Black Axe Mangal: London's Favorite Heavy Metal 'Haute Kebab'
2Magazine's London-based foodie, John Chantarasak, shares his latest epicurean obsession.
November 30, 2016
Nothing could prepare me for my first experience of Black Axe Mangal--BAM to those who become regulars, as I would soon be: a cramped, yet cosy twenty-seater establishment taking up residency in what used to be an old Chinese takeaway. Metal music cranked high and the kind of bustling atmosphere you always hope to find midweek in central London.
We were warmly greeted by Kate Tiernan (co-owner) who directed us towards a perching bar in front of the kitchen to dwindle away any wait for one of the tropically floral-decorated, wipe-clean tables. Following this initial experience, I now always opt for dining at this bar, where I can watch the chefs at work while knocking back drinks.
Said drinks menu is pleasingly short: a choice of three premixed cocktails made with guidance from the pioneering cocktail bar White Lyan, as well as a few beers and wines. We opted for a couple of Largaritas, a heavenly blend of tequila and beer, with Jameson whiskey chasers before turning our attention to the food menu. Freshly made flatbreads provide the backbone to the concise and imaginative menu, and it’s not just meat that takes pride of place, vegetables are championed at every opportunity.
There are three flatbreads with various toppings, three small plates, and five larger dishes. Lamb offal flatbread has become somewhat of a signature dish and it’s easy to see why with its moreish addictiveness. Lee draws from his experiences at St John Bread & Wine by implementing their trademark nose-to-tail ethos all over the menu. “We use all the leftover bits including liver, heart and testicles for the lamb offal flatbread”; the offal is hand minced and mixed with a variety of spices before being adorned and baked on a wonderfully crisp flatbread. Toppings of greek yoghurt, fermented chilli, pickled onions, and parsley finish the story.
Smaller plates are some of those most inventive: charred hispi cabbage with fermented shrimp butter is deeply savory and makes a mockery of those believing this humble vegetable holds no flavor. Another dish of century egg topped with crispy fried anchovies is truly memorable while sweetcorn and smoked cod’s roe butter is again a vegetable triumph.
Moving on to larger plates and the thrill ride continues: a whole shrimp-crusted pigs tail is a dish that needs to be seen to be believed. More familiar dishes include crispy-on-the-outside, light-and-fluffy-on-the-inside broad bean falafels paired with roasted garlic and crammed inside a freshly baked flatbread with generous salads and condiments.
The menu reaches its pinnacle with the intimidatingly named Mission Chinese Deepthroater, which sees various cuts of cow, including tongue and heart, grilled to perfection and seasoned with a lip-numbing spice blend heavy on Szechuan peppercorns. The spice mix is inspired by the popular Mission Chinese Food restaurants found in New York and San Francisco, which are famed for their use of Szechuan. The connection with San Francisco doesn’t just stop there as Lee explains, “I was experimenting with dough recipes and it was Richard Hart of Tartine Bakery [San Francisco] that helped me out and gave me a recipe that I’ve been able to tweak and develop.”
Black Axe Mangal started life as a two month pop-up serving kebabs off a grill in the beer garden of Copenhagen’s Bakken nightclub during the summer of 2014. “It was a total shit-fight from the onset, we were slammed every night and I had to call in the cavalry.” Those that joined to lend a hand included Tom Halpin (ex-Noma, Copenhagen), Tom Adams (Pitt Cue Co, London) and Jesse Koide (Pink Zebra, San Francisco) but Lee bestows most praise on the support his wife Kate gave, “She worked behind the scenes making pickles, serving food and generally helping me not go crazy.”
It’s a typically crisp winter evening and I’ve bumped into a fellow hospitality pal during the recent Dior exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. Before long, I find myself bed-in at a local wine bar, in keeping with most run-ins with said friend, and soon enough it’s time to start brainstorming dinner options from the many recent London openings. We cycle through a few ideas before he rouses my interest with the thought provokingly named Black Axe Mangal.
Brainchild of husband and wife team Lee and Kate Tiernan, who forged a relationship--and a marriage--overseeing proceedings at the legendary St John Bread & Wine. “I remember being saved by a kebab once in Copenhagen”, says Lee (head chef and co-owner). “I was hungover and in need of sustenance; I went to this Turkish place that doesn’t exist now and ordered a kebab. Freshly grilled lamb and flatbread came out to the table and it proceeded to restore the life in me”.
Lee was still head chef of St John Bread & Wine at this point but he attributes this experience as the initial catalyst behind the idea of cooking Turkish barbecue, or mangal, over flame. In turn, Black Axe refers to the chef’s love of heavy rock music and this is no more apparent than when first confronted with the imposingly large wood-oven that takes up most of the already tiny kitchen, painted jet black and adorned with the faces of the glam rock band KISS. The wood-oven, coupled with the metal soundtrack that plays at ear piercing levels during service each night. Think Queens of the Stone Age, Guns N’ Roses and Metallica. This isn’t your average kebab house.