Southern American cuisine is not known for subtle flavours and finesse, but for sturdy, heavily seasoned dishes, traditionally cooked using age old methods. It’s known over there as “Soul Food”. You should also note this cuisine is dangerously calorific, though of course with calories comes flavour and satisfaction. You’ve got to give some to get some...
The Lockhart gifts London with this southern cuisine presented in a way that is uncommon around here, and one that is previously untouched by myself. For me, it is an example of exactly what makes the food scene in London so exciting. With Brooklyn born chef Brad McDonald taking over the kitchen in January this year, the Lockheart has become tremendously popular.
After a few drinks at the close by Home House, we headed over to Seymour Street, a brilliant location for a good mixture of restaurants. In fact, The Lockhart is sat just next door to my favourite London based Basque restaurant Donostia. The beaten-tin ceilinged dining room is kitted out with mismatched vintage china, smartly scrubbed up tables and old railway benches. It’s very inviting with just a touch of buzz and energy yet not too much. We were fortunate enough to be sat on the only table overlooking the reassuringly calm and collected kitchen.
The food menu is excitingly short (I cannot stand the schlep of trawling through bible-length menus), with a specific collection of mostly Californian wines, and to my father’s delight – a strong list of Indian Pale Ales’s including his favourite Brooklyn Brew. The 2010 Terre rouge viogner for us girls was deliciously light and refreshing.
We were efficiently waited on by a troop of denim-cladded hansom chaps and to start, ordered the catfish gumbo (famously from Mississippi) and the dirty rice with brown crab & smoked West Mersea oysters. The former was strangely fascinating bowl of slimy deliciousness. Thinking aloud, it looked like cat sick however tasted like an earthy, herby thick fish and vegetable stew.
The dirty rice was more interestingly flavoured, smoked oysters (the only form of oysters I will eat) really adding a punch to the dish. If I had to criticise, it was a little too salty though this does comes with the nature of the cuisine.
We watched the chef’s butter and blaze a countless number of cornbreads so we ordered one to dunk into the starters. It tasted like a heavily textured sweet brioche, so was essentially like ordering cake as a starter – how terrific! And incredibly filling, we couldn’t finish it.
I ordered shrimp and grits, a dish which comes from the not so fancy low country coastal areas and has a reputation for tasting of porridge, though when bearded Brad makes shrimp and grits, he makes it sexy! This bowl was an absolutely heavenly cheesy polenta & corn base topped with chunky mushrooms, spring onions, big juicy shrimp and bacon pieces (southern American chefs will sprinkle bacon over literally, anything) and a salty broth. Whatever you have read about this southern poor-man’s food before, just ignore it! It’s deliciously gluttonous and wonderful, thought likely contains more calories than all the other dishes put together but absolutely worth it.
My father was pleased with his smoked BBQ pork belly, an integral part of southern cuisine. It came with creamy sweet corn sauce, topped with fresh chives. The collard greens were a fabulous side, with a light vinegar dressing.
The third order was a quail in Madeira glaze which was juicy and perfectly pink, stuffed with the previously sampled dirty rice (minus the oysters).
We were absolutely stuffed with no room for pudding, but as my father left the restaurant to catch a train, the cheeky waiter bought over a deconstructed lemon meringue pie as a gift. Of course we found room for it, and it was absolutely divine. A delicately torched meringue on top of creamy lemon curd, sour lemon sorbet and crunchy biscuit crumbs. A sweet and simple gesture, which left us smiling.
I can perhaps see how someone who was used to southern American food would think the menu was over priced and not special enough to justify it. However the whole experience was a first for me, I had such a laugh (I was not drunk) whilst trying something completely new. I highly recommend it for like-minded, open-minded people.
Food for thought: ‘A study led by Suzanna Judd, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Alabama, found that people who ate Southern food six times per week had about a 41% higher risk of stroke, compared with people who just ate Southern food once per month’
But don’t let that discourage you! Thanks for scrubbing up a dirty cuisine for us Brad.