Monday at Hawksmoor: first-class meat, exceptional wines and terrific company

Yesterday I had the great pleasure to dine at Hawksmoor, London’s best meat restaurant, in the company of some engaging and entertaining chaps. Many thanks to Guy Dennis for organising it; it was lovely to see you and Paul Day again and distinctly jolly to make the acquaintance of Nigel Platts-Martin, a restauranteur with a deep love for and knowledge about wine. If you should be fortunate enough to visit London’s hottest two-star, [link2post id=”218″]The Ledbury[/link2post], you can see evidence for his vinous passion in the form of their stunning wine list. Since it must have been a period of time since I waxed lyrical about Hawksmoor I’ll give you a quick over-view, but first here are the fellows ready to crack on with fine food and wondrous wine (many thanks to Daniel for serving as photographer).

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You go to Hawksmoor to eat bits of meat. Damned good bits of meat. There is a vegetarian option on the menu but if you ask about it the staff will look perturbed and say they don’t know what it is. Good, that is how things should be. The meat is sourced from the quite brilliant butcher [link2post id=”496″]The Ginger Pig[/link2post] who have access to the best beef in London – Longhorn cattle from Yorkshire (and Tamworth pigs for the porky stuff). Sadly the meat is not organically farmed, they claim philosophical differences with the certification process, but it clearly comes from very happy and well-treated animals.

Starters are worth ordering and I can especially recommend the Tamworth belly ribs which are bursting with flavour and have a deliciously melting texture. They may not be terribly large but they are certainly the best ribs I’ve had in London. Nigel and I ordered these and well done us for doing so, as always quite delectable. Guy tried something new from their list of starters: a crab and samphire salad. Whilst I view salads with suspicion this one had plenty of tasty white crab meat in it and a little piece of toast piled with brown meat – a good salad I am happy, and slightly surprised, to report. Daniel chose another new addition to the starter menu: grilled bone marrow with shallots. He reported the bone marrow was up to its usual high standards (more on this later) but the dish was somewhat swamped with shallots resulting in it lacking balance.

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There are a couple of blackboards up in the dining room which list the day’s special steaks (see left). These are priced per 100g and the largest ones are great for sharing; on my first visit I shared a 900g Chateaubriand with Daniel and it was definitely a good amount for two people. Recall wolfing down my half as I was on day release from the nut house and so was positively aching for decent food.

If you don’t want a special steak the menu lists the normal sizes on offer which go for a fixed rate. My usual favourite is the 600g bone-in sirloin, it is as tender as fillet steak but with a more pronounced flavour. If you like fillet then there is a 300g offering on the menu but I would lean toward ordering a Chateaubriand to share; Chateaubriand is a great piece of animal to chew on. Should you desire super flavour action then the 55 day aged rump steak is the option of choice. The other bits of meat here are aged for 35 days, the additional 20 days the rump steak gets really adds to its meaty character. Those who like their steak anything other than the ideal ‘hilariously rare, please’ should go for a ribeye, which is best cooked medium/rare so its fatty lusciousness permeates the meat more effectively. Ordering any steak more cooked than this is a foul crime against bits of animal (they did all the hard work after all) I would not want to hear of someone ordering a well-done steak at Hawksmoor unless I was equipped with offensive weaponry.

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Then you’ll need to think about side orders, and perhaps the first side one thinks of with steak is chips. For ages the triple-cooked chips at Hawksmoor did not live up to their promise on the menu, they lacked crispiness on the outside and fluffiness on the inside. However, I am pleased to report that in recent months the quality of the chips has improved in leaps and bounds and they are now up to the quality I’d expect from Hawksmoor.

That being said, I only have so much time for chips that are not string frites with my steak, and there is a better option for those who seek carbohydrate along with protein. The macaroni and cheese is a fabulous accompaniment. This has no resemblance to the vile white slop we can all remember from school meals as it bursts with fatty goodness thanks to the large proportion of cheese used in the recipe; it is grown-up cheese too so the flavour is most toothsome.

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There is one side-order that would be insanity (in the very worst way) to not demand with gusto: the grilled bone marrow. Thankfully the bones are cut length-ways so it is not an ordeal to scrape out the gelatinous goodness which sits in the middle of each bone; I wish Saint John would do this as the tools they provide are far too fiddly and just inadequate for the task. There was a rare problem with Guy’s and my order of bone marrow this time, ‘rare’ being the operative word: the marrow was not cooked all the way through and it was slightly cold right in the centre. As ever if there is a problem at Hawksmoor the attentive staff will correct it with a minimum of fuss, our bones were taken away and within a few minutes they re-appeared grilled to perfection.

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The final side order which gets the Elitistreview seal of approval are the fried eggs. They are stuck on top of your steak and you can add a bit of white and dip each forkful of meat in the yolk to enhance its proteinaceous delight. If you’ve never had steak with eggs it is most enjoyable and certainly worth trying.

Should the horrific eventuality of being awake in the morning on a weekend occur Hawksmoor will help you recover your equilibrium with the aid of their [link2post id=”74″]truly brilliant breakfast[/link2post] and bottomless Bloody Marys. They can also provide you with meat-tastic and quite delicious lunch in the form of their [link2post id=”102″]burger[/link2post]; definitely the best beef burger I have ever had and light-years away in quality than the offerings at [link2post id=”1098″]French fast-food establishments[/link2post]. Hawksmoor are clearly the purveyors of the best meat in London, be it their steaks, ribs or sausages for breakfast. If you like quality pieces of grilled animal and are yet to visit you must make strenuous efforts to correct your failing with alacrity.

