Tuesday, 28 January 2014
The Lockhart, Marylebone
There are precious few restaurants that have a menu so comprehensively well drawn-up that you would be happy eating every single item from it. This is because most restaurants, like most people, aren't good at everything and tend to focus on their strengths while producing a couple of token offerings for minority interests (usually vegetarians or other niche dietary requirements). Hence the burger bars with the tragic lentil alternative, or the fish & chip restaurant doing frozen burgers to keep fussy non-fish-eaters happy. It's simple economics - you've less of a chance of a vegan vetoing a birthday trip to your favourite tapas joint if they are able to order at least something, and though you can't please everyone all of the time, there's at least a possibility you could stop them banging on about the rights of the unborn chicken foetus for five bloody minutes while you have your croquettas. And while you do, the restaurant in question is making money.
Sometimes though it's nice to come across a menu in which no dish appears to be a half-hearted niche-interest offering, and everything sounds as good as everything else. It's nice, because you know instantly this is the kind of place that is doing nothing but what they're good at, and if they're not good at whatever it is floats your particular boat, then you're better off elsewhere. But it's also nice because it gave me and a few friends the chance to order, Mr. Creosote-style "the lot, twice" without a second thought, safe in the knowledge that we wouldn't be presented with anything that wasn't exactly the kind of thing Lockhart wanted to make.
What the Lockhart want to make, then, is American food with a Southern states lean, but using British ingredients and with a certain added British refinement in service and atmosphere. If that seems a bit mean to the Southern US then I don't mean it to be, just that Marylebone is not Louisiana, and you ignore local interests at your peril. Simply copying exactly a restaurant from somewhere else is not a commendable insistence on authenticity, it's a theme park.
First to arrive, while we were still in the downstairs bar, was something called a "muffaletta" which I'm afraid hadn't crossed my consciousness before but which apparently originated in New Orleans and contained layers of mortadella, salami, mozzarella and all sorts, alongside mixed pickled veg. The effect was just as good as you might think layer upon layer of ham, cheese and pickle would be, but it was still remarkably light for what looked like something you could have used to prop open your front door. I think most of it disappeared pretty quickly. Read sandwich expert Helen Graves' writeup of it here, and have a go making it yourself from a recipe in her book.
Upstairs for the full menu, and the real fireworks. Just a few highlights, to save space and because these are the only photos that were even close to publishable. Buttermilk wedge salad was a huge, crunchy pile of comfort and colour, bacon and egg and lettuce bound together with a gorgeous creamy dressing. Shrimp and grits were super, too - perfectly timed prawns (not something many places can manage) on a seasoned bed of rich polenta.
Stuffed quail was a lovely thing, its crisp, golden brown skin holding moist flesh largely unencumbered by bones (well done whoever's tedious job that was), on a bed of creamed cabbage. Saddle of venison, again perfectly cooked, came with a little quenelle of roast apple sauce, and one of those thick, cheffy gravies that makes you want to lick your plate clean. I licked my plate clean.
Another stunning bit of food was a ribeye of beef for two, which served to remind that there are other ways of doing justice to top-end cow without cremating it in a Josper. Gently browned, with a powerful grass-fed flavour, it was quite the best bit of beef I've enjoyed since my last trip to Goodman, and and anyone who's ever been to Goodman will tell you, there are few higher compliments than that. No photo of the beef though I'm afraid. Well, there is but I won't let you see it for fear of retribution. Oh, I almost forgot the fried chicken - also great, even though my photo of it looked like something being removed from an operating theatre.
So, as you can gather, there are lots of reasons to like the Lockhart. Not just the food, not just the whole "we like it so you should too" attitude to the menu, but the uniqueness of the whole concept - Southern US grace matched with central London style. There are, God knows, so many American diner and BBQ shack concepts flooding the city at the moment and to do exactly that again would have made perfect business sense. But the Lockhart is, confidently, brilliantly, its own animal, a fusion of London and New Orleans, and a perfectly charming place to spend an evening. I thoroughly recommend it - just don't bring a vegetarian.