It’s four in the morning and I cannot sleep because I’m excited. I’m in London at the moment with excellent friends Dan and Jeff and just before bed they told us they’d be taking us to dine at every branch of Hawksmoor today. I am all a-quiver with excitement at the prospect as it promises to be one of the most grade A+ fun dining experiences I’ve ever indulged in.
Of course, I’ve been to all three branches of Hawksmoor before, to one upwards of twenty times, however doing all three in one day is going to be a trouser bulging fest of quality meat, cocktails and giggles. I couldn’t wish for more wonderful people to share the experience with than Dan, Jeff and Dani. For those new to the site I’ll give a quick sketch of the Hawksmoor restaurants.
I first visited Hawksmoor Spitalfield when I was on day release from the nuthouse just over three years ago. When I look back at that review I find it rather inadequate and it does reflect that I was not quite at my best, but Hawksmoor were at their best and made one hell of an impression. So much of an impression that Hawksmoor has been written about in 5% of the 1200-plus posts on this site.
Back then the restaurant was somewhat more sleepy than it and its siblings are today. Sleepy, except for the City-type arses getting wrecked at the bar who were engaged in a minor punch-up. I cannot blame them too much, though, for I have now drank an awfully large number of Hawksmoor’s cocktails and they have all, including the Nuclear Banana Daiquiri, been so brilliant that you just want to drink as many of them as possible. The boys and I have drunk as many of them as possible.
Inventive, stylish, quality cocktails are one of the hallmarks of Hawksmoor and they are now, quite rightly, one of the very top cocktail destinations in London. Indeed, they make the only martini, their Fancy Gin Cocktail, that I would ever recommend anyone ever actually go out of their way to try[ref]Just to be clear, all other martinis are either rubbish or simply hurt too much. The FGC is mind-buggeringly strong but a delight to drink, and it doesn’t scald my stomach. Dukes used to make good martinis that didn’t hurt because of their anaesthetic value, but they lost the plot and now the place is a pale shadow of its ‘being rendered incapable of signing a credit card slip after a few’-glory days.[/ref]. They employ some of the best bar staff in London who keep the list fresh with interesting drinks and never fail to mix everything to the very highest quality level. On one early visit I asked a bar lady for “Your most superficially innocuous but ultimately disabling drink, please!” She replied, “That’s the first order I’ve taken on my first night in this job and if that’s the kind of thing I’m going to be asked for I’m going to love it here.” Her drink was tasty and got me newscasted.
Cocktails are only a small part of the story – there’s meat too. On that first visit the large, flavoursome slabs of Chateaubriand Dani and I hoovered up made me think that Hawksmoor could well be the best steak restaurant in London. For my third trip there I was invited to a comparative meat-off, a tasting of different breeds and cuts of beef, and this showed that with the beef they normally serve they were most certainly London’s best steak restaurant. There was a time I was there nearly every week trying to decide precisely which steak I liked the best.
The menu has an array of comforting side dishes that just make you want to want to gorge yourself. Even things that sound awful like macaroni and cheese are brilliant. The triple-cooked chips are, these days, a delight. The whole dining experience is tuned to the basic instincts of having fun and being pleasured with hilariously good but not over-worked food. Dining at Hawksmoor is all about raw enjoyment.
Their two newer branches, in Covent Garden and, at the end of last year, Guildhall in the City, have only added polish to the Hawksmoor recipe and shown that Huw and Will, Hawksmoor’s boss men, have an unswerving dedication to pleasuring people as deeply as they can.
Indeed, Huw and Will are not the only members of the Hawksmoor team who are passionate about gratifying their patrons. Every member of staff I’ve encountered has been knowledgeable about and interested in what they are selling, and eager to satisfy all your meaty and drinky lusts whilst you are in their charge. The staff are a great bunch and if one of them has served you really well of an evening they don’t look too embarrassed if you give them a big hug before you leave.
That is why Hawksmoor is so good. Now I need to get a shower and a shave in time for:
Breakfast at Hawksmoor Guildhall
Hawksmoor Guildhall is the latest branch to open with a grand bar and dining room right in a smart part of the City of London. Since the venue itself is underground it can be easy to walk past the entrance, even though it is a rather lavish portal to this haven of pleasure. Walk in and you immediately feel you are in an oasis of civilisation where you will do well.
Walk downstairs and you know you’ll do well because the bar is massive and very tastefully decorated. There are plenty of tables for those whose legs are not up to three or more cocktails or if you don’t fancy the main dining room that is larger than at any other branch. I was pleased to see a decent number of City suits having working breakfasts in it (there’s free Wifi if that helps tempt you there) but I was a little disappointed so few of them were taking advantage of Hawksmoor’s all-day license by ordering cocktails.
