37 Berners Street
Black & Blue has been described as ‘an almost default choice for a decent steak of perfectly grilled burger’ (Zagat Guide, 2010). We’d heard some mixed reviews about the place recently, so we went to Black & Blue on Mortimer Street (their latest restaurant), to check it out for ourselves.
Inspired by American chophouses, Black & Blue has a contemporary look and feel. A look and feel that appears to dictate, as much as it reflects, the restaurant’s trendy clientele. Entering the restaurant we noticed the huge bar on the right, giant bouquets of delicate pink orchids, and straight ahead a pink neon sign that points to a second bar downstairs, which features a cinema wall and DJ mixing decks. The rest of the room accented with mirrored walls, swathes of white chiffon and low-hung chandeliers had a youthful and uplifting ambiance.
Our waitress seated us in soft high-backed black leather seats at an oversized white marble table. The open booth seating creates a social yet intimate setting for dinner, and we saw a good mix of groups and couples enjoying the atmosphere.
The artwork on the walls indicates the type of customer Black & Blue appears to solicit: bold, colourful and edgy folk. The large cow paintings - pop-art influenced and evocative of Andy Warhol’s famous “cow-wallpaper” - are the work of New York based artist, Melinda Buie who takes her inspiration for her Cow Paintings from her parents’ cattle farm in East Texas. Corralled in their dark wooden frames and arranged to intentionally overlook the diners, the piquant collective of bovine portraits is amusing and provocative but there is something a little perverse about chowing down on huge slabs of steak while under the seemingly reproachful gaze of Daisy the cow.
Luckily, the Beaujolais Villages, Château De Nety (250ml, £7.00) and the Rioja Crianza, Marques De Caceres, (250ml, £8.50) soon proved more distracting than the artwork. The Beaujolais, listed on the menu as, ‘What we drink when we’re not working!’ is definitely worth a try. Modest tannins, a deep red colour and smooth taste resulted in an elegant wine with great drinkability. Our new favourite and highly recommended. The lighter tasting and younger Rioja however, was a close contender. With its soft tannins, blackberry flavour and warm undertones of cinnamon it was a perfect accompaniment to all three of our dishes - particularly the starters.
We began with the shellfish: Crayfish & Guacamole Salad with Crème Fraîche (seasoned perfectly with lemon juice and dill), and accented with a balsamic reduction (£7.00) and the King Prawns Char-Grilled with Garlic Butter (£8.00).
The crayfish, layered on top of soft avocado chunks and coated in a spicy sweet marie-rose sauce worked perfectly with the sourness of the crème fraîche. The king prawns were cut into four halves, served in the shell (minus the heads) with a hearty bunch of watercress and a dipping pot of herb-infused drawn butter. Both were equally delicious, so we recommend either dish.
On to the main attraction: the steaks. We opted for the Sirloin, (280g, £20.00) and the Classic Cut Ribeye, ‘marbled for maximum flavour’ (280g, £20). Each was served with Maris Piper chips, watercress and a very large side bowl of the house salad consisting of crisp leaves, grated Emmental cheese and walnuts tossed in a ‘unique house dressing’, which our waitress informed us was a variation of a dijon mustard dressing. To the sirloin we added the foie gras (£3.00) and to the ribeye, the béarnaise sauce.
True to the American steakhouses that Black & Blue emulates, the portion size of each dish is huge. Shy with the ingredients, the chef was not, apart from those used for the steak seasoning that is. Much to our surprise both steaks were disappointingly under-seasoned and lacking in colour so they looked and tasted much less appetising than expected. Annoyingly, the béarnaise sauce (which was not prepared in-house) was so overpowering that it was left untouched after the first tasting. On the upside the chips were well cooked and flavourful, the salad fresh, and the foie gras made for an interesting interlude.
Black & Blue may source their ingredients from ‘the finest suppliers’ and keep them ‘stored in state of the art, climate controlled facilities’ dry ageing them for 28-35 days, but an under-seasoned steak at £20 a pop, does leave you a bad taste in your mouth.
Thankfully, the desserts fared better. Sticking to the American chophouse theme, we sampled the Chocolate Brownie and the New York Cheesecake, both served with vanilla ice-cream at £6.00 each – delicious! The cheesecake was smooth, tangy and melt-in-the-mouth creamy and the brownie (the star) was moist and a surprisingly light offering - just the right amount of guilt-free indulgence to complete the meal.
When Nick Hill and Alan Bacon founded the Black & Blue restaurant chain, their aim was to ‘create an up-market - but casual - steakhouse: a destination without pretension’. Did they succeed? Our verdict is, somewhat.
Eating out has become a luxury for most people so it’s more important than ever for a restaurant to deliver exactly what it promises, every time. The food, ambience and service were decent - waiting staff were knowledgeable, friendly and well turned out - but our final footnote regarding the steak itself has to read as, “could do better”. A steak joint should never neglect its star dish and as big steak fans with plenty of experience of eating at U.S. eateries such as Morton’s and Mastros, we unfortunately left slightly dissatisfied.
For more information, please visit: http://www.blackandbluerestaurants.com/index.php
Reviewed by: Carly Lake