Review: Hawksmoor, Air Street, W1B
Can the fourth offering from Hawksmoor offer something new to its fans? Yes it can.
Regent Street is having something of a make-over.
This did seem odd to me at first. Why plough the rumoured £1bn into a street that for all intents and purposes already does the job of a grandiose shopping mecca? John Nash’s neo-classical facades, a wide boulevard, Hamley’s – it’s hardly a den of iniquity.
But nevertheless, money is getting poured in and the number of stores are being cut to make way for the flagship stores of the world’s fashion houses. Burberry’s high-tech HQ is coming, a SuperDry emporium is landing and now uber-cool meatery Hawksmoor has joined the party, charcoal barbecues a-blazing.
I know what you’re thinking. Hawksmoor on Regent Street? Its signature dark and mysterious doorway lit up and exposed by crass street lamps, like the undercarriage of a pound shop Christmas fairy.
Fear not friends. The entrance nestles around a dark corner on micro-lane Air Street. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d miss it. Oh thank the Gods of secrecy.
My fellow foodie DC and I ventured through the pleasingly dark and brooding doorway into the small reception area. We were pointed towards the staircase and sent up to the bar to wait.
Hanging in the staircase is the first clue about the style of the fourth and largest venue of the Hawksmoor family. Deco, deco, deco. A huge cream and bronze geometric light-fitting beckons you upstairs to join the rest of the restaurant in the 1920s.
The bar looks as you’d hope, like a prohibition gentleman’s club complete with green leather banquettes, long mahogany high tables punctuated with bronze deco lamps.
Perusing the drinks list I remember an important point about Hawksmoor. These guys aren’t content cleaving through London’s boutique steak scene. They love their cocktails too. As, conveniently, do I.
The long list of drinks nods as enthusiastically to the past as the décor. The list is split according to a timetable on how you might like to drink them. Starting with Anti-Fogmatics (to clear away the morning mists) and ending with Disco Drinks (all fruity and exotic).
“The cocktail was a zesty punch in the tipsy-maker”
I head for the Pre-Prandials – designed to get my juices flowing for dinner – and chose a Hawksmoor Collins. DC won’t be lured by the cocktails and flexes his man muscles with a Meantime Pale Ale. As one of London’s star craft-ales it suits the scene so I abide his denial of Hawksmoor mixology.
I’ve always thought of a Collins as a relatively safe cocktail, not going to knock you for six à la Martinis. In this instance I was wrong. The cocktail was a zesty punch in the tipsy-maker. When we were taken to our table, it was through the mists of gin that I made my way through the restaurant. No complaints – it really did wet my appetite for dinner.
The restaurant itself is stunning. Polished parquet floor, ceiling high mirrors and Art Deco leaded windows. The space is long and curls around slightly following the curve of Regent Street. Banquettes make the space feel intimate despite catering for 230 covers. The faint sound of Radiohead tinkled through the room keeping things trendy among the antiques.
Now I’m not a steak fan. There I said it. But lucky for me, this Hawsmoor outpost has ventures to pastures new, the sea in fact. The spectacular steak menu is accompanied by a large seafood menu created with the assistance of Mitch Tonks (of Seahorse in Datmouth fame) and it’s a goodie.
To get the ball rolling we order some seasonal pickles. Another injection of zest to get the juices flowing. I’ve never been tempted by a pickled egg from a dusty jar on a bar top but I have to say, when Hawksmoor hands you one, you eat it. Along with the pickled carrots, cauliflower and mushrooms it was a pleasant pre-starter.
Next up I ordered the potted mackerel. Served with crunchy toast in a wee glass jar, it was just delicious. It found that texture sweet spot somewhere between pâte and flakes of smoked mackerel.
DC ordered the pearl barley with autumn vegetables. Delicate girolle mushrooms perched atop the creamy barley the dish looked fantastic but we found it a little too salty. It’s quite a stodgy starter so perhaps better suited as a main (which it is available as) for the marginalised veggie in the room.
In the meantime we were furnished with a bottle of red. I had ordered fish as a main but decided it was cold enough to warrant the “heinous” mismatch. We went for a bottle of Ramon Bilbao, “Black Label” Rioja which was dry, spicy and delightful.
Along came the mains. I had gone for the Dover sole with a side of shaved fennel and watercress. Covered in a light layer of bread crumb and charcoaled on the grill it was big on flavour. The fish was perfectly cooked, a blend of crispy and fleshy. Yum.
DC’s steak arrived replete with bone marrow gravy. Oh the decadence. It didn’t disappoint.
Regulars in Hawksmoor will know the important of sides. Whilst ordering our food we came across Jansson’s temptation, hovering ominously between potatoes mint and butter, macaroni cheese. Being the intrepid adventurers we are we ordered it without enquiring about who this Jansson was and what he was planning to tempt us with. Crazy.
Spoilter alert: it was potato gratin. Jansson apparently put some anchovies in there to temp us. We were mildly disappointed but then what were we expecting? The dish was delicious after all and went perfectly with my sole.
Moving to desert and we were full beyond belief. Scanning the menu for something manageable we spotted Salted Caramel Rolos. Sounds small and safe right? We were presented with three rotund chocolates and both ate one whole. All encompassing, no escape – it wasn’t the light bite I was hoping for but it was heavenly. DC thought they should have been smaller. I didn’t – I quite like being overcome by a salty wave of deliciousness.
Fat and extremely happy we rolo-ed out of the door onto Air Street. If Regent Street did need a make-over it couldn’t find a better bed-fellow than Hawksmoor. Delicious art Deco decadence.