One of the best things about Hawksmoor is that on Mondays they only charge a fiver per bottle corkage. It was a Monday, so what vinous treats did we take along?

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Chardonnay ‘Poet’s Prayer’ 2006, Weltevreed

This is orange, rarely a positive sign. Indeed, it does smell a touch oxidised and over the hill. However, the main aromas are truly mind-boggling quantities of new oak and a screaming alcohol burn. This is clearly made by one of those perverse swine who think there is no such thing as too much new oak. We are told he only makes one barrel of this every vintage and, ignoring the fact that is one barrel too many, it must be the toastiest and freshest oak barrel ever used. The oak is probably cut with a chainsaw rather than split along the grain so the oak flavour transfer is maximised. The palate is dreadful; heavy, ponderous and blowsy with alcohol levels that would challenge the most heroic of alcoholics and so little acidity it would make an acceptable substitute for bleach. Whatever fruit might be there is obliterated by the alcohol and wood, not to mention its distinctive volatile flavours. I can only imagine the poet was praying for a different wine than this to have with dinner. Sorry, Guy, it is just staggeringly awful.

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Meursault Premier Cru Charmes 1999, Domaine des Comte Lafon

Always a risk opening 11 year old white Burgundy, the chances of it being oxidised to buggery are very high. An investigative sniff… Hooray! It is in rude good health, not the slightest bit knackered or generally shagged out. Indeed it seems positively throbbing with energy on the nose, very toasty but Chardonnay rather than wood derived toastiness. There is fruit as well, lovely ripe lemon fruit, and it is brilliantly mineral. This smells wonderfully complex and very inviting. So I’ll accept the invitation and drink some. Cripes, this is what fine white Burgundy is all about. It is tumescent with minerality, engorged with fine fruit and clearly throbbing with thrilling complexity. It is not too heavy or dense but finely balanced with great acidity keeping it tremendously vivacious. The finish is devilishly long and the overall structure of its palate delivers both intellectual and visceral gratification of an exceedingly high order. This is gloriously spiffing wine; I am so pleased it lasted.

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Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Hillside Select’ 2002, Shafer

If I have to drink Cabernet I’d like it to be reasonably elegant and refined, I want it to strive for beauty. One sniff and I know this has failed in this regard. Certainly its buxom fruit might charm or its powerful oakiness might yank someone’s bell-pull, but to me this smells just like another clone very ripe New World Cabernet; there is no beauty, no aesthetic thrill. The palate has a tremendous amount of fruit, reasonably well-integrated oak and an articulated lorry-full of alcohol, but again I find myself thinking “What is so clever about that?” I was about to say “big and clever” but this wine is undeniably big. It has very good length, but throughout its journey across my palate it doesn’t deliver much in the way of dimension. I’ll admit to not being a great Cabernet enthusiast but this wine, being bereft of beauty, with an exiguity of elegance and in terms of sophistication singularly scanty, will never convince me that the grape is good for anything other than straightforward quaffing wines.

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Barolo ‘Cerequio’ 2000, Voerzio

I do not know the Barolos of Voerzio terribly well, so this will be a good learning experience. Lawks, it is another rather alcoholic wine, this seems a theme tonight. The nectarous array of aromas are decently complex, though: there is cherry fruit, strongly floral attributes and a distinct tar character all vying for the attention of my nasal receptors. This may smell lush and ripe but it is deeply interesting; just smelling it is enflaming my engrossment in what promises to be a captivating drink. It does taste rather compelling, possessing a myriad of fruity and floral flavours which are inter-twined with a silky but rigorous tannic structure. The acid level is harmonious, but this is clearly at the ‘well-titted out’ end of the Barolo spectrum. Bien loché the palate may be but it has a pronounced depth of complexity and a clear streak of classy intricacy running right through it. We may be told that we have to drink our Barolos when they are terribly venerable but I am rather happy drinking this now, it is captivating but fun.

Sperss 1996, Gaja

Gaja isn’t allowed to call this Barolo any more as he puts too much Barbera in it; I hate Barbera and it is not as if Nebbiolo is short on acid. Anyway, whilst there are very slight hints of Barbera inkiness on the nose it really pulses with complex, floral, road-metalling material aromas. Its alcohol level seems very moderate considering the panoply of ripe fruits it is shoving up my nose. This is the nose of a very fine wine, profoundly sophisticated yet oozing with beguiling charm. It has a palate of powerfully ripe fruit, refined earthiness and a really serious tannic structure. Yet these tannins don’t feel the slightest bit harsh or drying, its texture is one of alluring class and svelte style. I could sit back and drink this all night, sometimes reveling in its ravishing characters and sometimes letting its accomplished refinement transport me to new levels of aesthetic delight. Lewdly drinkable now but it will keep and improve for many years so no rush so whenever you pop your next bottle do invite me around.

What a fun night’s dining and drinking that was; thanks go to Hawksmoor for the food and to Daniel, Guy, Nigel and Paul for the wine and for being such urbane and enchanting company.

Contact details: Hawksmoor, 157 Commercial Street, London E1 6BJ Telephone: 0207 247 7392