The One Who Keeps the Book London
“Bring a Bottle For The Kitchen.” How to Do FKA Black Axe Mangal Right
Introducing The One Who Keeps the Book, a regular series that aims to answer the question that matters most, “How do I get in?” The first answer is Resy, of course. But every restaurant manages its tables differently. There are always secret tips, tricks, and shortcuts to be discovered. So, here we go, straight to the source to get them for you.
F.K.A.B.A.M (Formerly Known as Black Axe Mangal) is the latest incarnation of the well-loved Islington favourite, Black Axe Mangal. Leading the kitchen is chef Lee Tiernan who spent a decade as head chef at St John Bread and Wine, and has developed a distinct approach to flavour that balances a love of unashamedly punchy flavours with a Modern British grounding informed by his years at St. John and others. Meanwhile, Kate Tiernan looks after the restaurant’s operations and front of house, with a charm that can momentarily make guests forget that they’re in one of London’s most famed institutions.
When Black Axe Mangal was founded, it drew inspiration from London’s Turkish grill houses but has since evolved into something of its own – a constantly unexpected, ever-changing menu that plays on smoke, spice, and offal. When the restaurant reopened post-pandemic, tables disappeared in moments, and even today, primetime tables at the weekend can be difficult to snag. We sat down with Kate Tiernan, who shares her tips on how to snag a table and get the most out of a visit to this beloved restaurant.
How long has it been since you opened FKA Black Axe Mangal?
In its first incarnation, we did a pop-up in Copenhagen and that was the summer of 2014, [and] then we opened the London site in 2015.
How many seats does the restaurant have?
Twenty-four. Sometimes we have outside seats, but we live in England, so…
When do reservations drop on Resy?
We take up to four weeks in advance.
Do you keep aside tables for walk ins? If so, what’s the best time to try on a busy night?
I mean that sort of always depends. So we keep about sort of four spaces at our kitchen bar. And throughout the night, that’s four covers per setting. So that could be you know, four to eight or twelve.
The best time to try for a walk-in is any time in the evening, because we keep a bit of space. And I would add that with warmer weather coming, there are outside tables. So there’s more variability for walk-ins during the summer.
For someone who’s never been to the restaurant, what are the must-try dishes?
Well, currently, we run an ever-changing menu. So it’s difficult to say, but I would say you should always have a flatbread when you’re at [FKA Black Axe Mangal]. And you should always try one of the offal dishes.
How long is your Notify list on any given night?
We sort of do a return in around an hour and a half, to an hour [and forty-five]. So it’s unlikely that you’ll wait longer than an hour and a half. We have a pub just next door to us. So there’s always lots places to have a quick drink beforehand in Islington.
What do you think keeps the restaurant packed each night?
I think that what keeps our restaurant busy is that we are quite unique in London in the way we do what we do.
You know, it’s high end and well thought-out, but we also have like a fun, vibey bar-like environment. We combine that to sort of juxtapose the two things — you come in and the music’s loud, and everything’s really kind of dark and not Instagram-friendly. You can’t take a good picture at night in our restaurant and that’s purposely so. So I think one of the reasons it’s busy is because it’s because it’s different. Flavours are bold, and the environment is fun and bold, but we don’t compromise on quality of produce or in your execution.
One of the reasons that we stayed popular, even nearly 10 years on, is because we’re offering something that’s fun, but also delicious. And you’re unlikely to have the same meal twice.
If it’s your birthday, then we’re going to light a candle, turn the lights down, and play Fifty Cent.— Kate Tiernan
What’s the vibe like on a Friday night? What music is playing? What’s the crowd like?
So the vibe of the restaurant is having a good time. You’re gonna get to know your neighbour potentially, the music will be loud, it’s fun. It’s a night out. It’s a place where if you ask, we might play your favourite tune. You never know. People might dance. It’s happened. Sometimes it just goes like that.
We’re there to have a good time, and we want you to have a good time too.
Which is your favourite table? Can people request specific tables?
They can’t. I like to sit at the bar so I can watch, look into the kitchen, and see the action. But we don’t really reserve the bar. But we now have a situation where you’ll either be sat at a table or the bar.
We used to only reserve the tables but what we were finding is that we didn’t have wiggle room for traveling people turning up late.
Finally, any tips or tricks for getting a table during the busiest periods?
Don’t be a dick.
I’m joking. Bring a bottle for the kitchen. You walk up to a restaurant and you’ve got a bottle of something for the kitchen, for the staff. And if you walk up somewhere with a bottle for the staff, and be like, ‘I know you’re really busy, but we would love to come’, then we’re gonna go out of our way to seat you because it looks like you’re into it.
We’re all about having a good time. About the lightness and the fun so people can come in and have a great time and maybe make some new friends, have a delicious meal, maybe sing along to their favourite track. If it’s your birthday, we’re going to light a candle, turn the lights down, and play 50 Cent.
FKA Black Axe Mangal is open Wednesday to Saturday, 6-10:30pm. The restaurant is offering a one-off brunch service on Saturday June 17th as part of Resy Drop Week. Make a reservation here.
Juli Suazo is a freelance writer based in London.