I immediately ordered a Number 7 Bloody Mary, made with horseradish infused gin. Because I know and love Hawksmoor and any regular reader will pretty much assume I think they can do no wrong I’m going to be hyper-critical in this article. This BM was boozy enough but the tomato flavours just seemed a little dilute and it lacked a bit of richness. The salt and pepper rim of the glass was a wizard idea, though, and it was more-or-less fiery enough. I quickly followed it up with a Fancy Gin Cocktail. Hooray for FGC’s! Hooray for me!
The breakfast menu is rich and broad, with delights at all price points up to and including Hawksmoor’s justifiably famous steaks. If there are two of you, you can order a massive Hawksmoor Full English with a myriad of delights to share, or just horse down yourself if you are a particularly greedy bastard. I chose the Full English for one person and didn’t think it was overpriced at £15 considering the location and quality and quantity of food.
Dani chose a HKMuffin with sausage and egg, Jeff eggs Benedict and Dan smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. We were all distinctly satisfied with our breakfasts apart from one feature. For those of us used to King’s Sombourne eggs and Burford Browns their eggs taste quite ordinary, they do not live up to the quality of the other ingredients. This is a bit of a shame and also a surprise; Will and Huw are the perfectionists’ perfectionists and I would have thought they’d have sourced the very best eggs possible. There is a real quality difference between good and ordinary eggs and I think this needs addressing (unless we were unfortunate in terms of normal supplies running out or some such thing).
Let us not get too carried away with ova, though, the breakfasts were excellent and we really enjoyed the pastries that we also ate to make sure we’d survive until lunch.. I particularly liked the custard and marmalade doughnuts, which were wonderful constructions with brilliant vanilla-infused custard, topping marmalade of real character all inside a scrum-licious doughnut. The little custard tart was caramelised to utter bliss. Top stuff.
We did like the laboratory glassware they used for the coffee pots, even if the reason they give for using them on the menu is not remotely credible.
In summary, this was a great start to the day; breakfast was spot on (apart from the eggs) and with two cocktails I was fuelled like fire and melting with anticipation for further delights to come. We then headed of to the British Museum to revel in its glories until our next appointment.
Lunch at Hawksmoor Seven Dials
Hawksmoor Seven Dials just around the corner from Covent Garden has a similar design to Guildhall but is a bit more intimate and cosy – if it were not for my frequency-induced loyalty to the Spitalfields branch I’d say this has the best dining room and bar. So we installed ourselves in the bar.
Hawksmoor’s cocktail list is better than ever and they are mixed with incredible skill. Beezer barman Shaky Pete was battling with a laptop in one corner and after I caught his eye he prompted us toward some new drinks and they were all simply spiffing. I can enthusiastically recommend the Tokaji Smash, Dr Funk’s Swizzle, Blinker and Grapefruit Picador. All of these were at the screaming edge of cocktail brilliance and set us up for a hearty, healthful lunch.
The lunch menu covers the range of experiences one could desire for this all-to-often unexciting meal. In addition to the usual steaks, chicken, fish and worrisome meat-free contrivances there are also some more fun options, which we plumped for.
My chilli cheese dog starter was simply the best hot-dog I have ever eaten. It was topped with Ogleshield cheese, a deliciously powerful Cheddar-like fromage which gave a pungently attractive aroma to the whole thing. That smelled really delicious. The chilli meat was lovely and beefy, although maybe a bit hotter could have been nice. Then the dog itself was freaking triple-A, a wonderful meaty treat for all people who like noshing on sausage action. It was simply cracking.
Dani had some steak tartare, which can be one of the greatest joys of the table. However, this example failed on two of counts. Firstly, our waitress promised it was very spicy, it was nothing of the sort and in fact extremely mildly spiced. The degree of fire one seeks in steak tartare is a deeply personal thing so I feel it’s always best to provide meat with a selection of chopped goodies and condiments to mix to your own taste. I like them damned spicy and this failed.
The serious failure was the temperature it was served. Raw fillet steak doesn’t actually have that much flavour, especially when there is little spice to bring out the tastes it has. Serving this meat at the temperature of a cold fridge resulted in it tasting of almost nothing. This a real downer. Once we gave the meat plenty of time to get closer to a reasonable temperature it showed itself to be quality animal of fine character, and chopped to a perfect texture, but for far too long after it was served it was simply frigid in pleasure-giving potential.
