The Lockhart – Seymour Place
Posted on December 9, 2014
“Bread is the king of the table”, an American once said. So it’s no wonder a blistering, cast-iron tray of the stuff was ceremoniously lowered into the middle of the table with pageantry akin to a medieval banquet. The only thing missing from this royal centerpiece was a mouth with an apple in it.
This wasn’t your typical loaf. It was cornbread, the cornerstone of Southern American cooking and the waiter’s one and only recommendation. For him to speak any higher of it he’d have had to stand on a chair. But despite being slathered in butter and honey it was the most ordinary thing we tried; although in the context of this meal, ordinary was nothing to be scoffed at.
The rest of our dinner at The Lockhart was so damn good it made this well prepared American staple seem mediocre. If the cornbread was king, then Mississippi-born Brad Macdonald’s other dishes have reason to feel aggrieved. Legitimate claims to its title came from all over the menu like a gastronomic game of thrones. Not least, his homemade butter. Finger-dippingly good, this stuff didn’t need a crusty loaf anymore than I needed a second helping. It was salty and rich and stupendously good. Try it. You won’t get better.
By dredging the South’s culinary depths for inspiration, Macdonald has generated dishes as brilliant as they are unfamiliar. A bowl of lamb sweetbreads, sticky with madeira, bacon and parsley and a couple of gently pickled quail eggs took snacking to a deliciously new, E-number-free level. The American love for bowls – these ones deep and ceramic – continued with a crawfish dip and something called ‘dirty’ rice. The former was delightful, chowder-like but richer – the result of plenty of cream cheese – with slices of toast boasting a secret ingredient of ground pork crackling.
The latter was, indeed, dirty. Positively pornographic for seafood and offal lovers. Minced chicken innards and brown crab were mixed with rice and dotted with oysters creating a muddy-looking, great-tasting bowlful you won’t get anywhere else. Devilled crab came smeared on a plate with more ‘cracklin’ toast, a seafood spread to rival a mackerel pate. Southern fried chicken as good as I’ve had was let down by its green bean casserole, a large portion of beans drowning in grey slop (something nearing a thick mushroom soup). This time it tasted the way it looked and was left largely untouched.
The plate of smoked pork belly, pumpkin puree and praline had visual elegance – the sort of style that percolates from stints in the kitchens of Noma and Per Se – its autumnal colouring and refined halos of barbeque reduction (not sauce) giving it an attractiveness matched only by its flavour.
A hulking slab of short rib was the stuff of smoke pit folklore – it’s eating an ascension of the staircase to meatopian bliss. The cucumber and tomato salad was both refreshing in savour and surprising in existence – apparently American’s do eat salads that aren’t merely a wedge of iceberg drenched in creamy dressing (add egg and bacon and you have a Lockhart starter).
Marry this with a few belting craft beers and you have a one off. The Lockhart’s relaunch has a reworked perspective on American food that makes it novel and cool all over again. It’s like a little pocket of Shoreditch has been packaged and sent to a quiet neighbourhood near Marble Arch. The staff are toned-down trendy compared with their East London counterparts but passionate and sociable nonetheless. We welcomed our waiter’s warmth as we shivered in the persistent draught of a bumpy wall in the corner, coveting the cosy banquette that was practically inside the kitchen in all its heated glory.
The Texan owners have nailed The Lockhart second time around. They haven’t gone bigger – the menu is condensed and considered (5 starters, 6 mains) – nor have they thrown a Hail Mary; they’ve hired real talent and got the cooking spot on. Their sweet and sticky monarch may not have left a lasting impression, but the rest of its court certainly did.