“…the mere presentation of the bill can be a full-on horror movie.”
Let’s rewind to the mid-noughties.
I was always more in love with the idea of Hawksmoor more than its actual bricks and mortar; like a band you don’t go to see live until their third album is out, I actually didn’t visit for a good few years after the Shoreditch opening, despite being utterly enraptured by it. Mainly because I didn’t have the cash to do it justice, but more on that later.
It’s important to remember what state London eating was in back then.
- Our steakhouses were nothing more than a bad joke, suffering for decades at the hands of Angus, Garfunkel’s and countless other embarrassing hate-crimes to beef.
- The Ginger Pig wasn’t the near-household name it is now.
- We weren’t scoffing triple-cooked chips in pubs.
- There wasn’t a decent hamburger this side of the Atlantic.
- You couldn’t get a burrito anywhere.
- There weren’t any flat whites.
Now look at how far we’ve all come. A renaissance of mid Atlanticism making its way steadily through London - most of it coming from the east and spreading across to Soho and other environs of traditional mainstream mediocrity. You can even eat properly in West London now. Little street markets have been reborn with a sense of pride. An American aesthetic has been fused with a smidgen of late Victoriana, into something that is globally recognised, and distinctively London.
Hawksmoor is the epicentre of this calm, confident progress. The Covent Garden site joined a few other openings that meant business, especially for an area synonymous with tourist traps and tat.
Now Guildhall brings The Hawksmoor Way into the heart of the City, and they mean business.
The entranceway has the same dark, wood-panelled poise of Seven Dials. But then I love their considered informality in such a high net worth part of town. They’ve brought the casual atmosphere of Shoreditch a tiny bit further West. Interactions with the flannel-shirted staff are gastropub-esque, not neatly starched pleases and thank-yous.
They do enormous steaks, enormous Malbecs and enormous bills. It’s a blowout venue with none of the pomp and starch of the past. They all have an amazing bar, one of the best mixologists working in London, a great meat supplier, a wonderful dining room that is in no way imposing despite its colourful history and all of the main event dishes are cooked and served with the due care and attention that the ingredients demand.
Holy cow. That’s a great deal of money.
I think there are certain things that you can pay lots of money for without feeling too guilty. Well I can, at least. Typically, it’s blowout dishes and ingredients reserved only for the occasional celebration, things that can get spoiled by over indulgence: fresh lobster, proper foie gras, truffles, the decent bottles that you keep at the bottom of the cupboard so they’re not too easy to access and open by accident.
One of the key parts of any good eating experience for me is how you feel when you leave. When the reflection begins. At Hawksmoor, I always feel a little bit guilty once the bill is paid and the coats are fetched and you realise there’s nothing left in your bank account for the rest of the month. Actually, before that happens, the mere presentation of the bill can be a full-on horror movie.
Some restaurants are masterful at delaying or wholly avoiding this feeling in their customers. Le Manoir and the Ledbury spring to mind. They almost revel in that “well, I glad we didn’t opt for the prix fixe, that ludicrous tasting menu with matched wines was a hell of an experience” rush that you get afterwards. And you get presented with the bill with a nice cup of tea and petits fours so beautiful you could cry, all infront of a roaring fire. The little leather folder with the little piece of paper with the very big number on it is just an accessory to the experience, and you fling your least desecrated plastic towards it, forgetting everything until the statement plops through the front door.
I think it’s phenomenally hard to replicate that feeling when you’re running a steak joint, no matter how fancy the sides are getting (for the record, the lobster side is a huge miss, and the lobster mac ‘n cheese was incredibly salty).
It’s the sale of cow by the kilo, and that in itself is far too much of a butcher’s shop transaction to squeeze out any feeling of pomp and occasion.
Unless, it is the best steak of your life. Steak holds magical powers in foodie storytelling: certainly amongst us dudes.
Nearly everybody has a Best Steak Of My Life story (mine was in Midtown Manhattan in 2002). I’m sure for some people, that honour will be bestowed upon Hawksmoor; for me it’s just another expensive Porterhouse from the same butchers round the corner from the office.
The other problem with the steakhouse is you can’t order a non-steak menu item without pangs of self-doubt and murmurs of derision from the rest of your party (who would all like to share a bloody great lump of beef, thanks very much). The novelty of steak by the kilo is a good group party piece, but Hawksmoor’s secret weapon is their burgers and their cocktails. And now, it’s their breakfast too. And don’t forget the Sunday roast.
Before last week, I couldn’t bring myself to go to Hawksmoor and only order a beer and a burger. And that’s exactly what Hawksmoor is: an exercise in self control. You can easily spend £100+ per head and drown the sorrows, or pop in for breakfast or lunch and spend less than £20.
Ultimately, it’s up to you. Smart.
Reviews of Hawksmoor Guildhall’s breakfast, burger and lobster roll are coming soon.