Monday, 30 March 2015

Restaurant review: Hawksmoor Bar, Spitalfields

Shakey Pete’s Ginger Brew is the best thing to drink in the land. That is a fact. Since first sipped, Katie and I have found numerous excuses to somehow end up walking down those side-stairs into that dark, dirtily-mirrored room to beg a check-shirted, bearded man to provide us with some. We have dragged friends along, sat them down and made them experience quite how much wonder can be contained in a heavy glass tankard. We’ve spotted copycat replicas as far away as Sydney, and we’ve tried to make it at home to impress dinner guests. It’s the most tasty, refreshing and well-balanced cocktail I have even drank. It’s dangerously drinkable, often consumed in a manner similar to that of a glass of water upon awaking with a violently dry-mouthed hangover. The only thing not going for the Shakey Pete, is that it’s shit to photograph. Dark room plus reflected light plus amateur photographer mean no piccies here. So I’ll have to describe it: it looks like someone accidently tipped a ginger slushie into a half-finished pint. Perhaps the lack of photograph was for the best. But they are the best. 

And the best thing when you’re getting lashed on lager-based cocktails? Oh yeah, loads of food so loaded with meatiness it’s unfair. The big slabs charred on the Josper are kept upstairs; here the menu is all burgers, ribs, pig heads and wings. Admittedly, we had visited before, and with the stiff competition of the London burger scene we were sad that to us the Hawksmoor burger didn’t quite cut it. It wasn’t bad by any stretch and everything was in the right place; good meat, soft, brioche bun, nice and pink in the middle etcetera, but it just didn’t match the decadent beauty of places such as Patty and Bun, Honest or Bleeker. As lovers of pretty much everything else Hawksmoor this was a bit of a shocker. But this reviewing stuff can be a fickle business, and it’s easy to judge too much from one attempt alone. So last time that Pete dragged us down for an ‘accidental’ Monday night date the menu was opened again.
As we sat there chatting though the menu I realised quite how much of a food-hypocrite I can be. Katie was considering the pig’s head poutine, and I was talking up the merits of the good old plain chip. To me, a chip covered in all sorts of shredded meat, gravy, ‘angry’ stuff always sounds great, but nearly always to the detriment of the humble bit of potato upon which they are heaped. Any effort to create that wonderful, delicate shell and fluffy middle is ruined. It may as well be mash or fried potatoes. Katie shook her head so much it nearly fell off. I feel similarly about burgers and obscure toppings. The waiter comes over; Katie opts for the cheeseburger. Good girl I think. My brain then has a minor “what are you thinking!” moment as I somehow manage to order kimchi with mine. 

My bog standard, unadulterated chips were beautiful little things indeed, each given the love and attention a whittler might give a prized spoon. They crunched like a brulee and were given a welcome zing when dipped into the (*separate*) lime mayonnaise. Ok, so I clearly can’t get with the soggy chip thing, but the rest of Katie’s poutine was deep in thick piggy flavour and soft, smokey meat. That I’m all over. As for the burger, thankfully my faith in Hawksmoor wizardry was restored. Despite harsh reservations, the kimchi that didn’t narrowly miss splattering my groin and stayed in the bun provided a refreshing spicy twist without overwhelming the rest. Sure, the burger didn’t have the same oozing, cheesy richness that I love from other joints, but what it did have was a more defined clarity of flavour. Too often burgers become a squidgy, indistinguishable mush, but here the patty held a rich, well-seasoned beefiness and remained the star of the show.
On previous trips to Hawksmoor, the meal often ended on a slightly frustrating note. Having gorged on the best part of a kilo of steak, gnawing every speck from the bones, you are then faced with a list of desserts full with custard, clotted cream, salted caramel and suet. Ordering starters and mains with eyes bigger than my stomach leads to just no more space at this point. It’s just not fair. But having had just the burger this time around I finally managed to take advantage. Clever desserts with 20 elements of frozen, quenelled and spherified stuff all over the plate are all well and good, but sometimes the old-fashioned British puddings can rival in satisfaction. I always swoon at the thought of a sticky toffee pudding and this one didn’t disappoint. It was the sort of thing that brought a smile with every mouthful. 

There was always the temptation for another cocktail; it’s the sort of place where you want to just sit back and while away the rest of the night. But I knew that we would be back before long. The bar at Spitalfields is always a lot of fun and a great place to hang out. And more worryingly for my waistline, I’m now looking forward to returning to devour the rest of the menu. Although it will be hard to not just sit there shovelling down sticky toffee pudding time and time again…

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