Time to pig out
There’s no shortage of steak and burger restaurants in London, but very few dedicated to pork. Although some may think that the pig is inferior to the cow, pork definitely has its own unique charms – all it takes is the right cut of pork in the hands of a great chef. Blackfoot is dedicated to pork – apart from a few vegetarian dishes and a fish of the day, it’s all about the pig at this small restaurant on Islington’s Exmouth Market.
Service was friendly and chatty on all of my visits, if a tad slow. The decor is nothing to write home about, although the place can become very noisy due to all the bare surfaces and the endless, riotous, witless chatter of sozzled Islington-ites.
First things first
On my first visit, Baron Greenback and I started off by sharing the pork tacos. Although Greenback wolfed them down like the indisciminate toad that he is, I was unimpressed by the excessively soft and rather bland pork smothered in sweet corn and mushy turtle beans. At least the corn flour tortillas were soft, fluffy and nutty.
Far better was the whipped lardo on toast. Although the sourdough toast was unremarkable, the light yet fatty, herby and buttery lardo was satisfying and delightful.
Baron Greenback was pleased with his main course of smoked pork belly, but I was lukewarm on it. The long strip of belly was tender, but only moderately fatty and mildly smoky. The dominant flavour was of star anise, which was enhanced by the thick, coarse and treacly Chinese-style garlic and pepper sauce. It’s not bad, but the star anise and the sauce tended to draw attention away from the pork belly rather than enhance it.
My own main course of baby back ribs was tender with a mild tanginess and sweetness, but the meat wasn’t smoky at all. This may be due to the fact that the kitchen apparently relies on its butcher to smoke its meat rather than doing it on-site in the small premises. The choice of baby back ribs instead of fattier, tastier spare ribs is also an odd choice. Overall, these aren’t bad ribs but they can’t compare to the very best American-style barbecue ribs in London.
The coleslaw accompanying the ribs wasn’t too creamy or cloying, but it was the fennel, almond and orange side salad that really caught my attention. The combination of sharp, firm fennel and sweet, light orange chunks was very refreshing and much needed after the relatively heavy meat. There was little in the way of almonds, but I didn’t miss them.
The fennel and citrus theme continued in the dessert special, a clementine and fennel sorbet. Although not as strongly flavoured as the salad, the tastes of distinctly sweet, pointedly citrusy clementine and sharp fennel were clearly evident and worked well as an icy, refreshing sorbet.
The notoriously cautious Baron Greenback almost skipped dessert entirely, but eventually plumped for the oddly-named ‘like a key lime pie’. It’s so named as although it uses most the same ingredients as a traditional key lime pie, it takes a different form. Rather than a thickened layer of eggs, lime juice and condensed milk on top of a pastry base, there was instead a light and fluffy sponge with a mildly zesty, creamy filling. Although not bad in terms of texture, it was distinctly underwhelming in terms of taste – especially when compared to the best examples of a traditional key lime pie.
Going back for seconds
The very presence of porchetta on the menu was enough to lure me back for a second meal and I was ravenous enough to have this Italian-style roast pork dish in a soft ciabatta as a starter. The moist and tender slices of pork had a slightly chewy, fatty edge and were topped with a lip-smackingly herby sauce of rosemary, thyme and sage. It’s not quite as good as the very best examples of porchetta, but it’s still a pretty good one.
Unlike the iberico pork presa served elsewhere, Blackfoot’s version isn’t served sliced – the knifing duties are left up to you. That’s hardly a problem though as the pork is tender despite the charred and lightly smoky exterior. The rare interior is sweet, juicy and lightly fatty with a good depth of flavour. The slightly smoky and coarse chipotle ketchup was a little too overpowering and isn’t needed – the beautiful pork presa is more than good enough to stand on its own.
The chipotle ketchup is instead better suited as an accompaniment for the chilli pork crackling. Although not spicy at all, the crispy, crunchy, slightly oily crackling was surprisingly light and proved to be a good way of shovelling ketchup into my gob.
The rum and coke baba may be a clever play on words, but it wasn’t a very satisfying dessert. The stodgy sponge doused in a thin liquid tasted mainly of aniseed. It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t have it again.
Three is the magic number
Blackfoot has a small selection of British charcuterie, such as the lomo – thin, partially transparent slices of loin from Dorset pigs. The lightly fatty slices had a delicate, milky taste that was subtle but pleasing.
I’ve never heard of a pork ‘spare rib steak’, but this slab of lean meat must presumably come from somewhere in the loin area of the animal. Although largely free of fat and ever so slightly tough, it was nonetheless a very flavoursome cut of pork – tender, moist, light and sweet with small fennel seeds studded across the meat enhancing its natural moreishness. It wasn’t too far removed from the pork presa in terms of flavour. A small pot of the same sauce served with the porchetta was included, but it wasn’t necessary.
The side dish of lentils were braised in red wine which gave them a certain meatiness – no doubt a psychological connection made due to the frequent use of red wine for braising beef. The lentils were so moreish, I licked up every last kernel.
My third meal ended on an anti-climactic note with the eclair. The slightly chewy pastry and chocolate sauce were unimpressive and unremarkable respectively, but at least the cream filling wasn’t too heavy.
The food at Blackfoot is inconsistent – the smoked dishes were OK at best and the desserts were patchy, but the porchetta and the dishes cooked on the charcoal grill were delectable. The consistency of the kitchen’s execution will hopefully improve. Once it does, I hope the kitchen has plans for increasing its range and ambition – there are cuts of pork apart from the usual belly, ribs and loin that deserve to be eaten more widely, such as hock, cheek and jowl. Even if none of this happens, Blackfoot is still worth going to but you’ll have to navigate the menu carefully.
Address: 46 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QE
Phone: 020 7837 4384
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday noon-22.30. Closed Sundays.
Reservations: essential on Thursdays, Fridays and weekends; otherwise probably a good idea.
Average cost for one person including service and soft drinks: £30 approx.