When I visited Blackhouse I was determined not to just eat meat. As a city centre restaurant that attracts office workers, a range of tastes needs to be met. So I was pleased to see a reasonable number of vegetarian and fish dishes alongside the grilled meat.
Our orders were taken promptly, a bottle of chilled water having been delivered while we were making our selection. For starters, my partner and I both went for fish, his in the shape of a smoked haddock fish cake and mine as blackened fish tacos. Then we felt we had to try the meat. All the steaks are aged at least 28 days and then air dried in their Himalayan salt chamber. He ordered a rump steak and I selected a burger.
While we were waiting, I took in the rich brown décor. On an autumnal evening it provided a welcoming ambience. The brown wood was complimented by golden lights, giving the whole place a warm feel. I did wonder if the wood might seem dark in summer but then again there are picture windows on both sides of the restaurant to allow in plenty of natural light.
We were seated at a banquette next to the full glass window facing the small pedestrian square at the end of East Parade. A terrace has been built along the side of the restaurant. Groups of four high stools gather around umbrellas, the area equipped with four heaters. It has been a mild November but even so the outdoor heating must be effective – we saw one drinker remove her coat and sit in a sleeveless dress.
Two groups went outside to drink during our visit. While one group clearly was relishing the opportunity to smoke, the other seemed to be enjoying the setting. I’m glad to see restaurants and bars offering customers the opportunity to sit outside, but I did worry about the restaurant’s carbon footprint if all those heaters were active,
After a reasonable wait, our starters arrived. The fish cake was crisp and had a good balance of smoked fish and potato. The dish couldn’t be faulted on taste but £8.50 for a single fish cake seemed expensive. I was happy to pay the same price for the tacos as they had involved quite a lot of preparation. The fish was nicely blackened on the outside but had firm white flakes on the inside. It sat upon a creamy guacamole and a crunchy pickle. A chilli drizzle and a slice of lime added bite. Unfortunately, the piles were not encased in taco. Instead, they sat on small discs of soft tortilla. Add a taco to wrap the fish and this dish could have been heavenly.
The restaurant was fairly busy for a Wednesday evening, and by eight, most tables were occupied. What was noticeable was that most diners were male. A few people were sitting at the bar, but most were in groups and ordering food. I’m not sure if it was the draw of the meat or a reflection of the workforce in local firms, but I cannot remember the last time I sat in a restaurant where the clientele was eighty per cent male. Yet, the restaurant doesn’t have a particularly ‘masculine’ feel.
Our starters may have seemed small but the mains definitely were not. These were hearty portions.
My bulging burger was served with a generous portion of chips, a brioche bun, salad and a gherkin that had a pleasing level of pickle. I liked that you could choose as few or as many accompaniments as you liked with your burger for £1.50 each. I had selected bacon jam and Stilton. although the very good tomato relish would have made a perfectly good accompaniment without any additions.
My partner’s steak was ordered medium rare. He was happy with its browned exterior and pink inside. He had ordered it naked as he wanted the meat to speak for itself, but there was a variety of sauces on the menu that could be ordered as an accompaniment. He had chosen the Blackhouse chips in preference to skinny fries. These were plump, crisp on the outside and beautifully soft inside. We had also ordered a side of garlic mushrooms. These were made special by the small caramelised onions that hid amongst the deep brown mushrooms. It seems that Blackhouse can do good things with vegetables as well as meat.
To my mind, you need a rich red wine with steak, so we ordered a glass of Rioja and a Merlot, both of which went well with our mains. Other tables were indulging in cocktails, of which there was a good selection on the menu. Cocktails are offered under three categories: classics, Blackhouse specials and non-alcoholic. I could imagine having a mocktail here with lunch or coming for cocktails after work.
We passed on dessert. These also seemed hearty. Apple and rhubarb crumble, sticky toffee pudding and cookies and cream cheesecake were all on offer. We could have eaten ice-cream, either by itself, in a knickerbocker glory or with coffee in Affogato. Having recently defrosted the freezer, I had eaten more than my fair share of ice-cream for a while. Besides which, we were probably too full from our mains.
It’s been some years since I last visited Blackhouse. I was pleased to see that they still serve very good meat dishes but also glad that they have diversified. My Mexican starter has prompted me to consider trying their fajitas on my next visit, and the offer of smoky hummus and aubergine steak might even entice some of my vegetarian friends.
Feature photograph by Stan Graham. Other photography by Debbie Rolls.