The Lockhart, restaurant review: Brad McDonald has picked up the south-western ball and kicked it out of the park

 

At the risk of straying into territory staked out by my more lurid male counterparts, I once saw a strip bar in Nashville with a neon sign outside advertising '99 Beautiful Girls! And One Ugly One'. They can get away with that kind of playful hucksterism down in the American South. Here, outraged punters would be demanding refunds and invoking the Trade Descriptions Act.

Some of that good old-fashioned marketing cunning has been applied to reboot a business started in London last summer by two expat Texan couples. The Lockhart launched on one of Marylebone's more appealing hidden streets as a rather good local restaurant, specialising in the cooking of the American south-west.

Unfortunately for The Lockhart and its British chef, the opening was overshadowed by a wave of more exciting openings further east – the noise was all about dude food in Dalston, not mac'n'cheese in Marble Arch. So the owners decided to bring in a gen-u-ine American to take over the kitchen, in the form of Brad McDonald, who sounds like a quarterback, but looks like an alt-folk singer, complete with frontiersman beard.

With a background in a very different style of cooking – he worked at Noma and Per Se before building a reputation at Brooklyn's hip Colonie and Gran Electrica – McDonald has picked up the south-western ball and kicked it out of the park. His menu for The Lockhart 2.0 reworks the comfort food of the Deep South, and sounds thrilling even in a crowded market. Mallard gumbo over Carolina gold rice; Tokyo turnips and country ham; muffuletta, the classic New Orleans sandwich. He's even offering shrimp and grits – the grits presumably deployed in the same role as the ugly girl at the strip joint.

Returning to the airy, double-fronted dining room, I recognised at least one of the previous team, manager Bunmi. He's been joined upfront by the angelic Molly, wife of Brad McDonald. You could perm any two of the staff and come up with a convincing Kooples ad. The room, too, is just trendy enough, with its beaten-tin ceiling and mismatched vintage china. But with sturdy, well-spaced tables and low-level music, it's distinctly middle-age-friendly.

The lunchtime menu offers just five 'entrees' and as many sides, supplemented with a couple of specials. This is the comfort food of the Deep South reworked by someone whose influences lie in the Cool North, and its obsession with pickling and brining, heritage ingredients and foraging.

Take the catfish gumbo; somewhere between a soup and a risotto, and based on a complex meat stock as umami-rich as any ramen broth, it layered slippery rice, spiced pork sausage and okra under a scattering of spring onions, and tasted fresh, vivid and utterly alien. At that point I reset my dials to expect bold, regional cooking rather than southern stodge, and started to have fun.

Having eaten grits before (once) I thought I knew what I was in for: gruel, basically. Here, the ground corn is transformed, with a lot of butter and cheese, into a rich and silky polenta-ish thing of delight, and partnered with a fistful of sautéed tiger prawns, punchy with lemon juice. Again, with its Asian mushrooms, the dish seemed almost Japanese, though the unannounced addition of fried bacon was authentically American enough.

In fact, meat pops up in all sorts of unexpected places. Powdered bacon is scattered over an otherwise bland wedge salad of ranch-dressed iceberg lettuce and chopped eggs. Collard greens are cooked in ham stock and finished with smoked ham hock. And a side of dirty rice is blousy with chopped chicken heart and liver, though we were warned about that.

Star of the show was the Southern-fried chicken, as good as any in town: two fist-sized legs, the coating dark and crisp, the brined, buttermilk-marinated meat stupendously flavourful.

The heritage-with-a-twist theme continues with desserts. 'Ice box pie', apparently borrowed from McDonald's mom, is the long-lost Southern cousin of lemon meringue pie. And 'calas', beignet-like bites with a suave chocolate ganache dip, confirmed that deep-fried dishes really are the way to go when down south.

Next to us, two landlords discussed defaulting tenants while applying themselves with gusto to skillets of cornbread and fried chicken. Neither the menu structure nor the room lend themselves to a long, lingering lunch, but there's a bodega-like bar downstairs which demands a night-time visit. With all the dining action happening way out east, The Lockhart offers a great compromise for oldies and Dalston refuseniks, who crave gastronomic adventure and Brooklyn-style grunginess, but don't want to go anywhere remotely grungy to find it.

Food ****
Ambience ****
Service *****

The Lockhart, 24 Seymour Place, Marylebone, London W1 (020-3011 5400). For three courses including wine and service, around £25 a head (lunch), £50 (dinner)

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
people
News
Amazon's drones were unveiled last year.
business
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Life and Style
Worth shelling out for: Atlantic lobsters are especially meaty
food + drink
Sport
Gareth Bale
footballPaul Scholes on how Real Madrid's Welsh winger would be a perfect fit at Old Trafford if he leaves Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Lily James in ‘Cinderella’
film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss