The Hawksmoor, London
A last-minute visit to London and an unexpected lunch invitation took me to The Hawksmoor Guildhall, the celebrated London steakhouse and cocktail bar.
As a steak lover, but an infrequent visitor to the UK, it was a the list of things-to-do-in-London-but-will-probably-never-get-round-to – so I jumped at the chance to sample what Jay Rayner, writing in the Observer, had described as “quite simply, the best steak I have ever eaten in this country”.
Nestled in a narrow street behind London’s Guildhall, at the heart of The City, the small lobby belies the vast chamber below, with a bar and a large, but modestly decorated dining hall. The place has a welcoming feel – friendly staff who skilfully tread the path between over-attentiveness and aloofness, and the reverberation of chatter from other diners.
Its appeal is in its simplicity, from the wooden, undressed tables to the one-page menu (albeit with a very instructive diagrammatic dissection of a cow on the reverse – if you didn’t know before, this is not a place to bring a vegetarian).
There is also an evident sense of humour: the cocktail menu borrows from a range of literature to prove that there’s always an excuse for alcohol. I managed to resist the temptation for a ‘pre-prandial’ or an ‘anti-fogmatic’ – the latter not least because it was a clear crisp day (although the 19th-century doctor quoted in the menu helpfully points out that ‘Should there be no fog, take as preventatives lest there should be fog in the course of the day’).
The steak was exquisitely cooked… the chips suggested that the Belgians should consider an extra fry
After the waiter had reeled off the day’s choice cuts (definitely for sharing, as they tipped the scales at between 600g and 1.2kg), we opted for rib-eye steaks, with the much-heralded triple-cooked chips and spinach. (Apparently it is customary to have macaroni cheese too – but being able to move afterwards was an important consideration.)
Jay Rayner was not lying. The steak was exquisitely cooked: a charred, callous, salty outside and a pink, succulent, well-rested inside. The chips suggested that the Belgians should consider an extra fry. The house red was smooth and buttery and an excellent complement.
Considering it rude not to try dessert, I chose a pear and almond bakewell tart – an excellent choice, as it turned out, but frankly I don’t think that I could have gone too far wrong.
With service and food like this, The Hawksmoor has earned its stripes, and its reach will no doubt expand. While pricey, it’s good value. I will certainly be back – not only for the steak and chips, but the ambiance – and to road-test the celebrated cocktail menu.
The Hawksmoor Guildhall, 10 Basinghall Street, London EC2V 5BQ