Blacklock, site four, is all tucked away in an alley and down some stairs in Covent Garden, past the pre-theatre crowd queueing outside Wagamama’s, dolled-up and ready to start the most memorable evening in the most forgettable of ways. It’s subterranean, dimly lit, bare-bricked decor reminiscent of an enclosed space in New York, the kind that swells at night and smells of seared animal; dark enough to strike fear into a blogger’s camera phone and make the ghouls, vampires and promiscuous feel safe. It is the raw definition of handsome, burly and well defined. To one wall is a large blackboard laden with numbers of weighted large bits of animal, each to be struck off as the order is received and cooked in the kitchen which dominates the rear of the room.
There is no need for spiels or concepts here. It is a London chophouse, bore from the seventeenth century and brought back into fashion by those who understand that that bone not only protects the meat during cooking but adds flavour. Big chops or small chops, a smattering of non chops to make use of the rest of the animal, and some sides. Meat cooked over the grill using antique blacklock irons to weigh the meat down during cooking.
We take what 70% of those around us are doing. The ‘All In’, £22 a head for a pile of smaller chops, a side each, and some nibbles to start. It’s extraordinary value only achieved due to them buying in whole animals. The nibble are stuff on crackers and are a solid example of what they do here; chicken thigh with horseradish, blue cheese and pickled veg, along with a rather beautiful egg mayo. No messing about, just flavours that work together and give your tastebuds a good whallop.
The chops, blimey, they are good. It’s little more than rendered fat, high heat, and lots of salt, but that’s all meat this good needs. Bits of lamb, pork, and beef, piled atop of each other, the juices working their way down to the flatbread that works like a sponge at the bottom. The lamb chops in particular as smokey and as tasty as you could dream, and pork belly chops where the fat is textural and melting. The flat bread — crikey, the flat bread — all drenched in various bits of animal insulation, a memory of what was just eaten and a fine one at that. With this we eat sides of chips and sweet potato slowly roasted over embers overnight, a clean and understated spring salad, and over order on sauces ranging from a gravy so fatty I swear it could set over night, and a proper peppercorn sauce.
A word on the drinks program. It puts many a bar to shame with its costings. Nothing is over £7.50 a cocktail; few are over six quid and they are excellent, from the negroni given a new edge by px sherry, to the coffee, rum, and cherry beauty that is the Delaware. They have a ‘cello of the week for a couple of quid to make use of product waste, this time orange, though last week cucumber. It’s all extremely admirable and hard to find fault with. On leaving I comment on how Blacklock would be perfect in Birmingham, providing the quality and price point we need for everyday meals. They tell me that maybe it’s in their plans to come soon and I swear I saw a sly wink. I really hope it was a wink.
I was invited to eat at Blacklock and did not see a bill