Entering Black Axe Mangal, a sonic boom of hard rock music is instantly noticeable. Of the many assenting adjectives suited to chef Lee Tiernan’s cooking, ‘loud’ is perhaps most fitting. In accordance, dinner’s soundtrack is also rowdier than the apocalypse, and so it should be.
Born from a temporary pop-up at Bakken nightclub in Copenhagen, Lee Tiernan (previously head chef at St. John Bread & Wine) and his wife, Kate Mullinger Tiernan, opened Black Axe Mangal near Highbury Corner in 2015. Here, the cooking showcased is loud, in the sense of taste – optimum flavour is coaxed from every single ingredient; each dish a (delightful) flavour explosion on the palate. It is the sort of boundary-smashing, unfussy brilliance that’s low on cost and huge on flavour, impossible to categorise. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the chef’s St. John heritage, the constantly changing menu also features a prominent focus on criminally under-appreciated cuts of meat (oxtail and dripping, brisket and ox heart, lamb offal, pig skin).
Through a heavy black curtain, the room is cosy and unsurprisingly crowded at quarter-past six on a Tuesday evening (Black Axe Mangal doesn’t take reservations for parties of less than four). Tables are closely packed and topped with lurid floral tablecloths, the lighting is low and an open kitchen stretches across the back of the space. Service is casual and quick, with dishes delivered by differing chefs. The space is noisy, but tolerable, and goes hand-in-hand with the general atmosphere and food served. Tonight’s playlist is largely comprised of thrash metal, classic rock and some Hip-Hop (Action Bronson features, a famous fan of Black Axe Mangal, also features). In one corner, a pizza oven is embellished with the faces of all four KISS members. From this oven, flatbreads are pleasing enough to prevent me from being put-off by the thought of Gene Simmonds and his itinerant ox tongue – quite miraculously.
Lamb offal flatbread is served in a red plastic basket and has a base which falls somewhere between a sourdough pizza and Turkish pide. The topping, however, is evocative of Levantine lahmacun, dressed with mayonnaise, lashing of hot sauce, sweated shallots and coriander. From the menu’s ‘snacks’ heading, slivers of crispy pig skin are elegant, greaseless and seasoned with a mixture of salt and black lime. Jerusalem artichoke puree has the texture of Vaseline but carries the sweet, nutty tones typical of the vegetable, crowned with a generous smattering of truffle and parsnip crisps. ‘Crispy Fuckin Rabbit’, on the other hand, is exactly that – a brick of slow-cooked rabbit, shredded, breaded, deep-fried and served with a fierce sauce of blended red peppers.
A touching homage to the bagels of Brick Lane, of sorts, a canary-yellow bao bun is pillowy and stuffed with slices of thick pastrami, bolstered with a dense strip of properly rendered fat. This is finished with pickled cucumber whose acidity splices through the ambrosial fat. A popular dish at Black Axe Mangal, guinea fowl is portioned, dredged in thin buttermilk batter and deep-fried. The cooking of the bird is remarkable, though it’s the spice coating – rife with mouth-numbing Sichuan pepper – that’s most striking.
Horizontally-sliced doughnuts sandwiched with a wedges of cooled foie gras daubed with equally opulent prune jam are the best thing eaten, by quite some margin. Foie gras and prune are a tried-and-tested classic, but the additional dough cushions are absolutely inspired – capturing a faultless balance between sweet, savoury, tart and salty. A sole dessert of Jameson whisky and honey ice cream is available, but another doughnut seems far more appropriate as a lasting memory of Black Axe Mangal’s outstanding marque of comfort food.
In a time of so many grossly pretentious restaurants, Black Axe Mangal breaks the mould. Unlike so many trendy restaurants in London, the food served here is completely devoid of wanton wankifery – delivering substance over style at its absolute best.
Header Photo: Kang / LondonEater.com
Black Axe Mangal can be found at 156 Canonbury Road, London, N1 2UP.