Tuesday, 28 April 2015
I quite like the idea of a subterranean, clandestine chop joint (that's chop joint, not clip joint - although there's plenty of those in Soho) but there's a fine line between inconspicuous and totally bloody invisible. I spent a good ten minutes micro-adjusting my position on the little red pin where Google Maps told me I should be, completely failing to see which anonymous black door might contain a restaurant and it was only when a friend of mine appeared from one after an early lunch I noticed a tiny handwritten sign, ink on cardboard, taped to a back wall - BLACKLOCK. So, this was the place, after all.
Inside, and down some stairs, things get more familiar. Soho basements often have a wonderful way of twisting a restaurant into strange shapes - claustrophobic narrow corridors, nooks and crannies (think Pitt Cue, or Pizza Pilgrims) - and Blacklock makes the most of theirs, with a collection of tables on different levels, a cute bar in one corner and an open kitchen at the back. There's even some natural light on some attractive whitewashed-brick snugs on one side, where you can look up and watch people walk to and fro on the pavements above. Handy for photographs, too, obviously.
The menu style is in some debt - I'm sure they won't mind me saying - to fellow meat-specialists Pitt Cue, with a short list of house specials and some sides, but actually the brains behind Blacklock come from the Hawksmoor stable, and their chefs did some chop shop prep at the Air Street branch.
Given that pedigree, then, it's probably not surprising the main event at Blacklock - the chops - are absolutely stunning. On two visits I tried the beef, lamb and pork versions and they could hardly be faulted, being perfectly seasoned and expertly timed on the charcoal grill to get a delicate dark crust and flesh so tender it dissolved in the mouth. It's hard to pick a favourite of the three but perhaps if I had to go back for only one I'd choose the pork, if only because pork chops are so often badly done elsewhere; to have them cooked as perfectly as this (yes I am using that word) is a unique treat.
Of course, some of the hard work is done even before Blacklock spark up the coals - all meat is from exemplary Cornish butchers Warrens, an operation I've been entirely obsessed with ever since a steak at the Clove Club they supplied a few years back. These days, they're a little more widely spread (try the Adam & Eve pub in Homerton, or the brand new Newman Arms in Fitzrovia) but the product shows no sign of flagging.
So far so good, then, and if you like chops, clearly this is your place. As for the rest of the menu, it's best described as split into "grilled vegetables", so things like "charred courgettes and chicory" or "barbequed baby gems" which are in of themselves nice but tend to be overwhelm with carbon taken with everything else, and a couple of pleasant salads - "kale and parmesan" on my first visit and a pretty fennel and radish affair on my 2nd, both of which complimented the meats much better.
The only real problem I encountered was the bread. What I really wanted was something soft and absorbent to soak up the plateful of salty meat juices that had run out of the chops. "Charcoal-grilled flat bread", though, for some reason arrived completely soaked in oil, meaning it was no good either to wipe my plate clean with or as a companion to the rest of the food. And also tasted pretty horrid.
But these are minor things. If nothing else, Blacklock are willing to experiment - on my first visit starters were cute little discs of Peter's Yard crispbread topped with scrambled egg and anchovies. The next time, they were somewhat less successfully experimenting with grizly blobs of cold dripping topped with prosciutto... well, you have to admire their imagination.
Mistakes, though, are expected - in fact it would be more worrying if everything was perfect in the opening couple of months than if they weren't. What's more important than the detail is that somehow, it works - it feels like it belongs here, in this quirky dark basement, with its no-nonsense grilled meats and trendy-friendly-beardy staff. And despite having lost a brothel to gain it (as they themselves cheerfully point out), the opening of Blacklock feels like we've somehow gained more Soho than - as is becoming depressingly common - lost another chunk. So, well done them.
Blacklock full? Belly empty? Download Where to Eat London 2015 and you won't stay hungry for long.