The dining room was totally full all the time we were there so I cannot imagine this dish is ordered so rarely that a portion or two could not be kept ready to eat, rather than whipping some out of the fridge and leaving the diner feeling deflated. Again, I would expect more attention to this detail from Huw and Will who take food pleasure so very seriously.
Things were redeemed with our main courses. Jeff had another hot-dog which was totally delicious. He cleaned up all the bits of sauce and vegetable material from our plates to stuff the bun with and he ended up with a bulging package of serious sausage. He loved it.
Dani had a kimchee burger and, whilst he said the burger itself was brilliant and did go quite well with the least vile kimchee he’d ever eaten. I think that improving kimchee is a bit of a turd-polishing exercise. Far better was Dan’s Hawksmoor burger which, when I first tried it, I claimed was the best burger I’d had in my life up until that point.
But then, I had an even better burger. Made with pulsingly flavourful fillet steak and bone marrow, cooked to medium-rare perfection and topped with pickled jalapeños and Ogleshield cheese this had an unbeatable balance between meaty loveliness, chilli heat and cheesy richness. It was a fulgurating burger of total brilliance and I was moved by it.
All of these we had with either beef dripping chips or triple-cooked chips. Dan and Dani claimed the beef dripping chips were too chunky but I found mine highly pleasurable and I liked their pronounced crispiness which in many had reached that dissolute stage where most of the water had been driven from the chip and they were golden and vaguely translucent. I love that. I also loved Jeff’s triple cooked chips which were the best I had had from Hawksmoor.
We left feeling distinctly improved by our lunch, steak tartare aside, although before resuming our non-food culture activities I could have done with another one of the cracking cocktails. I would have to survive until half past six when we had:
Dinner at Hawksmoor Spitalfields
I’ve dined here more often than at any other restaurant and it feels like a home away from home. I’ll be there again on the 29 February for the opening night of the new bar that is being constructed under the dining room. If you see me there do say “Hello”. Offers of drinks are also greatly appreciated – ho ho ho…
This organ has served up an awfully large amount of information about dining here so I shall be brief.
The Sublime Society’s Arrack Punch, which I model here, is a totally winning cocktail and will put you in the mood for a large delivery of quality protein. A Concealed Weapon is another corking sharpener so I’m glad I had both. My friends’ cocktails were also brilliant and the bar staff here remain some of the most highly skilled in Town and are extremely personable.
The quality drinking continues with the wine list which has been upgraded to match those at other branches. With its brilliantly chosen, and mercifully not too long, selection of all sorts of stunners across the price range I maintain this is the best wine list I’ve seen in a restaurant. If you don’t fancy wine, and cocktails are just too much fun for you then the Meantime Pale ale is a top-quality beer. I had one after my string of sharpeners.
The steaks and side-dishes are as good as ever, which is to say pretty much at the zenith of their quality experiences, the 900g Porterhouse I shared with Dani was just the nuts. I was a little disappointed with the Plum Pudding pig belly ribs which didn’t seem as tender and flavourful as the Tamworth belly ribs they replaced. These were the greatest ribs I had ever eaten (time after time after time) so somewhat of a tough act to follow. The food was generally of top quality and extremely gratifying in nature, though.
It was a really enjoyable dinner and we felt it was a good finish to a deeply gratifying day’s dining. Which only leaves me to give a:
Summary of Hawksmoor and the Hawksmoorathon experience
Drinking and dining at Hawksmoor is a really pleasurable experience. The odd miss is excusable because everything else is so perfectly targeted at one’s pleasure centres. The food may not be the most complex in the world but it almost always slaps a large grin across one’s visage. Drinks are superb, from the peerless cocktails and wine list right down to the quality beer they have for the cost-sensitive diner. The staff are friendly, enthusiastic and handle restaurants heaving with merry diners with aplomb. They are amongst the best destinations in London if you are after a good time.
If you are really after a good time I can heartily recommend the Hawksmoorathon. It’s a rich and fun bundle of laughs that’ll keep you smiling all day. I would suggest you arrange engaging activities for the gaps between meals that allow plenty of time for sitting down to rest tired legs and assist digestion of meat. Don’t feel you need to hold back on anything, especially not cocktails; the healthy diner can easily manage three such engagements in a day. Although perhaps not every day – not for many days anyway.
I look forward to attending the Spitalfields bar opening on the 29th with luridly intense relish.
It is one of the most mirth-tastic days I’ve had eating and drinking and I would like to sincerely thank Dan and Jeff for treating us to this unforgettable experience.
Here’s their website where you can book a similar lark-fest for yourselves.