If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to eat somewhere that’s part restaurant-part rock concert-part tattoo parlour, you’ve obviously never dined at Black Axe Mangal.
Small, loud – yes even at the yuppiest of meals, Sunday morning brunch – and sat on the Highbury & Islington roundabout next to Maison d’Etre, a prime piece of caffeinated yummy mummy real estate, this place is dangerously close to straying into the ‘if you have to ask, you’re not cool enough to know’ territory. Devoid of all obvious signage and possessing just one small menu in the window, don’t be fooled into thinking no-one knows about BAM; opening at 11am and, by midday, full of people after cold beers and hot meats served in flaky flatbreads served fresh from the Gene Simmons face painted grill, this place is as popular now as when it first opened.
Founded and run for the past two years by ex-St. John’s chef Lee Tiernan and his wife & business partner Kate, this is not the place to bring your less adventurous friends.
If 2017 has only just seen them edge towards pulled pork with a look of trepidation on their faces, then the concept of a piggy-pruney donut is unlikely to make them want to stop for a bite. Light, sugary, deep fried and resembling a very N1 take on that most classic of childhood treats – a Sainsbury’s caster sugar stippled donut – this version isn’t filled with raspberry jam but a deeply sticky & unctuous prune jam and thick, crispy fat edged pieces of melting pig cheek. Sugar and pork might not seem like the most obvious pairing but a la Joey Tribbiani on one beef filled trifle…sugar? Good. Pork? Good? Donut? Goooood.
Vietnamese scrambled eggs come piled on top of individual, soft, fluffy & golden bread rounds. You’ll need a compass, an Ordnance Survey map and the determination of Lassie to locate them as they’re hidden under a mountain of shrimp, bacon, bean sprouts, pink pickled onions, chillies and fresh herbs but find them you will and worth it, it will be. Some may find the potent flavours here a bit smack-you-in-the-face unforgiving but I loved this dish.
Like properly loved it.
Like more-than-I-loved-Dustin-in-S2-of-‘Stranger-Things’-loved-it. It’s clever, fresh, biting with flavour and turns the eggs you think you know on their head.
Thick, soft slabs of charred-edged pastrami arrive under fried eggs with glorious Technicolor yolks; both perch atop a mammoth wedge of soft-centred, crunchy coated hash browns under a heavy handed sprinkle of chilli, next to a small lake of chipotle sauce. It’s classic NYC fare done with the sort of kick-ass, don’t-give-a-**** attitude that’s both aspirationally intimidating and appealing.
The B. L. X. O. is the Mangal’s take on a BLT. Built like an ultimate fighting champion and packing a similar punch, this behemoth of a sandwich arrives in the chariot of food delivery vehicles aka the red plastic basket and it’s got heft. Laden with bacon, lettuce and onions, spattered with hot sauce, accompanied by a couple of skinny pickles and skewered together with a fluorescent pirate’s sword, I’d lay down a jug of Bloody Marys that this, THIS, would be cracking hangover therapy.
Kill or cure? Yeah, I reckon so.
I’ve lived fifteen minutes’ walk from BAM since it opened and always been hesitant to visit fearing that the rumours of deafening heavy metal and palate slaying levels of spiciness were too much for my generally Charlotte York vibe but I liked it a lot. Service is good – a touch Michelle-Pfeiffer-in-Grease-2-cool at times but still welcoming and although it’s not cheap with most brunch mains hovering around the £15 mark and dinner dishes headed up to £20, it’s value for money and then some as it successfully tackles, accepts and surpasses the challenge of being generously portioned and totally tasty.
Plus, anywhere that’s taken root within eyeballing distance of both a ‘spoons and a set of golden arches but defiantly throws out bold, confident cooking with a lick of Kiss on the grill and hot sauce on the fork is not only alright by me, it’s absolutely worth supporting.