‘Ties frowned upon’ is the dress code of Blacks, the historical Soho members’ club where nothing seem to have changed since Georgian times.
Unless you know where to look, you are likely pass by Blacks without noticing it, even if you are an experienced Soho dweller. Blacks unwritten etiquette is understatement and only the address will provide you with a clue that you have to descend the
particular set of stairs to find yourself in one of the quaintest members’ clubs in London.
Inside, the tune is completely different. Fashioned to resemble the dining club founded by the literate Samuel Johnson and the painter Joshua Reynolds, which existed on these premises in the 18th Century, the decor is quintessentially Georgian.
Roaring fireplaces, benches and tables made of wooden trunks, fatiscent armchairs, brocade pillows, barrels and pretty lampshades made of large shells are just some of the elements creating a rustic ambiance which does a good job of historical
veracity. The venue spreads over three floors: the basement is small and jolly, with a small bar serving this area and the top floor; the ground floor acts as dining area; and the top floor is where most of the seats are located, although there is no extra
service area to provide members with more drinks.
The small oddities are the defining element of many members’ clubs and Blacks is no exception. The first bizarre rule is that there is no entrance fee but you need to deposit a pound in a box at the entrance for the doorman - a quaint, nervous type
who may insist in moving your group around to accommodate his list of bookings. Fitting in perfectly with the period decor, he wears a worn golden waistcoat and electric hair and most of the time he sits on an old deformed chair prominently located in
Other than that, the staff are quite nice and the atmosphere relaxing and pleasant. Blacks acts as a cocoon sheltering its lucky members from the madness of Soho and it is the perfect place for sipping wine with a group of friends over an interesting
The clientele are mostly people who live in the local neighbourhood and are, as a rule, fairly well-to-do. Most are in their thirties but it is hard to generalise. As a rule of thumb, nobody feels totally out
of place, unless they’re wearing a tie!
A regularly changing menu of mostly British recipes is available in the dining room. Expect slow-cooked veal shank with pea risotto, or rib-eye steaks to peak your hunger. Most people, though, opt to munch from the board menu, which includes posh
ingredients like La Credenza salami with cornichons and bread (£9.50) and a Neil’s Yard cheese board with homemade chutney and oatcakes (£9.50).
As a rule, the ingredients are of a good quality and the food is decent and uncomplicated.
The wine list includes over 80 bottles on a single sheet of paper. No descriptions are available but you are given the year of production. Prices for a glass are very reasonable at just £4-£6 although most bottles are sold whole (from £14.50). The reds
escalate to £75 and above for a Bordeaux, while the whites creep up to £150 for a Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru Olivier Leflaive from 1999. There are plenty of good vintages from the last 15 years with many bottles dating back to the mid-90s. At least
a third of wines are produced before 2005. You are advised to make up your mind rather quickly since some bottles are kept in the cellar and it takes a few minutes to fetch them.
Rose (£12.50-£23), sherry (£3.50 per glass), dessert wine and port (£28-£34) are also available, as well as sparkling wines (£20-£85).
For a cosy afternoon, one free of booze, you can pick from Monmouth coffee (£1.50-£2.50), Dr Stuarts, Organic and the Brabo teas (all £1.50): wild nettle, fennel, rooibos and liquorice are available alongside Earl Grey and Jasmine.
The Last Word
Quaint, full of personality and quintessentially old-school English, Blacks may not move with the times but it has bags of character and personality.