Candlelight. We are flickering silhouettes against the heavy-framed Hogarths and Duluxed wood-panelled walls. We listen to the music of low-levelled chatter charged with drama and frippery. Soft champagne opens the evening in this tall and slightly dishevelled Georgian building which nestles next to the new polish of Dean Street Townhouse. Our host for dinner this evening is the proprietor of Blacks members' club, Giuseppe Mascoli - also Mr Franco Manca of Brixton.
Little is written of this club compared to the institutions of Groucho or Soho House, but that closed mystery seems an English eccentricity. The three floors of Blacks is a world - the world of Samuel Johnson colliding with Mascoli’s - a thoroughly gentlemanly affair edged with the air of depravity. One imagines regular occurrences of opium eating and poetry readings; this is a club for artists and actors, wordsmiths and lovers of excess. And if I’ve not left with gout I would consider this failure.
We begin with the most humble of victuals - bread, wine and olives. But everything at Blacks sits on the edge of convention - you would do to cast expectation aside. A Languedoc red that comes to the table is what Mascoli calls ‘the crazy wine’ - and it is most extraordinary. Every time I raise the glass to my lips, the waft of horse manure is simply alarming. This alarm does not depreciate - but the peppery nature of this warm red makes it a drinkable beast.
Each subject on the weekly menu will have an anecdote or a story. The piquillo peppers are stuffed with coley salted at Blacks, the hake fillet baked with mussels, chorizo, tomato and white wine is a particular favourite of our host. The surprise is the hard boiled egg. ‘The egg works doesn’t it?’ he says eagerly as I unceremoniously mash it into the rich liquor. I mop up all traces with bread fashioned from Dorset rye - a heavy bread - not one for everyday eating. Livers soaked in Pedro Ximinez sherry is a treat, the onglet steak has the unusual beefiness of braising meat. It comes as no surprise to learn that the head chef had been a rock star - 'Not a good rock star - but definitely a good chef' - the food does have something of the hedonistic about it. The affogato (incidentally, my favourite dessert) - club-made ice cream drowned in espresso is simple and elegant. The vanilla is soprano as it sings through the coffee.
The big toe is starting to twitch.
Then the mezcal. Oh the mezcal - in a sniff already carries evocations of lost evenings. Softer than tequila, the golden warmth of this Mexican spirit turns into a harsh kiss at the back of the throat. I am distracted by rakish figures wandering back and forth. A vitiating haze begins to leave its taint as I vaguely recollect the whole bottle landing on the table. We are as significant as silhouettes by the end - art bores and babbling fools. But do not let this put you off. If you have the chance, seek out the basement entrance, attach yourself to a member and prepare for the Blacks descent.
67 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 4QH
For a more comprehensive review, have a look here.
- Blacks House Champagne, Beaumont des Crayeres, Grand Reserve, 2010
- The Crazy Wine: Domaine Fontedicto, Cotêaux du Languedoc, Pirouette 6, VDT