I once got talking to an older South African woman on the bus back when I lived in Barnsley. Which seems odd now, because I hate buses and people, and especially people on buses. It’s difficult to explain to anyone who’s never lived outside London just how horrid buses are beyond the bubble. You’re lucky if there’s one an hour, but they’re so unreliable, they can arrive twenty minutes late or even not at all. And in those days, we didn’t even have those fancy buttons you can press to let the bastard bus driver know you want to get off. Old ladies would cackle, “Next stop, love!” But you’d just hope someone wanted to get on at your stop, because buses are still dangerous places for a nerdy teenager and you don’t want to draw attention to yourself.
Anyway, this South African lady had moved to Yorkshire, as far as I could tell, because “the blacks had taken over”, and was telling me that when she lived there she never much cared for the faux-ebony tourist tat but, now she was far from home in the unforgiving Northern climate, she couldn’t get enough of the stuff. I have a similar conflict with Barnsley. I have absolutely no desire to go back there, and feel lucky my parents live in a village on its fringes, just off an M1 junction but, strangely, I’m drawn to any Barnsley-ana I can find in London, of which the papers seem to provide a ready supply.
Like that story a couple of weeks back when some daft apeth bought a £260,000 Ferrari, only to crash it in a ball of flames on the motorway an hour later. Or last month when a paedo doctor hounded out of Ireland was found working in Barnsley Hospital. Or in April, when Barnsley was the epicentre of the super-strength heroin scare.
So, naturally, when two friends invited me to lunch at Blacklock in Soho, I was over the moon when I noticed Barnsley chop was on the menu. Any meat locker worth its salt has Barnsley chop on the menu, but not all of them get it right. Many of them are, in fact, in Barnsley, funnily enough, which correlates with my experience of having rubbish Eccles cakes in Eccles. You see, some disreputable establishments attempt to pass off lamb ribs as Barnsley chop, when it is in fact a cut straight across the short saddle, creating a flavour-rich combination of tenderloin, fillet, a whole heap of fat and, most importantly, a chunk of the spinal column. There simply isn’t a better cut of lamb.
But I’ve got ahead of myself. The first thing you notice about Blacklock, once you realise you’re underground, is that the cocktails are mind-bendingly cheap. Somehow, an Old Fashioned will only set you back a fiver, so obviously I had two. Remarkably, despite the price, they were perfect. But this was only the starter for the litre o’ Beaujolais we ordered, which was similarly good value and conveniently came out of a tap.
For food, we went “all In”, which means for £20 a head you get pre-chop bites as amuse-bouches, all of the day’s “skinny” lamb, beef, and pork chops, and a side each. We chose two lots of beef dripping chips and charred courgette with blue cheese. Naturally, a 100g serving of Barnsley chop was added to the order. The bites were a lovely way of getting the tastebuds firing after those Old Fashioneds, and were supposed to be done in a certain order, but I got it wrong. Little piles of ingredients on a sort of brown cracker, I learned putting egg, anchovy, and red onion together simulates the flavour of extra mature cheddar.
The stack of meat was, as you might expect, a heavenly sight, filled as it was with beef short rib, lamb cutlet, lamb T-bone, and pork belly. The meat was done perfectly, particularly the short rib, though there didn’t seem to be enough of that. The winner of the dish, though, was the garlic flatbread at the base of the pyramid which had dutifully absorbed all the juices dripping from the chips. Valhalla.
Despite this, the Barnsley chop won hands down. It had been sliced thinly and arranged in a circle around the plate with the spinal column placed in the middle, proudly observing its handiwork. We ordered it medium rare, and medium rare it came. Soft, a deep pink, encased in supple fat and bursting with tender flavour. Never was I so happy to inform the disinterested waitress that I was from Barnsley. I don’t need to tell you the beef dripping chips were amazing — they were deep fried in beef dripping, for Pete’s sake — and the blue cheese on the courgettes made it okay that we were eating vegetables.
You can also order desserts at Blacklock if you wish, which a female friend who belatedly joined us did (and for some reason drove down from Golders Green… I guess she hates buses too). She ordered a fruit cheesecake of sorts, which arrived “deconstructed”, and given I ate most of it I can tell you it was delicious. We also got one last ride on the cocktail express courtesy of the cutest little drinks trolley which was lovingly wheeled our way.
At just over £50 a head for four this was one of the cheapest boozy lunches I’ve ever had and, replete with literally piles of meat, unfathomably cheap cocktails and litres o’ wine, it was by a long way the best. There’s no reason you shouldn’t go. Even if you hate buses.