Hawksmoor than a bar snack


Last week my oldest pal Nick stopped by to surprise me with an invitation to lunch and at the time I didn't know he was planning a quick bite at Nobu. I've known Nick since I was 6 or 7 years old and he loves a last minute out of the blue plan. I had a meeting arranged early that afternoon with a promoter at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch where my band was booked to play on the hotel’s roof the following evening. Seeing how Nick is an excellent friend to have around to offer advice, I suggested he should join me to see the space where we were performing in case he had any useful thoughts - which as it happens he did. So, forgoing Nobu we decided to try one of the many hip restaurants in Shoreditch instead. On the way there - in Nick’s rather swish all electric BMW - he suggested we eat at the Hawksmoor off Old Street because “you have to try the incredible beef short rib sandwich which I had at their Covent Garden restaurant!”
My first encounter with Hawksmoor occurred back in 2006 when another friend arranged to meet me at the original Commercial Road restaurant. At the time I was just there for a drink and for some reason failed to try their highly regarded meat. But, the bar alone was worth the visit - I was introduced to the classic Mint Julep - expertly mixed and served - a contender for the world’s first cocktail, along with the Old Fashioned and a 5,000 year old concoction from Mesopotamia, depending on whose opinion one sides with.

But I digress because in the end we had a splendidly enjoyable lunch at Dishoom which turned out to be serendipitous because the Spitafields Hawksmoor doesn't have the beef short rib dish on their bar menu.
Nevertheless, something about Nick’s suggestion had stuck - he knows his tucker and was one of my dining companions at a memorable 35 course lunch at the legendary El Bulli before it closed - so when I next met T my fellow Ambassador of Food - we made a beeline for Hawksmoor - this time their restaurant at Seven Dials - for one thing if Nick was happy to eat here instead of the Nobu it must have something going for it.
All of this preamble is intended to impart a few points - aside from how much I like to digress and that Nick deserves to be an honorary Ambassador of Food - the importance of a lasting impression and word of mouth cannot be exaggerated. If I hadn't been made so welcome and so enjoyed my drinking experience at Hawksmoor Commercial Road 8 or 9 years ago, I probably wouldn't have much interest in revisiting another branch - and that would have meant missing out. Naturally Nick’s suggestion demonstrates the importance of word of mouth - but there’s something else; when T and I visited Hawksmoor for lunch the following day - Friday - we were treated to a chat with one of their excellent team members Richard who’s also involved in HR for the group. He explained that unlike some restaurants which attempt to capitalise on their success by expanding too quickly - Hawksmoor took a more considered approach where each of their restaurants is different and that’s one reason why they took several years before expanding between sites. This was borne-out in my experience and it appears to have paid dividends because the site on quiet Langley Street nestled between Seven Dials and Covent Garden is a former brewery which has been expertly designed to accommodate a well planned restaurant.
The menu here is different, as all Hawksmoor’s appear to be, and Seven Dials was indeed where we could try the beef short-rib I’d heard so much about. So - to the main event - this wasn't intended to be a long lunch - we’d simply stopped-in for a quickie snack because I just had try that beef short rib! Turns out the dish in question is Short-Rib French Dip, Braised beef short-rib sandwich with Ogleshield, French’s American mustard and bone marrow gravy for dipping. The short rib is pulled off the bone and presented in a hot-dog bun.

Now at this point it’s only right and proper to admit I made a schoolboy error and requested the dish without cheese; for one thing I was feeling portly having overindulged during the week - but more importantly I was ignorant about the delights of Ogleshield which I now understand is an unpasteurised brine-washed, Jersey milk cows' cheese, produced by Jamie Montgomery with a contribution in more than just the name from Bill Oglethorpe of Neal’s Yard.
Despite this grossly ignorant customer requesting it without the sublime cheese, the dish was delicious and succulent - but something about the hot-dog style bun and French’s American mustard was discombobulating. These were retro tastes which made my fellow Ambassador of Food T think of teenage visits to the cinema. All of this combined with an extremely moreish bone marrow dipping gravy, with juicy liquor flavours.
Accompanying the dish were excellent triple cooked chips and easily some of the finest ketchup I've had the pleasure of experiencing. That’s a somewhat serious claim given the wide variety of home made ketchup, but consider that Hawksmoor's house ketchup marries taste and consistency to make almost the perfect chip dipper. For the very first time I understand what the confused mind of a schizophrenic must feel like because deciding whether to dip one’s triple cooked chip in the marrow dipping sauce or the exquisite ketchup is far from an easy decision. We tasted a wide range of flavours in the ketchup and picked-up on cloves, star anise, allspice and a some maltiness - but the complete list of ingredients is:star anise, clove, allspice, whole black peppercorns, white malt vinegar, Maldon sea salt, fruit sugar, a clove of garlic, onion, tinned apples or pears (the canned fruit producers better chip clinging consistency apparently), tomato purée and tinned or very ripe tomatoes.
Needless to say there’s also a time consuming and involved process in how these ingredients are combined to produce such a worthy ketchup.
From the short-list of wines I’d selected from Hawksmoor’s impressive and comprehensive offering, Richard recommended a Pulenta Estate, Malbec 2011 from Mendoza, Argentina. It was the least expensive of the wines I’d selected to chose from and I was completely delighted with the decision because the Malbec was robust enough to support the intense and rich flavours of our meal, yet managed to remain smooth and left a delightful taste of forest fruit.  

Back to the beef short rib sandwich, personally I've never been much of a fan of French’s American mustard, preferring English or Dijon and I mentioned this to the knowledgeable and friendly Richard who explained that the menu’s playfulness was entirely intentional. Even with my aversion for French’s - the dish managed to pass muster because the outstanding marrow dipping gravy was like some heavenly forgiver of all sins. I could have easily dipped away a loaf of bread enjoying that sauce alone.
This fun approach was delivered in spades when we tried the simply excellent Cornflake Milk ice cream with Salted Caramel Rollos. That ice cream was a special dish yet to make it on to the permanent menu and Richard explained that the concept was to recreate that childhood taste of drinking the remnants from a milky bowl of corn flake cereal - you know how the milk tastes all ‘cornflakey’ and extremely yummy. That’s exactly how this ice cream tasted - wonderfully evocative flavours of childhood with the over sized Rollo-like chocolate salted caramels, an ideal accompaniment.

If you’re familiar with the feeling of discovering something and wondering why the heck it took one so long - that’s how I feel about Hawksmoor. Here’s a group of individual restaurants which share attention to detail, great care about the ingredients with a friendly, attentive and professional team, in enjoyable surroundings to produce a highly recommended dining experience.
Ultimately we're mere humble foodies - creating and running a successful restaurant is a hugely challenging and demanding pursuit. From our punters perspective Hawksmoor has taken great care in refining and evolving its offering - it's attention which we appreciate and we’ll look forward to visiting again soon - but not just for a quick bar snack next time around!

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