Everybody’s got a friend at school (yeah, even me) who‘s a little bit different (in fact, this was me); in the restaurant world this friend would be Black Axe Mangal. For a start, you hear BAM before you see it, the heavy metal music booming out above the noise from the Highbury Corner roundabout (a great location for catching the bus back to Marylebone).
I still remember my dad approaching my room when I first moved in to student halls and telling me no one would want to come and speak to me with the music (Manic Street Preachers, The Holy Bible) turned up so loud. Well, of course, that was kind of the point.
Here, the music competes with the smell of charcoal-grilled meat and freshly baked bread, a little more enticing than the student scents of piles of washing and congealed pizza. The heavy metal soundtrack is also complimented by the decor, a Kiss mural painted on the brick oven at the back of the tiny dining room, where their famous flat breads are fired by tattooed head chef Lee Tiernan – formally of St John and Spitalfields Bread and Wine.
And let’s not forget the floor, where the stripped back floorboards have been artfully graffitied with multi-coloured spurting cocks. Not something I ever replicated growing up, although I did have some Mapplethorpe prints and a postcard of Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ stuck to my noticeboard.
The short menu is similarly uncompromising; simple dishes full of bold flavours with lots of spice and ingredients such as pigs tails, lamb’s offal, quail and scallops. You may even get to finish with Jameson whisky ice cream, if you’re lucky.
The squid ink flatbread with egg yolk and smoked cod’s roe was a party both in my mouth and on the plate - quite literally with all the pink glitter strewn across the top. As an avowed egg-avoider, I was wary of the just-set yolk, but dining solo meant I had to face my fears head-on. After a satisfying nudge with the tip of my knife that set the gooey blaze coloured yolk flowing, it was scooped up, along with the bracingly salty fish paste, with a chunk of the puffy bread that is all freshly baked on site.
The burnt hispi cabbage with fermented shrimp butter sounds about as exciting as a side of vegetables can get. Half a cabbage, flame grilled until it’s edged with a bitter char is served soaked in a sweet slick of melted butter studded with tiny preserved pink shrimp. The very essence of umami.
The big disadvantage of eating solo is lack of capacity; the very real fear you’re going to miss out on something. Shared between a group, half a cabbage isn’t a lot; but eaten all alone you start to feel a as if a wafer thin mint would be a bridge too far.
But, while brassica overload meant I had to skip the mission spiced quail and the scallop with crispy pig's tail, there was no chance that I was going to pass up the dexter mixed grill with bulls heart tomatoes and hash browns. A decision I wasn’t to regret, despite getting the meat sweats as the platter of barbecued beef and fried potatoes arrived at the table.
Alongside a superlative piece of steak – served perfectly charred outside and very rare within, which seems to be the default level of ‘doneness’ here – was a chunk of kidney and some thin slices of tongue. Now, I’ve previously never met a kidney I’ve liked – a couple of chunks in a steak pie might slip down covered in enough mustard and gravy, but even the dainty little rabbits kidneys we were serve at Le Manoir had that unfortunate uric tang – but this chunk of offal was a springy, smoky joy.
The blushing tongue, not always a favourite, was also spot on; a far cry from the creepy rolls of bobbly, gelatinous pink stuff that always freaked me out when I had to cover the deli counter at the supermarket I worked in as a teenager.
As I've said above, BAM is not for the faint-hearted; it’s brash and unapologetic, just like the food they serve, but a perfect choice for those who like smoke and salt and blood and their heavy metal dialled up to 11. Pretty much all of my favourite things, bar the choice of music, although I’m not sure the Smiths sounds quite as good cranked through the speakers. But, despite the differences in musical tastes, we'd still definitely be firm friends.
Keeping up my summer tradition of featuring ice cream in every blog, I also made a stop to Udderlicious on Upper Street. I would say it was after my main course but, as you can tell from the sunshine, it was actually before dinner. Hey, surely having pudding first is one of the few perks of being a grown up.
Set up by Raj and Raj, a married couple with a huge love of frozen deserts, Udderlicious ice creams are made organic milk from British cows. And, if you go on their website , you can even chose what core flavours they stock each month, as well as suggesting your own flavour of the month. Chocolate Marmite, dandelion and burdock, or bourbon sour sorbet anyone.
I chose a double scoop tub; the chocolate peanut butter was smooth and dreamy, although a little underpowered in the legume department. Yeah, I've played Trival Pursuit enough to know that peanuts aren’t real nuts. My second choice, espresso with chocolate biscotti chunks, was even better. As an adult I’ve come to realise that coffee, pairing so well with cream and sugar, is possibly the ideal flavour for a frozen dessert. Add biscuits and chocolate and you can’t really go wrong.
I'm currently planning my second trip to look at Milton Keynes architecture (my first was as a moody geography student). A post-modern town famous for their modernist shopping centre and concrete cows; I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of ice cream they produce.