People being willing to wait outside on this glacier of a night is an impressive sign, and it’s not just hype that has everybody stacked up on Great Windmill Street. The couple in front of us in the queue – running down from street level into Blacklock’s industrial, ex-brothel basement – are talking ordering tactics in a way that makes it clear they’ve been before and often. They strongly want to be more restrained on the sides involving potatoes than last time, so as not to flounder halfway through the pork chops. They want to order the beef dripping chips, but they fear them in equal measure. We eavesdrop, trying to learn from Blacklock veterans.
Marcello’s been in Florence recently, sending me pictures of Chianina steaks the size of a baby and messages hinting that London has something to prove. London has nothing to prove. But I’m going to prove that London has nothing to prove. He has to eat an enormous pile of incredible meat. And then, ideally, weep and renounce being Italian. Only then will honour be satisfied.
Blacklock’s the obvious choice, because those queues into the Soho streets have been consistent since it opened almost a year ago. It’s single-item, so it’s low-risk, with all of the approval they’ve been sweeping up focused entirely on their beef, lamb and pork chops. It’s got a pedigree, with the founding fathers all being ex-Hawksmoor. And the drinks menu has a ‘cocktails for a fiver’ section with a few non-obvious choices. So you can bridge the gap between staircase queuing and actually getting a table – no bookings for groups of less than six in the evenings – with a Nettle Gimlet and stairwell barstools. If I can’t make Marcello repent those steak pictures here, at one of the most single-mindedly carnivorous places in Soho, then I’m basically stumped.
The food ordering is something you can freestyle if you want, and it’s not like anything untoward can happen with a menu that runs to chops, a few sides and some crispbread starters. But going by a sample size of all food in eyeballing distance, most people are having the All-In: the pre-chop crispbreads, all of the skinny chop daily specials, a side each and a flatbread underneath the pile of chops. The flatbreads soak up so much meat juice they’re basically honorary chops.
We do something like the All-In although with a less lamb, more pork slant. And we ignore the advice overheard in the queue and go high-carb, high-potato, no regrets. The chips are incredible. So good that if we felt we had to pare back our order to be able to finish it all – worryingly, nowhere near a problem for us – I’d cut back on beef short rib before I’d miss out on the chips. That’s right. I’d genuinely choose less beef, more side dishes. Feels wrong as I type it, but the heart wants what it wants.
Aside from totally defying the strategy gleaned from Staircase Couple, our dinner at Blacklock has no dramatic tension to report at all. Everything’s great, at the expense of any story arcs. The staff are seriously charismatic, and not just the automatic charisma conferred by somebody bringing you a massive plate of chops. The wine list is short, well-chosen, not expensive and comes in nearly any carafe size you’re after. The lighting is dim and the restaurant is warm and they haven’t crammed tables as tightly together as they could have, so it’s actually a decent date-spot, if you don’t mind your date seeing the animal you’ll become with all that meat piled in front of you.
Dinner winds up with cheesecake, the one dessert on offer. Still great, although if you feel you’ve got to cut back something to make room for meat then this is the place to do it. Not the potatoes, people. And if the dinner doesn’t wring any actual tears out of Marcello, I do get an admission of it being an amazing choice, excellent meat, and an official statement on the subject of how much he misses living in London. Couldn’t have done it without you, Blacklock.
Blacklock, The Basement, 24, Great Windmill Street, W1D 7LG. Tel: 0203 4416996. Website.