Hawksmoor, the Eye-Opener

There’s something about the combination of summer in London and steak which makes perfect sense.  And like the all-too-brief summers in this city, steaks need to be made the most of – to be ‘done’ properly.  As my housemate says;

”Go big or go home”.

London is more than a little saturated with premium steakhouses, such places where the cuts of meat are luxuriously lost in theatrics, foodisms and odd cuts of the jib that somehow justify three-figure bills for various pieces of cow.  Competing with the likes of Goodman (with their special oven and awesome chips), Gaucho (with the dubious decor and slabs of raw steak on slabs of wood, to whet the appetite), and the JW Steakhouse (cheesecake and tomahawk, natch), is Hawksmoor.

Hawksmoor’s ‘thing’ is British food and cocktails.  The four restaurants (Air Street and Seven Dials in the West End, Guildhall and Spitalfields further east) have a refreshingly simple take on good British cooking – the menu being a single side of A4 that covers very nationalistic starters such as shrimps, asparagus or lobster, onto seafood and steak (the former being an Air Street specialty) and into the all-important side orders, all in efficient minimalism.  The only padding to proceedings comes in the form of place names, educating the eater that, for example, ribs can come from this side of the pond.  Tamworth, to be precise.  You learn something new every day!

The cocktail list, whilst as classy and mouthwatering as the dinner menu, regresses into more familiar gastronomic waffle of such Titanic proportions that it makes my blog look concise.  In a nutshell, it is laid out to take the determined drinker (and judging by the prices, one with deep pockets too) on a journey of intoxication from noon (Anti-Fogmatics) to night (Pre to Post-Prandial), following something called a Toper’s Timetable (Toper being a lesser-used word for drinker, or, apparently, ‘toss-pot’ as well.  The timetable has been included below – drink this in.

A few points on the Timetable.  Firstly, there are some great words here (‘Big Reposer’ being a personal fave) and secondly, maybe we are getting our leisure time all wrong.  How about on a Saturday, the work-hard-play-hard crowd start off at 6am and stop at midnight?  In nightclubs any later than that, I only drink water anyway.  The toss-pots had the right idea!

We left the cocktails to the end of the meal.  I am ashamed to say that I neglected to even look at the menu, simply asking if the bartender could knock up an Espresso-Martini, which in the end, turned out to be the best god-damn E.M. I have ever had (it was made with a snazzy-sounding mezcal-based coffee liqueur).  A Piña-colada was damn fine too, a balance between a deep and smooth richness of rum and fruit, with the swagger of Del Boy banana leaves and a wedge of pineapple the size of a pizza-slice.

During the meal, we went for a New Zealand Sauvignon-Blanc (yes, we were in a steakhouse but we were feeling a bit too summery for red).  The wine list at Hawksmoor is, to quote Top Gun, “long and distinguished”, with bottles selling for as little as £nineteen to as much as £seven-hundred.  Hawksmoor choose to ‘ghost-serve’ wine, the bottle being kept off your table in case -shudder- you should actually try to pour it yourself.  The attentiveness of the service staff meant that we were never running dry.

I have been putting off telling you about the food.  This is because, quite simply, I have little to say apart from that everything was perfect.  A stroll along the South Bank had plunged us into ‘negative calories’ (probably) so we went big.

A starter of potted beef and bacon with Yorkshires was no-frills farm cooking at its very best – the two home-made puddings towering menacingly over one of those click-and-seal jars containing shredded beef smeared in wonderful dripping.  It was like a brave new world of pâté, especially when accompanied with its rich onion sauce.

The steaks – described on Hawksmoor’s website as “dictionary-thick”, are laid out like any other steakhouse of comparative quality around town.  We debated over porterhouse, bone-in sirloin, Chateaubriand (all British Beef, duh) before settling for a couple of 300g filets.  Adding to that feeling of effortless quality, the beef was so tender I cannot even remember chewing it (but that could have been the side-effects of an afternoon of Pimms and G&Ts), but it tasted so rich it could have been steak concentrate.

The sides were good too, though never in any danger of overpowering the star attraction.  Creamed spinach was plentiful and rich, and the beef-dripping fries were certainly a cut above regular ‘thin’ chips, but way upstaged by stogy old mac & cheese which was of just the right strength to carry along fine filet.  The peppercorn sauce is categorised by myself as ‘unfuckupable’, i.e. no matter how bad one gets it, it is still awesome.  Hawksmoor’s peppercorn sauce was somehow better than all that have gone before it- thick, creamy and as strong as an ox.  Calories replete, we had no room for desserts, though I have been told they’re an event in themselves.

Proof that good food doesn't always have to look, well, good.

Proof that good food doesn’t always have to look, well, good.

Hawksmoor is not just a great place to eat, it is a great place to be as well.  Air Street is occupies a long space on the first floor of a building on the apex of the Regent Street ‘swoosh’, decked out with deep woods and brown and green banquettes that give a certain English edge to steakhouse decor.  It all felt very thirties and ultra-glam.  Service was superb, again, effortless in its execution.  The cheerful servers, full of compliments, were there when needed but very far away when not.  When the time came for us to be ushered into the bar (these places never stop), I swear the waiter was very near tears.

Hawksmoor is place that I never wanted to leave, any self-respecting food lover needs to go to and everyone will want to revisit.  Expect to pay top-dollar, but it ‘s value for for money at every stage of the experience.  It is also indicative of everything which is great about London’s restaurant scene at the moment – which, let’s face it, is a lot.  As Jay Rayner said in his review of Air Street;

“Nowhere else in Britain could support a restaurant of this quality”

How to sum the place up?  Well let’s use the Toper’s Timetable.  We left Hawksmoor at about 10pm.  And this makes the meal, the evening – and this lovely British summer’s day in general…

…a ‘Sparkler’.

You’re looking at about £fifty to £sixty per person for two courses, without wine.  Cocktails are just short of a tenner.  Worth. Every. Penny.

www.TheHawksmoor.com | @HawksmoorLondon | 5A Air Street, London, W1J 0AD (other locations in Guildhall, Spitalfields and Seven Dials)

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© Mike Dalley, July 2013

© Mike Dalley, July 2013

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