Dinners with Larman are often a meaty affair, literally and metaphorically. That they involve steak is usually a given – indeed, quality steak is a benchmark – but then any additional accoutrements of ribs, drumsticks, lamb shanks, pork chops, sweetbreads, ox cheeks, whether braised, broiled, barbequed or baked will usually leave us evenly sated.
When deciding on where next, what’s required is a menu and a venue that we can sink our teeth into. Step into the fray Blacklock – the boisterous, rebellious younger sibling of its more sensible, refined older sister, Hawksmoor.
The City branch was our battleground one sultry summer evening and, like any establishment in which one is required to descend into the depths, one leaves one’s inhibitions at the door. From the top of the stair we could detect rowdiness, and the lower we went the bawdier it became, and the wider Larman’s anticipatory grin inked across his face. For a man that could match Lord Rochester’s excesses – and wrote the book on it – this was setting us up nicely.
I gave up trying to hear what he was saying as we sat down, at a tiny table amid Bacchanalian excess; City lunches that had clearly run over and were into a second session, ill-prepared date nights (his idea, evidently, not hers), and bewildered, befuddled tourists.
Our waitress’s ebullience cut through the heady, airless atmosphere; here was a woman who’d seen everything, as if her past job had been at the Inn at Westeros, commanding rowdy tables as easily as juggling a dozen burdened plates.
Cocktails were served along with the menus, with all that was required of them being a cursory glance. “Shall we say all the starters and all the chops and be done with it?” Larman asked. A noble proposal, I concurred. We folded the menus, clinked glasses and settled in. Metaphorically applicable, conversation turned to a similar level of butchery; the results of the General Election. A meaty discourse for a meaty repast, indeed.
The starters arrived. There was a sea of chilli on the pig’s head on toast, a simple yet stunning dish. Who knew that pickles and gravy would go? I saw it on Masterchef once, and Torode and Wallace poo-poo’d it. ‘None of this is subtle,” Larman intoned, ‘we’re dealing with BIG flavours here’.
Then it began to get medieval.
A plate of meat arrived, accompanied by a timely roar from the City boys. This plate was but one item, the ‘skinny’ chops; a lamb t-bone, pork rib and beef sirloin. For two. It would feed us each for a week. But there was added a sharer of prime rib. And of course the waitress advised us the smoked bacon chop was to die for, so how could we refuse?
A salad we’d ordered as some token greenery was returned for lack of space. Like Churchill’s martini’s requiring the vermouth to merely be in the room, we gave it a cursory glance and dismissed the plate. Instead, accompaniments came from some spectacular charred courgettes with chicory and stilton, and a basket of beef dripping chips completing the fare.
Wines by the carafe came in medicine bottles; a grassy Verdejo cut through the piquancy of the starters, while there was no decision necessary on the red for the mains. Malbec. De rigeur. At one point I tried to drink the candle. An easy mistake, considering the table was now bowing under the weight of plates and my concentration was elsewhere.
By now the chap at the next table had taken a moment to lean back and exhale noticeably. I shared his sentiment. This was less a meal, more an ordeal. A good one, I should add. Like a highly-trained athlete getting a boost of endorphins from a particularly punishing session, we were tackling this with all the vigour we could muster.
Dessert – yes, unbelievably – proved a challenging choice. From a menu of two. What can I say, they’ve got this absolutely right. There was bread and butter pudding, or white chocolate cheesecake. We agonized over this until, eventually, we settled on the bread and butter. This one doesn’t need describing; those who know a good B&B pud will know what’s required. Suffice to say it capped an evening of comfort food galore.
But we weren’t done yet. Our indecision over dessert hadn’t gone unnoticed, and, a few minutes later, chef brought over the last of the tray of cheesecake. It’s a ‘thing’ at Blacklock; the cheesecake is not served in neat triangular slices, with a few berries and a sprig of mint, it’s scooped from a tray and a generous dollop slapped onto your plate. The way it should be served.
After all this excess, what more could possibly be required? A disgestif, naturally. Here we broke from tradition and passed on the now standard espresso martini, spotting instead something that had been doing the rounds earlier: the cocktail trolley. Atop this wheeled chariot stood a pair of cut glass decanters, loosely masquerading as gin and whisky. They are, in fact, bottled negroni and old fashioned. By Jove, do they know what their clientele want at this place.
It’s difficult to know what might be the best bit about Blacklock. As we left, tripping up the stairs on the way out, we were already reminiscing as to the highlights as we made for Bank station. The pig’s head, surely. No, the bacon chop. Those chips. The ribs. That cheesecake. It’s really hard to say. The best bit? Simple, really.
Blacklock, in Soho and the City. For more information, including menus and to make a reservation, visit www.theblacklock.com.