Beef Cartel at Hawksmoor – from the stars to the gutter

Since having Pedro’s meat at Casa Nicolas in Tolosa, the Basque country, I’ve though it’s been the best beef I’ve ever eaten. However, I am well aware that the limits of pleasure are yet to be defined or reached, so was pleased that two of the dishes at the Beef Cartel event at Hawksmoor last night out-performed Pedro’s ox chops.

Beef Cartel Highland cattle

However, there is more to a dining experience than raw ingredients and this event utterly failed in every other regard. The portions were insulting, the service glacial and the eating environment terrifying. Whoever arranged this event clearly had no idea how to organise an enjoyable meal. As an unabashed fan of Hawksmoor it pains me to say that Editor Dani and I found this to be one of the most dreadful restaurant visits of our lives.

The idea of the event was to eat an entire Mull Highland cow from Iain Mackay, sourced by the Beef Cartel. The cow was eight years old and its beef made two of the six courses (we only stayed for five) the most amazing things I’ve ever put in my mouth. These were so good I’ll start with them.

Beef Cartel chuck being sliced

Slow-grilled chuck, cooked over apple wood, utterly blew my mind with its powerful flavours and dense texture. It was stunningly delicious, the incredible beefiness of the meat enhanced by being served in a little melted kidney fat. Like all the dishes it was a little tough, which I suppose you might expect from an eight year old cow, but it tasted so utterly fantastic this didn’t matter and I adored my two slices of beef. This is a cut of meat that is not prized, normally used for making mince or similar, so the fact that this was so enjoyable clearly showed the animal had class.

The following course was, to my mind, even better. Slow smoked rib of beef was meltingly tender and richly complex in flavour. It had be grunting and gesticulating with unrestricted pleasure and expanded my horizons of meat enjoyment.

However, the excessive quality of those two courses is ignoring the elephant in the room; namely that it was an event run with appalling incompetence that made it almost impossible to enjoy.

An insultingly small course at the Beef Cartel at Hawksmoor

It was almost impossible to feel like you’d eaten any appreciable amount of food. With the number of people present all dining on one cow it meant that each course contained so little beef a vegetarian would be happy to eat them. They were miniscule amounts of food that combined with the pace of the service resulted in you being utterly starving all of the time. It was not a cheap evening and I was offended to leave it feeling hungry.

The pace of the service was shocking. The gaps between each course grew increasingly tiresome with the chefs standing around chatting in groups for so long they were in danger of becoming stagnant ponds. When they could actually be bothered to prepare a course it was service to the assembled hordes with reasonable efficiency, but as each tiny plateful took moments to eat the ever-expanding gaps between getting them just dragged and dragged. If your servings are going to be miniscule you should have the decency to keep them coming at a reasonable pace and not leave your guests hanging around for hours.

The number of people present and the geological pace of the meal made the restaurant atmosphere unbearable. As people tend to hit the bottle at Hawksmoor the huge numbers of people present soon got painfully loud. This was worse in the yawning gaps between each course when it seemed half the restaurant would stand up and assemble in groups to shout at each other. Shouting seemed the only way of being heard whilst at the same time making it impossible to hear anything. My primary school dinner hall, where it was not unusual to see lumps of mashed potato flying through the air, was a more civilised dining environment.

We felt cheated to get so little food, served with so little competence, in such a horrible environment for what was quite a lot of our limited funds. Whoever organised this should hang their heads in shame and give up organising dining events, they clearly cannot do it. I have a few meals at Hawksmoor booked in the near future, and I look forward to them, but the Beef Cartel at Hawksmoor event just makes me think of losing my equilibrium, lots of money and respect for the restaurant.

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