Hawksmoor. It’s rarely been doubted that the guys behind the two previous locations have been turning out some of the best steaks this side of Argentina. And now they’ve opened a third location just a stone’s throw from Bank station. So what makes it special? A tasting menu and in true Hawksmoor fashion it’s all about the meat. Take a moment, get a drink, maybe some popcorn. This isn’t going to be a short review. It’s also going to be in multiple parts…just fair warning.
To provide some sort of structure for this, the menu is as follows:
1. Beef Tea
2. Tongue and Tail Salad
3. Oysters with Braised Short-Ribs & Kimchi
4. Steak Tartare: Beef vs Veal
5. Beef Shin Macaroni
6. Bone-in Prime Rib, Porterhouse, Hawksmoor Sausages, Beef Dripping Chips
7. Suet Sticky Toffee Pudding with Clotted Cream
You may be thinking 7 courses isn’t really that much. I’ve had tasting menus that went on for over 20 courses (and that’s not including those mid-meal palate cleansers that are all the rage these days). But Hawksmoor’s “tasting” menu is more comparable to the Medieval Era feasts where a whole suckling pig (apple included) was considered an appetiser for one.
First, let’s set the tone for the meal. Bank is a perfect place for this bastion of meat and they’ve designed it to fit right in. You enter at street level and two beautiful girls greet you, take your name for the reservation (assuming you made one and didn’t just drop by for a power lunch), and effectively relieve you of your coat and bag. Then you descend down a wide stair case and the bar area comes into view. Again, it’s designed with a theme in mind and its full of deep dark woods and comfortable leather chairs. You can virtually picture the bankers of old in their three piece suits relaxing back with a good glass of Scotch and a thick cigar. So that’s what I did. Minus the suit and cigar. And I was drinking Sazerac rye instead of Scotch. But it was basically the same thing.
When you are finished with your pre-dinner drinks (and your group has finally all made it), a quick word to your waiter will get you to your table for dinner. In our case, we lucked out as they gave us the private dining room to apologise for rescheduling our reservation (it was in the soft opening and they had a kitchen fire the day we were supposed to go for dinner). The private room is tucked away at the back of a sizeable regular dining room (at a wild guess, I’d say there were around 30+ tables for at least 4 people). Normally, the room has a minimum spend of £1,500 but we were lucky to have that waived. That being said, it might still be worth it if you had a larger party of 10+ people as it comes with the following: a dedicated waiter, pretty good sound insulation, built in sound system with iPod dock, and what looked like the ability to play movies on a projector. If you wanted to make a night of it, between food and drink you could probably spend £75-100 per person without much trouble.
Anyways, let’s get to it.
First course: Beef Tea.
I took a quick poll of the group to see what guesses would be for just what “Beef Tea” would be. Answers ranged from beef stock, to a pho-type broth, to Bovril in hot water. The actual result was just brilliant and in this cold weather would be perfect for a morning cuppa. It’s a light, consommé type, liquid with rich golden brown hues. They’ve taken out the oily film without losing the flavour from those rendered fats. The taste itself isn’t heavy as you might expect but more delicate with the high notes you get when you take that first bite of steak but no booming textural undertones of the actual meat. The end result is that you slurp it down happily and your steak craving shoots up to a whole new level. It does what every amuse-bouche aims for: gets you salivating and hungry for the meal.
Second course: Tongue & Tail salad.
I’ve been eating beef tongue since I was a little child as my mom used to make it quite often. It’s a cheap, very flavourful, tender piece of meat although I do remember thinking it odd (and hilarious) that I could see the taste buds on bits of tongue. No worries, at Hawksmoor they’ve sliced those bits off in case it weirds you out. The tail is another flavoursome cut of meat if cooked properly and naturally here it is done just fine. I definitely enjoyed this trip down memory lane (although no curry taste here) and it’s a good time to try some cuts that you probably would never have otherwise (at least not at a steakhouse!).
Third course: Oysters with Braised Short-Ribs & Kimchi
I’ll confess to not being the biggest fan of oysters. Actually, 9 times out of 10 I’ll barely manage to choke the slimy buggers down. But I’ve got to give it to the guys at Hawksmoor who managed to minimise the goopiness and enhance the flavours of the oyster with the clean spicy acidic taste of kimchi. Their kimchi alone is worth trying (but these is a steakhouse, not a Korean veggie buffet). The short ribs were spectacular with the braising process resulting in tender succulent meat that melted on the tongue. The rib meat was served in mini-le creuset type cast iron casserole dishes and I asked to keep the dish (with a refill of meat). Sadly that was a no, but it was worth a shot! I didn’t really feel that the oysters and ribs went together, but I’m with it as a gourmet version of Surf’n’Turf.
Fourth course: Steak Tartare: Beef vs Veal
The name really says it all. Two tartares, one the usual french-style beef steak tartare and one lighter tartare made with pink, almost white, veal. Was one better? I think most of us preferred the rich meatiness of the beef that we’ve all known and loved. Compared to most steak tartares, this wasn’t heavy on the mustard which I think was an attempt to enhance the delicate taste of the meat and allow it to be better compared to the naturally milder veal. The veal had a bit too much lemon and still couldn’t hold up taste-wise to the beef. In the battle of the tartares, the veal just needed more time to grow.
Fifth course: Beef Shin Macaroni
By far my favourite dish of the night, and I should add that I’m not a pasta person so I was actually dreading this one a bit. This is a massive dish that can easily feed 10+ people on its own, let alone as part of a 7 course tasting menu. I did mention earlier that Hawksmoor has its own ideas on what qualifies as a “tasting” dish. Essentially, it’s about 1-2 pounds of elbow macaroni baked with a rich meaty sauce, bone marrow, and a 3 pound beef shin. Then you cover the whole thing with a good helping of melted parmesan (liberally cover it). You end up with this tangy rich cheesy dish with clumps of seared bone marrow and flaky chunks of shin meat. It’s absolutely fantastic and we devoured as much as we could handle. And then there was still enough for me to take home and eat for 5 more meals. So good…I want it again!
Sixth Course: Bone-in Prime Rib, Porterhouse, Hawksmoor Sausages, Beef Dripping Chips
I confess that after the wonders of the macaroni I didn’t have much room for the meat. The prime-rib was delightful, seared rare, and full of juices. I was disappointed in the Porterhouse as I felt it was overcooked and a bit tough and tasteless. The sausages were good sausages but not exactly a highlight of the meal. Now the chips, they were good. Triple cooked, with the final frying being in beef drippings from all the meat you’ve eaten so far, these are crispy and crunchy on the outside but impossibly fluffy and light on the inside. If I had any room, I would have eaten them all.
Seventh Course: Suet Sticky Toffee Pudding with Clotted Cream
Finally, after a bit of a break, we were ready for the pudding. I love sticky toffee pudding, like seriously love it, more than a fat kid loves chocolate cake (I was that kid…and still am). I don’t know what exactly they did to it, but it was one of the best I’ve ever had. Rich, sweet, spongy, and incredibly decadent, I managed to finish mine in a heartbeat, then went on to knock off my date’s. She might have been in slight shock at the display but that was my fault for bringing her to a feast. Luckily she was also most of the way into a bottle of wine so she didn’t seem to mind too much. I even took a spare pudding home and had it for dinner the next day. And even reheated it was still one of the best puddings in London. Yes, that good.
If you made it all the way here, it’s time to get yourself to Hawksmoor for a meal!