Hawksmoor Seven Dials, 11 Langley Street, London WC2
Saturday 27 November 2010
As if it wasn't already hard enough to keep up, in today's Fifty-Things-To-Do-Before culture, a new pressure has emerged. Now you don't just need to own this season's must-have bag – you must also have tried the latest must-eat restaurant dish.
A new restaurant opens, and the bloggers are in before the paint is dry, uploading photos of their dinner. The Tweeters follow, and consensus rapidly emerges about the to-die-for dish: "Ox cheek pappardelle at Obscura East...", "Banh Mi sushi at The Endangered Panda...". Before long, there is a feeding frenzy as early-adopters rush in to try the must-eat, and most importantly, to tell their friends they've tried it.
Recent stampedes have been provoked by La Petite Maison's roast black leg chicken stuffed with foie gras, which needed to be pre-ordered. Bar Boulud's Piggie Burger, topped with barbecue pulled pork, prompted another Gadarene rush.
This autumn, foodie fashion victims will mostly be eating Hawksmoor's kimchi burger, the latest must-order to hit London's dining scene. It's a multi-culti delicacy combining ground beef with cheese and home-made kimchi – the Korean pickle made with fermented cabbage –in a brioche bun. It's only available on the bar menu, but they'll serve it in the restaurant if you ask – just the kind of insider knowledge that stokes up the desirability of a must-eat dish.
Hawksmoor isn't an obvious candidate for this kind of attention. The original branch in Spitalfields was a reinvention of the traditional British steak house, specialising in carefully sourced beef from The Ginger Pig. The wine list was similarly well chosen, and the funky atmosphere appealed equally to loft-dwellers and City boys who thronged the noisy dining room.
Now Hawksmoor's clever young owners have built on that success with a game-raising new opening in the Seven Dials area of Covent Garden. Not since Martine McCutcheon opened in My Fair Lady has an East Ender emerged so triumphantly as a fully-fledged West End star.
Everything about Hawksmoor has been beautifully done. Even the entrance is exciting – a nightclub-style doorway tucked down a cobbled alley, in what was once the notorious slum area of Seven Dials (the only potential danger now is that you might bump into Louis Spence, erupting from the Pineapple Dance Studios across the road).
A dramatic staircase leads down into a dark bar, as louche as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, with a cocktail menu to match. The vast dining room is similarly atmospheric. Too many new restaurants look like architectural models. This converted brewery has already acquired the patina of use, with pleasure encoded in its brick walls and reclaimed fittings. My guest Charlie, who runs TV's Grand Designs, knows his way around an ambitious project, and deemed this one a complete success.
If something about the vaulted roof and municipal woodwork recalls an old-fashioned station, it would be Meat Central. At Hawksmoor, it's all about the beef, from grass-fed Longhorn cattle, aged for at least 35 days. As in the Spitalfields original, the larger cuts – prime rib, Porterhouse and Chateaubriand – are chalked up on blackboards, priced by the 100g. Smaller cuts – fillet, sirloin and rib-eye – are listed on the menu. Extras include half a lobster, grilled bone marrow and two fried eggs. As Charlie observed, this would be the place to come if you had to arrange a lunch with Desperate Dan.
Both starters were impressive; a school-of-St-John salad of lentils, braised shallots and roasted Jerusalem artichokes, and a kilner jar of mackerel pâté, served with toasted baguette.
But we're not here for such girlish pleasures. Hawksmoor's steaks are often called the best in London, and Charlie's sirloin, a hefty, bone-in slab for £28, lived up to that billing. The Josper charcoal grill gives a deep, smoky char, but inside the flesh is rosily pink and full of flavour. Chips are given due care and attention; we preferred the triple-cooked frites to the chunkier ones fried in beef dripping.
And as for that kimchi burger? It was pop-art in a roll, a collision of colourful, brash flavours that shouldn't have worked together but absolutely did. The patty itself, exuding the heady whiff of beef marrow, held its own against the zingily hot kimchi, which fizzes through a range of flavours, from sweet to citric, leaving a smile on your face, and a chilli-induced trout pout on the lips. Having tasted it, I understood why it had got people all of a-Twitter; it wasn't quite like anything else I'd ever eaten.
We were back on familiar ground with a shared pudding of lemon curd, served in the same kind of jar as the mackerel pâté, a clear case of over-kilner. With coffees, it brought our bill to £135, including a brace of cocktails and a £32 bottle of Chianti Classico, which was outclassed by the quality of the steak. Next time I go, I'll splash out on a really good bottle of red. Who needs a must-have handbag anyway?
Hawksmoor Seven Dials, 11 Langley Street, London WC2 (020-7856 2154)
Around £135 for two, including wine and cocktailsTipping policy"Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"
Side Orders: Where's the beef?
46 Sackville Street, Manchester (0161 923 6846)
For a real meat fix at this Brazilian churrascaria, order 11 delicious and different cuts, carved at your table (£21.50).
Porterhouse Steak House
Try the porterhouse for two (£39.95) or the chargrilled rib-eye steak (12oz for £19.95) at this popular local.
24 Jewry St, Winchester (01962 810 532)
26 Maddox Street, London W1 (020-7499 3776)
Already a London favourite, Goodman's beef is imported from all over the world and hung on-site. Try the 400g American Rib-Eye (£29).
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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