Blacklock – Great Windmill Street
Posted on February 18, 2015
You’ve got to hand it to Gordon Ker. He’s hard at work painting the frontage of his new restaurant on Saturday lunchtime when the rest of Soho seems to be celebrating. Not only is it half term, it’s the turn of the Chinese New Year and central is manic. But tucked down Great Windmill Street, Ker is quietly putting the finishing touches to his new baby having transformed an illegal strip club renowned for it’s dodgy dealings and exorbitant rates into a neat little basement restaurant offering chops and cocktails at refreshingly low prices.
It’s a good job he’s outside. Apart from a temporary painted sign, it’s undistinguishable as a restaurant and we nearly walk right past it. He reassures us that they are open for business and so we sidle past the wet paint, safe in the knowledge that below is a reputable restaurant and not a titty-bar swindle; I’m with my girlfriend after all.
Through the soon-to-be-replaced front door we go, down into a spacious vault of all things current in restaurant design: upscaled furniture, exposed brickwork, industrial lighting and unfinished wood – the usual suspects of any independent Soho start-up. But this is done with sincerity, with insights into a shrewd restranteur’s mind. A salvaged 100 year old picture frame hangs with new purpose having been scrapped by its Mayfair home; specials are chalked on the structural girders to charming effect and a playful cocktail trolley, one of several knowing touches, helps steer the room clear of austerity.
There’s generosity in the table plan – one communal top dominates the length of the space with smaller ones around it, four or five of which sit in backlit alcoves that illuminate the roughly painted brickwork. It’s sensible and restrained and there’s enough room between tables to know they’ve favoured the diner over the cash register, which is exactly what can be said for the food.
£20 gets you what you want. Meat; and plenty of it. Going ‘all in’ gets us a few canapés for starters. These ones are about as unpretentious as nibbles can be: crackers arrive with toppings of egg mayonnaise and anchovy, others with blue cheese and pickled vegetables. There’s one called ‘filthy ham’, but in remembering what this space used to be and with no menu description, I can’t help but be put off. They feel a bit ‘what-have-we-got-in-the-back-of-the-cupboardy?’ – thrown together when Chef remembered, ‘Shit! Starters!’, 10 minutes before service. But I don’t mind because it’s honest and tasty and this place has got me in a good mood.
To be honest there’s only one thing to come for: a chintzy platter of pork, lamb and beef chops that glows like a beacon. It comes with unfussy enamel side dishes of 10 hour baked sweet potato and a heritage carrot salad. The meat, having been shocked with heat on a handmade charcoal grill and by Blacklock vintage irons, seem to tenderize in front of our very eyes, the grilled flatbread on which the chops are piled, slurping up the meaty juices to form a sinful meal in itself. A green sauce packed with soft herbs and garlic – like chimmichurri – is the universal condiment that seems to work with everything.
Drunk on a heady cocktail of new paint and charred meat, we didn’t get to the £5 cocktails or get to try the wine on tap, but I can see this place appealing to drinkers who eat as well as the other way round.
You could say the 19th century irons from their Deep South foundry are Blacklock’s point of difference, (and they certainly contribute to fantastically cooked meat), but what I like about this restaurant in particular, is its frankness. The bravery to modernize the archaic chophouse is commendable, and their ability to satisfy the inner troglodyte with a few well-sourced products is splendid, but that’s reading too much into it. It’s just nice people offering nice things, at wallet friendly prices. I say put down the paintbrushes, cancel the front door order and keep the crappy hand-painted sign. It adds to its personality. And for a while, at least, I can tell my mates of this great little place that isn’t even finished yet.