargrilled baby gem was another favourite at the table.
Anyone who knows me knows that there's not much I dislike in the food world, but sweet root vegetables have that dishonour. So I was as surprised as anyone when I actually actively enjoyed the 10 hour coal-roasted sweet potato - a genius idea of cooking them overnight on the dying embers. Smoky, sweet, and seasoned well with butter, I have found my new favourite side dish. I don't even know who I am anymore.
And what of those cocktails? The nettle gimlet is a pretty thing, served in a tiny glass but packed full of potent punch. An Aperol negroni was a shy cousin of it's usual bolshy Campari-led self. They have a beautiful cocktail trolley which they'll wheel round to you to stir up an Old Fashioned, which is pretty much the best way to end a night.
There is only one dessert, the white chocolate cheesecake. The waiting staff come round with a dish off of it, proffering a portion with an accompaniment of stewed rhubarb, which I imagine might change as the seasons do. What a cheesecake! Light and fluffy, and the only thing I was capable of eating after that carnivorous frenzy.
Blacklock will be a deserved success. The staff are friendly, the playlist makes you want to wave your arms in the air, and the food is accessible and no-nonsense. I hope the sides will change slightly as to what's available as the year wears on, and as I understand it they will be introducing specialist and larger, sharing cuts of meat. At around £35 a head if you're being sensible, it's perfectly reasonable to go back all the time. Interspersed with gym visits, perhaps.
London W1D 7LG