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Words: Chris Zacharia
Black fascinates us.
From the Jolly Roger to the little black dress, the colour – or absence of colour – has the power to symbolise death, sexiness and almost everything in between.
But when it comes to food, black used to be a sign that it had spoiled. No longer. Iron Bloom, a cocktail bar and restaurant in Shoreditch, are serving a limited edition ‘Halloween Noir’ menu, where every dish is as dark as it gets.
So – what’s it like to eat a meal where all the food is black?
As restaurants go, Iron Bloom makes a great setting for a macabre menu. Entering through the vast, factory-esque iron doors, you feel as though you’re about to descend into the inferno. Inside, there’s a DJ booth up above covered in wire mesh like a cage. The tables are hewn from a heavy-duty wood partnered with hefty barstools, illuminated by half-moon lampshades straight out of a Mitteleuropean train station.
If the decor is industrial, the service is anything but. Elena, our waitress, takes us to our seats and begins chatting to us as though we were guests in her own home. I mention that we want to try the Halloween noir menu, but she insists on a few more: ‘Of course, but you must also try this, and this one is very popular, and this is my personal favourite…’
I’m grateful to Elena. It’s because of her that we end up trying the slow-braised watermelon brisket. This unusual dish takes four days of marinating, smoking and cooking to prepare. And the end result is astonishing.
Cut into thin strips and covered in a fine coat of crunchy batter, each slice of watermelon is an intriguing contrast of opposites: sweet and savoury, crunchy and smooth, fruity and fried. Break through the golden honeycomb of the batter and marvel at the jam-coloured flesh within. Dunk it into the smoked kiwi wasabi (that’s right), add a chunk of the exquisitely astringent feta cheese, and let the flavours unfold in your mouth. You lucky, lucky thing.
We’re only just returning to our wits when the second dish causes us to lose them all over again. I don’t normally order crumpets in a restaurant, but then again, most restaurants don’t make their own crumpets from scratch. And then top them with a homemade crab butter and the kind of cod roe that makes you give your heart to the sea.
Taking a bite, my guest and I both pull the same this-is-unbelievable-my-mouth-is-in-love look. The crumpets are just crispier, crunchier, savourier than any I’ve ever tasted, and the umami thwack of the fish and seafood butter ties it all together in glorious medley of fat, salt and acid. Never again will I enjoy a Warburton’s crumpet with Clover. Not after this.
The black legion is on its way. Before the dishes arrive, we rejuvenate our palates with cocktails. I have no idea whether this will help, but since Iron Bloom is so highly regarded for its mixologists (it’s from the people who created the Looking Glass Cocktail Club) we can’t say no. The Berrigroni softens the traditional negroni with a pomegranate aperitif and punta mes, without losing its moodiness. Meanwhile the Scotch and Steak arrives wielding a burning stick of cinnamon, enhancing its smokiness but also posing a threat to the eyes when drunk.
Back to black, then. The wagyu beef burger, with a black bun, is flawless – as it should be for £15. The meat is very juicy and succulent. It disappears far too quickly. Black magic?
Homemade black tagliatelle, tossed in garlic parmesan, doused in pomegranate and topped with a soft-boiled egg and caviar: an awesome assembly of ingredients which somehow don’t quite come together. By the time we come to the dish, the egg has set, and we miss the silkiness of a runny yolk to unite the flavours.
Finally, the blackest dish of all: a mushroom risotto swimming in squid ink, featuring chunks of smoked haddock and salmon caviar. Scoop away some of the rice, and the inky swirls you leave behind are so complex that you can convince you that you’re an artist.
Dessert brings another dash of darkness with frozen blueberries, the shade of stormclouds at dusk, covered with a homemade white chocolate sauce. The cold tart bursts of the berries cut through the velvety lava of the chocolate, and all is right in our world.
Iron Bloom’s Halloween Noir menu runs until 11th November. But even if you don’t make it in time, go: for the watermelon brisket, for Elena the waitress, and to drink a smoke-filled cocktail in a former factory.
46 Great Eastern Street
Tel: 020 7729 4235