Review: Burgers at Blackhouse
The Blackhouse burger come up trumps for Cous Cous Bang Bang's Thom and his missus.
Arriving at Blackhouse for my second visit I had to wonder if I was in the right place - the quiet Sunday afternoon bistro where I'd enjoyed a lazy Bloody Mary and one of the best roast dinners I've ever eaten had given way to a bustling grill restaurant with a reputation for its burgers, and all of the design flourishes and sharp-dressers of a post-prohibition Manhattan hotel bar.
The table we'd booked was still occupied when we arrived just shy of our 10pm reservation, so we were politely asked if we'd like to get a drink at the bar while we waited for it to become available. Although the place was obviously bursting at the seams, the cynic in me couldn't help suspect that this was a tactic to squeeze as much money from a cover as possible - though, there's more on that later...
Waiting at the bar wasn't exactly a hardship - plonked in the middle of the restaurant it serves as a centrepiece for the venue, the three barmen manoeuvring around their limited surroundings with all the synchronisation of those little wooden men that twirl out of German clocks every hour; tossing and catching bottles of liquor without breaking their stride, and displaying all the showmanship of a good cocktail barman, without resorting to the kind of tacky flair which leaves everybody impatient, rather than impressed, with their drinks.
Much of the atmosphere comes courtesy of the in-house pianist and his swinging lounge-pop covers - think Rufus Wainwright singing Demi Lovato, rather than the Winehouse or Adele laurels a lazier musician would rest on. Live music in a restaurant can be hit or miss - just earlier that day conversation over brunch had been impaired by poor EQ-ing on an acoustic guitar - but in this case it added to the atmosphere and experience, even when one particularly large table reacted to a David Guetta song with the kind of enthusiastic clap-along normally reserved for Jewish weddings.
After about 15 minutes we were shown to our booth by the manager, when we were sat down he mentioned the Margaritas we'd had at the bar. Those Margaritas; culpable in the cynical plot to extort money from us while we waited for the table. Yeah, THOSE Margaritas. Turns out they were on the house, as an apology for the fact our table wasn't ready on arrival. It's almost as if they were trying to make an optimist out of me...
With this being the highlight of my week, I'd already examined the menu and decided what I was going to order, but our waitress gave us a few minutes while my girlfriend made her mind up. Service throughout the meal was a good balance of attentive but relaxed, with conversation flowing naturally as well as details about the menu - we didn't prod to the point of testing our waitress, but recommendations and information were delivered with confidence.
Whereas I would've been tempted to close my eyes and pick at random when attempting to pair a bottle of wine our tricky combination of beef and fish meals, she made several knowledgable recommendations at various price-points, ultimately suggesting a 2012 Pinot Noir (£23) from the low-mid price range, which suited both of our meals very pleasantly.
Onto the meals. The Sesame Crusted Tuna (£19.50) was flavoured well, the eponymous sesame crust was a generous coating of toasted white sesame seeds which gave an exciting depth of texture to the dish as well as a nutty taste. Something which was contrasted by a subtle, nasal hint of wasabi, but complimented by the ginger and soy dipping sauce on the side, which I could have drank a magnum of.
The thickest, middle part of the steak was too rare for my partner's palate, but I nobly stepped in to do my bit for prevention of food waste and snaffled it off her plate. While it looked rare, it was as tender as anything else I'd been eating, which was really saying something...
The thought of massaging cows, playing them classical music, feeding them beer and generally treating them like Tyrion Lannister in an attempt to improve the quality of their meat is a romantic one, and I imagine it's half the reason that attracts a lot of people to sampling wagyu beef - which I ordered in the form of a Wagyu Burger (£19.50).
I deliberately say half of the reason, because to put it all down to marketing would be an insult to the meat - it's difficult to avoid superlatives like "melt in your mouth", but I will try. Sinking my teeth into the burger, it didn't even attempt to put up a fight - I didn't uncover a sing string of fibrous meat, and yet when it had disseminated all that remained on my tongue was a sweet yet unmistakable taste of beef, a flavour I've only encountered before in veal.
A burger doesn't live and die by its patty though - even when it's one as indulgent as this - there is plenty of room for error in the bun and toppings. Looking like a buttock from a Botticelli painting on the plate, the bun was halfway between brioche and a standard white bap; erring more on substantial than light, but with enough moisture and elasticity in the dough to prevent it falling to pieces during eating.
Choosing to have mine unadorned (by cheese and bacon, mushroom, or stilton as offered on the menu) and allow the flavour of the beef to come through, the patty shared the bun with tomato (booo) a slice of raw red onion (double-booo) chunky-cut, tangy pickles (yay), and a bed of Green Leaf lettuce - which was unfortunately not shredded, but at least it wasn't iceberg.
The skin-on chips that we ordered with both mains were brilliant, especially when dipped in the blue cheese steak sauce I ordered on the side, which was £2.25 I will never regret spending. We passed on desert, as we often do, in lieu of a cocktail. In this case we both opted for a Smoked Old Fashioned which employs similar sorcery to sister-restaurant The Alchemist, but contains a much more palatable balance of sweet and smokey flavours to compliment an almost medicinal bourbon.
After two cocktails and a bottle of wine, I started plucking up the courage to ask our waitress for a photo of my girlfriend and I locking eyes through the Romeo + Juliet fish-tank we were sat near. It was probably time to ask for the bill...
Overall the meal came to just over £80 (not including the two Margaritas which were generously stricken from the bill). Not a budget night out, but taking into account the atmosphere, surroundings - that Romeo + Juliet fish tank makes all the difference, even without the photo opportunity - and the quality of food and service. We left feeling like the night out we'd enjoyed far exceeded this price: a really great restaurant if you're looking for somewhere a little bit special.
Solid, honest and simple proper food. Job done.
We focus on no nonsense food; specialising in wholesome ingredients, mixing distinctive textures and flavours that just work together, offering a mix of innovative dishes with comfortable favourites.