Hawksmoor’s fourth-play

I’m so bonkers at the moment I couldn’t keep my reservation for the soft-opening of the new branch of Hawksmoor – yes, that bonkers! I asked my excellent chums Dan Nye and Jeff Home to attend in our place and Dan has contributed a review of Hawksmoor Air Street to keep us informed. Thanks, Dan, take it away!

Yesterday, Jeff and I had the pleasure of dining at the newly-opened Hawksmoor restaurant in Air Street, and wanted to share our experience.

We’re regulars at Hawskmoor Spitalfields, and love what they do best: cooking meat to perfection. Air Street is a change of direction for the Hawksmoor brand, however; it’s a steak and seafood restaurant, with more fish on the menu than meat. I was anxious to know how well their meat-cooking skills would translate to working with fish, and I’m going to spoil the rest of this review by saying up front: I was not disappointed. They’ve done very, very well.

Not wanting to do things by halves, they’ve gleaned their piscatorial know-how from an expert on the subject, Mitch Tonks. Mitch is a chef and owner of three seafood restaurants, and also winner of the Best fishmonger, Best fish restaurant and Restaurateur of the year accolades. All their fish is sourced from Brixham market in Devon (Hawksmoor regulars might already have tried their Brixham crab starter), and the quality really shines through.

The location is easy to get to (Piccadilly Circus), and the building itself has fantastic art deco features. They’ve got a nice bar area separated from the restaurant, and the atmosphere at lunchtime was bubbly but not too loud, even with people sitting all around us.

Acoustics aside, what about the food? I must admit to having very high expectations. Growing up in Bury St. Edmunds, I went on many school trips to the East Anglian coast, and have fond memories of eating freshly-caught crab and cockles from fish stands. I’m also a regular traveller to New Zealand, where your average chip shop has more types of fish on the menu than anywhere else I’ve travelled to. So, rather than sticking with our usual love of steak, we both (apprehensively) decided to go with fish all the way.

cocklesI ordered a pot of cockles and some Elberry cove mussels with bay and chilli, followed by a 300g-ish cut of charcoal grilled turbot, and a side of Jansson’s temptation. Jeff ordered the Brixham crab, followed by the grilled monkfish and a side of triple-cooked chips.

The cockles tasted very fresh indeed, and really did a wonderful job of evoking my childhood seaside memories. Jeff wasn’t a fan, as he found the slight grittiness a bit off-putting. I would order these again in a flash, perhaps even a larger pot as a starter, if it was offered as an option.

musselsWe’ve not eaten mussels with any regularity, but when we have (in various Belgian tourist hot-spots and Belgo restaurants), we’ve always found them to suffer from the same problem as badly-cooked squid: they are chewy and rubbery. To be honest, I’m not sure why I chose the mussels, but was very happy that I did: every single one was soft and tender and delicately flavoured. A few slices of bread on the side to soak up the fantastic sauce were greatly appreciated. I forgot to ask how much chilli was in the sauce, as I couldn’t taste any. Having said that, I wouldn’t want too much chilli in a fish dish; I’ve cooked both monkfish & crab with chilli before, and too much will overpower the seafood.

We’ve both tried the Brixham crab before and have always enjoyed it. The only reason we don’t order it more often is due to loving the Tamworth belly ribs too much!

turbotMy main issue with eating fish is the amount of bones that I have to pick out. Food served in a restaurant shouldn’t involve hard work on the part of the customer, which is why I rarely order fish. Before ordering, I asked about any bones in the turbot, and was told that there was only a single big backbone. I was, therefore, annoyed to find many smaller bones within the first few mouthfuls. It didn’t take me long to work out how to remove the backbone with the smaller bones attached, however, and I was soon enjoying my bone-free turbot. The flesh didn’t taste too fishy, and was very tender. I was worried that the herb (and possibly garlic) coating would be too powerful for such a light flavour, but it worked very well.

monkfishJeff’s monkfish was also grilled to perfection. Having no bones, it might have made a better choice for me, but I wanted to try something new. The monkfish was a massive contrast to the turbot; the flesh had a much more meaty texture to it, and the flavour was a lot stronger. Personally, I preferred the turbot, but Jeff preferred the “steak-like” meatiness of the monkfish.

A quick note for any Antipodeans ordering monkfish in the Northern hemisphere: Do not expect to get served New Zealand monkfish (Kathetostoma giganteum). In Europe, you will almost always be served anglerfish (belonging to the Lophiidae family), which we call monkfish as they are superficially similar. While I can’t say for sure that we weren’t served anglerfish instead of monkfish, I think it’s a safe bet, given the fish comes from the UK.

janssons-temptationMy side dish, Jansson’s temptation, is a traditional Swedish dish made of potatoes, onion, pickled sprats, bread crumbs and cream. It is also known as Janssons frestelse (Swedish), or Janssonin kiusaus (Finnish). Hawksmoor’s take on this is potato dauphinoise with onion, but with anchovies instead of sprats. Apparently, this is a common error due to mistranslation, as sprats have been marketed as “ansjovis” in Sweden since the mid 19th century (true anchovies are sold as “sardeller“). Jeff didn’t really like this dish, but that’s no surprise as he’s not a fan of anchovies. I really liked it, and found it the perfect side, as it gave me a nice fishy taste for the lighter-flavoured turbot.

All in all, we both had a great meal. The only let-down was finding many bones in a fish I was told only had one single backbone, but that honestly wouldn’t put me off eating the turbot again.

We didn’t have room for a dessert, but as an avid whisky drinker, I was really happy to see a section of independently bottled Scotch whiskies on the dessert menu. If whisky-tasting evenings (or even whisky and food pairings) were organised, I’d be buying a season ticket!

Top marks, and highly recommended to anyone who likes fish, or those who perhaps have been put off from eating fish due to being served second-rate fish in other restaurants. I still prefer steak, however 🙂

Thanks for an excellent review, Dan; we never really doubted it’d be a result… I suppose I could add that if anyone would like to know my opinions about Hawksmoor Air Street, The Editor and I are not beneath being bought dinner as long as it includes enough alcohol to enable me to cope with being in Town.

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