Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Restaurant review: Hawksmoor, Spitalfields

Last weekend saw mine and Katie’s third anniversary, and to celebrate we decided to book a table at Hawksmoor. This turned out to be quite a tricky process; did we want to go for breakfast, dinner or Sunday roast options, and which of the group’s four venues was it to be? I have only every heard glowing reports about anything Hawksmoor related, and it all looked so good! In the end we went for dinner at Spitalfields, as it was open on a Saturday night and the small, intimate nature of it looked perfect for a date night. The booking was made way back in November, and every day since I have been counting down with heightening anticipation. We so rarely go out for poshy dinners, so to say that I was excited is an understatement.

As well as the excitement was a slight sense of apprehension. Everyone that I had spoken to about Hawksmoor had raved about the place, but I really didn’t know what to expect. I mean, their meat is sourced from the excellent Ginger Pig and I imagined would be cooked to perfection, but surely a steak is a steak right? I like to think that I can cook a steak quite well, and I travelled to the restaurant on Saturday a touch cynical that I was about to pay quite a considerable amount of money for something not far off a home cooked meal. I had also looked at the menu in advance, where a lot of the meat is listed in the dreaded price per weight system. I generally have quite big issues with this, and find that it places the diner in that awkward situation whereby they order something and then panic that they will have to sell their child in order to pay the unknown bill. Unfortunately (or perhaps not) I’m not in that exclusive crowd who can rock up at these kind of places and not bat an eyelid at how much is being spent.

But as usual, and thankfully, shortly after arriving all of my cynicism fell flat on it’s arse. In fact it started the second we walked through the door. Just like the glorious smell of baking that you get when entering a bakery, my nostrils were invaded by the aroma of chargrilled beef; the sort that has you salivating, and looking around nervously wondering when they will deliver the food that you just HAVE to eat. This combined with the bustling atmosphere and casual furnishings acted as a total leveler. Often these places have an image of soulless pretension, and it certainly wasn’t the case here. 

One thing soon became apparent; Hawksmoor is no place for the indecisive. Once sat down you are given some pretty heavy literature on wine, cocktails and meat to mull over, and everything looks amazing. After much deliberation we went for Hawksmoor Collins cocktails to start, which were a delicious and refreshing way to begin proceedings. We were then given free champagne due to it being our anniversary, offered by our waiter after he enquired if we were celebrating anything. There’s nothing like free champagne to make an occasion feel special, and needless to say we were suitably boozed by the time the food came along. 

When it came to the food, we decided to skip the starters and go for it with the mains. My worries about pricing awkwardness was also alleviated as a chalkboard displayed the weights of the available cuts, so it was easy to calculate and I could relax. Before our visit we decided that we would try one of the famous big sharing joints, and in the end settled for a 900g bone-in rib. T-bone, porterhouse and chateaubriand are also offered, but I think that the rib holds more fat, and more flavour than the fillet type cuts so is my favourite. The sauces and accompaniments also sounded pretty special, so anchovy hollandaise for me, bearnaise for Katie, chips, greens and grilled bone marrow were also winging their way to us. 

Our table was a total mountain of food by the time it came along, and the centerpiece was a skillet filled with glorious charred beef. We asked for our meat to be cooked medium-rare, and I must say that when we first saw it we both were concerned that it was quite underdone. This wasn’t an issue, we both love our meat rare, and when we had our first bite the meat, and our concerns literally melted away. This steak truly lived up to it’s reputation and is honestly the best steak I’ve ever had. The sheer charcoal barbecue flavour was incredible, I almost wanted to wrap some up in tissue to keep with me at all times so that I could always be reminded of the taste. Absolute brilliance. 

The bits on the side perfectly complimented the main event. Both sauces were smooth and tangy and the chips had had as much care in preparation as the meat. The interaction in serving and sharing the food on the table also helped in making the meal that bit more memorable. The only unfortunate revelation of the evening was my discovery that bone marrow isn’t really my cup of tea. I hadn’t tried it before and thought that if I would have it anywhere it would be here. When it came to the table it looked spectacular, huge bones sawn open full of golden caramelised marrow. I didn’t not like it exactly, I just didn’t find the jelly/fatty texture that pleasurable. I’m glad that I ordered it though, and the fact that I didn’t massively enjoy it was at no way the fault of Hawksmoor. I’ve a sly feeling that it may be a slow burner, and that I will end up liking it in the future, so I’ll definitely order it again. I’ve heard that the bone marrow and salsa verde served at the St John is terrific....

We were stuffed and very satisfied after the main, and only had room for some salted caramel ‘rolos’ and aperitifs, which were yet again sublime. 

As with any meal out, especially at this level, the experience and service are so important in making it memorable. The food can be amazing, but if there service is rude or non-existent then that’s what is mostly remembered. But on Saturday the service really made the meal. From minute one we were made so welcome by our waiter, who had the skill to be attentive without crowding. He also made great and honest wine recommendations, choosing a very reasonable bottle, and even offered to take the bone marrow off the bill when I joked that I hadn’t really enjoyed them (which of course I refused). It was the kind of service that all front of house should take note of, and the sort that leaves diners wanting to throw money at them.

We left overjoyed and with a paunch, and already planning how we can justify another visit.

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