Blacklock is the fourth restaurant of that name – there are others in Soho, Shoreditch and the City of London. It sits in a former royal coach-makers in an alley near the Garrick Club under signage that says ‘Chop’.
We descend to a cavern. The walls are exposed brick, the floors are dark wood, and the ceiling hangs over exposed pipework. There is a map of a more ancient and more interesting London on the wall, from the days in which chop houses were as common as raw sewage, or horses. It’s fiercely brown; committed to brown; washed with brown: chairs, tables, light fittings, food. There are tables of men looking expansive like Italian rugby fans. They love Blacklock for its brownness, its simplicity and its blood.
This is an honest place, a chop house: a specialist restaurant which gets its meat from Philip Warren & Son in Cornwall. The owners searched the land, as if on some magical food-themed quest, and they landed on Cornwall, which is always pleasing: Arthur’s last battle, in cows. The animals, we are told by blurb, live ‘long, happy lives on beautiful moors’. Do cows care for aesthetics? I think they do, and only a fool thinks a fretful animal makes a good meal.
From the moor to the forest: Blacklock plants a tree for every guest it serves. To the meat: they serve beef chops (porterhouse, prime rib, bone-in sirloin), lamb chops (rump and cull yaw), and a smoked bacon chop, which is rare, my own precious: I have only found another in Hawksmoor Guildhall during a quest of my own.
This is like Beast, which serves the best steak that I have eaten in London, except it isn’t mad, intense, a rebuke to the diner. Like Beast, it has the price of the cuts scrawled on a blackboard – 400g, 450g, 500g – to be wiped off when they are sold, which creates the impression of eating in a particularly finely hewn marketplace. Unlike Beast, with its tanks of crabs and sides of beef framing the entrance hall, it doesn’t taunt you with your own savagery, and make you eat an inedible metaphor alongside your greed, and your shame. Also – Beast doesn’t serve chips. What respectable restaurant pushes the Atkins diet? I hate Beast. It mocked me and I can get that for free elsewhere.
We order a hamburger, a lamb chop and the beef and stilton pie, which is famous. It is far too much for us to eat: I call it Katz’s Deli syndrome. The hamburger is excellent. It is the correct consistency, and amount of salt, under a sesame seed bun (no brioche, which is good; hamburgers should not have pretensions. Their spiritual wrapping is paper). The beef and stilton pie is golden and as sturdy as a tiny house, and tasty too, and it comes with its own dedicated jug of gravy. This is the kind of pie William Turner might have eaten, and I like this. It is eating in an idealised past, which is better than politicking in one, and I suspect the Spectator reader will like this golden pie too.
But let me type of the lamb! I have never eaten lamb like this in London. It comes on a board, ready sliced, a rainbow of red to purple to cream to black. It tastes intensely sweet, and is faintly charred: magical, again.
For pudding they bring a white chocolate cheesecake to the table in a floral dish. It is their only pudding, which bespeaks an absolute confidence in their food as gift first and transaction later. It is deserved – the cheesecake is as perfect as any I have had – and we trip happily upwards to more bitter things.
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Blacklock, 16a Bedford Street, London WC2E 9HE; tel: 020 3034 1394.
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