Social media – for those of us who follow lots of London fooderati – was filled with photos of plates piled high with grilled meat when Blacklock opened its doors in the heart of Soho last February. Mounds of beef, lamb and pork chops cooked on a charcoal grill and served over bread that soaks up the meat juices.
Despite my best intentions, I never managed a visit last year. Starting a new job last spring – based outside of London and a pig of a commute – put a bit of a brake on my central London dining experiences. But lately I’ve been keen to make up for lost time. And meat is at the top of my list.
The brainchild of ex-Consultant Gordon Ker who decided to swap a desk in the City for running his own restaurant, pausing to take some time working in Hawksmoor along the way, inspiration has come not only from Hawksmoor but from Joe Beef in Montreal, London’s Turkish ocakbasis and steak houses around the world.
The offering is a short menu of top quality meat cooked over charcoal, a trio of snacks to start and a few simple vegetable sides. To wash those down, a handful of surprisingly affordable cocktails, a couple of craft beers, tapped wine by the volume and a soft drink or two.
Named for its main cooking method – meat is cooked ‘on a homemade charcoal grill and seared with scorching hot vintage irons, made in the 1800s by a cast iron foundry in the Deep South called Blacklock’* – the restaurant is located in a basement in the heart of Soho; a former brothel, no less. Note that access is not great for anyone with mobility issues; I expected no lift access – common in basement-only restaurants in historical properties – but what I didn’t expect was a staircase with no handrail for the top few steps. Probably not an issue for the vast majority of customers, but difficult for me.
Downstairs is an impressively open space with unusually high ceilings for a basement and a slightly retro, low-budget-cool decor. Much of the seating is at large tables with stools, at least one of which is communal, or at high tables with high chairs to match; both are a no-no for me – I need a backrest and I find clambering onto high chairs uncomfortable – but probably not a problem for most customers. There are some tables available with proper chairs or back-supporting banquettes, so reserve in advance to request these.
Skinny Chops are listed on the two-sided printed menu (all at £4 each) but Big Chops are chalked onto pillar blackboards, impossible to read from our table and staff didn’t seem eager to run through the contents for us before ordering – have a quick browse before settling in at your table.
In any case, we went for the All In option – £20 per person for 8 Skinny Chops between two – 2 beef short ribs and one each of all the rest, we were told, plus 1 each of the three Pre Chop Bites, and one Side each.
At first glance (of the menu), Pre Chop Bites (£3 for the set or £1 individually) didn’t sound very exciting but actually, they were bloody marvellous! A precarious pile of pickles over sharp cheese, a draping of Dripping Ham and – my favourite – egg mayonnaise with an anchovy fillet and raw onion, all served on bite-sized Peter’s Yard crispbreads; these were perfectly balanced mouthfuls of texture and flavour. A good reminder that the supremely simple can be superb!
With these we enjoyed some of the very keenly-priced cocktails (£5 each); Spiked Lemonade and Aperol Negroni both get a thumbs up.
Impatient though we were, we didn’t have to wait too long before the main event arrived. A magnificent mound of ‘Skinny Chops’ of beef, lamb and pork that looked anything but skinny to me – fat, juicy cuts of meat cooked on charcoal and served over bread that soaks up the meat juices. What was served didn’t quite match up to the menu list – we had two beef short ribs as expected, but only two of the pork cuts and four of lamb. This wasn’t a problem, but it would have been nice to be advised on ordering that one skinny chop was not available and asked for our choice of replacement.
Still, the chops were tasty and beautifully cooked. The beef short ribs were the least favourite, for both of us I think – nothing wrong with them but not a cut that’s particularly tender cooked this way, so a little chewy to eat. Pork was superbly tender, with nicely browned fat – the best bit! Lamb had the best flavour of all, and was juicy and tender. I was full after three chops, but luckily my friend has an appetite that belies her lithe body and hoovered up the other five with no hesitation at all!
For our two included Sides we chose Beef Dripping Chips and 10 Hour Ash Roasted Sweet Potato. The restaurant also sent out Charred Courgettes, Chicory & Stilton and a green salad with parmesan. Next time I visit I’ll likely do the same and order extra; at £3 each these sides are great value (especially compared to those at fellow meat purveyor, Zelman).
The sweet potatoes were the best I’ve had for a long time, superbly soft flesh full of smoke and sweetness; very special indeed. The green salad (listed on the menu as kale and parmesan but served as rocket) was a welcome addition, refreshing against the unremitting mountain of meat. I’m not a fan of chicory but the courgettes were cooked just as I like them – with a little firmness of bite – and the flavours of charring and stilton worked well. Chips were as good as they sound and look – excellent flavour, and perfect combination of crunchy exterior and fluffy inside.
Not pictured are the sauces (£1 each) – we ordered both available – Chilli Hollandaise and Green Sauce, the former served in a sauce boat and the latter in small jam jars. Both excellent and a nice change from the usual Peppercorn and Béarnaise (even though I adore it).
I was full to bursting but my friend was confident she had space so we went ahead and ordered dessert (£5); there’s only one available and on the night of our visit it was a white chocolate cheesecake with rhubarb compote. Served at the table straight from a family-style dish, my friend would have happily devoured a teetering tower but the portion served was generous enough; a bit of mess dolloped into the bowl, but homely and tasty and a good way to end the meal.
I asked owner Gordon Ker to describe the Blacklock experience in a nutshell; he suggested, ‘the very best meat cooked simply over charcoal for great value in a fun setting with great hospitality.’ Based on our visit, he’s achieved his goal. Three courses (including that impressive pile of meat), 5 alcoholic drinks, a softie and 2 extra sides resulted in a very reasonable bill of £40 a head plus service and the food was certainly an enjoyable feast.
Kavey Eats dined as guests of Blacklock. Interior image provided by the restaurant. Info on Blacklock’s name* and sources of inspiration courtesy of top London restaurant review site, Hot Dinners.