‘With a menu as gorgeous as this, each dish winking at you like a saucepot, who needs an interior designer?’
Pork: what a thing of wondrousness it is. Traded like money, eaten in reverence, reviled as unclean; the stuff of myth and legend and breakfast. Open my fridge any day of the week and you’ll find bacon and sausages – chorizo and Cumberland, salumi and charcuterie, black pudding; a shoulder, maybe, to be slow-cooked into Korean bo ssäm or Mexican cochinita pibil; or a tenderloin absorbing Chinese spices.
Pork carries about it a thrilling little shimmer of transgression, the worry that we humans are a bit too closely related to clever pigs; and the knowledge that, cooked, we taste a bit too like them. It’s the fragrance of crisping bacon, the olfactory equivalent of Walter White‘s crystal meth, that turns vegetarians and Jews away from the path of righteousness. Yes, I love the stuff.
I also like Allegra McEvedy, an intuitive and unpretentious chef whose food is both sensible and seductive. So news that she has opened a restaurant devoted to the pig and called after that aristocrat of the species, pata negra, has me hurtling over to Blackfoot faster than you can say sossidges.
The reclaiming of what was that increasingly endangered species, the London pie-and-mash shop, is further incentive. The small, loud space looks as though it could have been artificially “distressed”, like its dim rival Paesan down the road, but tiles and booths are original, from the recently-demised Clarks. A counter features a beautiful piece of Italian porchetta, scented with fennel pollen, rosemary and thyme, to take away in a ciabatta bun with piquant salsa verde, plus, if you eat in, red wine-laced lentils. Rosy and aromatic, it’s as good as the stuff I’ve eaten in Italy, but with the added true-Brit flourish of crackling.
We’re upstairs in a featureless, orange-painted room, but with a menu as gorgeous as this, each dish winking at you like a saucepot, who needs an interior designer? There are ribs and stews and steaks, all piggy. Sure, you can have clams or monkfish or a bruiser of a veggie burger, but really, why would you? Might as well go to KFC for the salad.
We have precision-cut slivers of 24-month-aged Trevelez jamón, sweeter and nuttier than more pedestrian Serranos. There’s whipped lardo, melting languidly over sourdough toast, meatier than this snowy backfat usually is and packing a porcine punch. Tacos are messy and immoderate, stuffed with slow-cooked pork (of course), their ripe corn still discernible through the sweet-sourness of muscovado sugar and cider vinegar, earthy little black beans and sludge of guacamole. Neatly sliding off the bone, baby back ribs come in a treacly, smoky marinade that’s far less sloppy and badly behaved than their “just the way Elvis would have wanted” billing suggests. Sides, too, are devil-in-the-detail good: pecan-laced red cabbage coleslaw, lightly dressed; proper chips; chilli “crackling” that’s as crunchy and puffy as chicharrones.
With all this going on, it’s something of a jawdropper to come across a truly bad dish. On paper, Vietnamese belly salad ticks all the boxes. On the plate, it’s a shocker: the pork so dry and tough, it’s more like bark, the rice sodden, the long peelings of vegetables collapsing exhaustedly so that mooli looks like lardo (leading to an entertaining table game, Pig Or Plant?). There’s more of the crackling flung on top. Flavours aren’t Vietnamese-vibrant, but stagnant and muddy. I hoover up a serviceable eclair, spring’s on-trend dessert, to take away the taste.
This aberration aside, Blackfoot is affordable fun. Affordable can often mean skimping on ingredient quality, but not here: producers include highly regarded, “welfare-friendly” Dingley Dell (a name that always leads me to imagine pigs being led to slaughter by fairies and elves). Even if I fret it might be the prototype for a rollout – both McEvedy and business partner Tom Ward helped launch “naturally fast food” chain Leon – it’s still a corker. Or should that be porker?
• Blackfoot 46 Exmouth Market, London EC1, 020-7837 4384. Open Mon-Sat, noon-10.30pm. About £30 a head plus drinks and service.
Value for money 8/10.
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