London steak restaurant and cocktail bar Hawksmoor last month opened a second site in the West End, confirming a trend towards meat-focused restaurants. Kerstin Kühn went to visit
Restaurant openings seem to come in waves. While for the past year or so there's been an influx of French bistros and brasseries - Bruno Loubet, Joël Antunès, Pierre Koffmann and Les Deux Salons to mention just a few - more recently there seems to be a trend towards restaurants for carnivores. Jamie Oliver's Barbecoa, Jonathan Downey's Redhook and Wolfgang Puck's forthcoming Cut all fit the bill, as well as London steak restaurant and cocktail bar Hawksmoor, which last month opened a second site in the West End.
Owners Will Beckett and Huw Gott, who launched the original site in Spitalfields in 2006, said the move had been a natural progression. "The idea of a second restaurant arose from the fact that we are dramatically overbooked in Spitalfields and have a lot of staff who have been with us for a long time and are ready to be promoted," explains Beckett.
Housed in the former Watney Combe brewery in Covent Garden, Hawksmoor Seven Dials is a large 128-seat basement restaurant which also includes a 50-cover cocktail bar and a 14-seat private dining room.
Interiors have been developed by Macaulay Sinclair and give a real sense of history, incorporating original features such as a vaulted brick ceiling and a series of Victorian cast-iron columns, which are joined by reclaimed parquet and oak panelling as well as tiles sourced from London Underground restoration suppliers. Although the restaurant is brand new, it already feels lived-in.
The food offer at Seven Dials is similar to the original Hawksmoor, with head chef Richard Turner in charge of the kitchen. The menu features the signature Longhorn steaks from the charcoal grill - supplied from Yorkshire by the Ginger Pig butcher and dry-aged for at least 35 days - with favourite cuts such as bone-in prime rib, Porterhouse and Chateaubriand. The menu warns that the steaks are big enough for two not-so-hungry diners to share, and that's no exaggeration.
"The aim is to get a good char on the outside while keeping the meat juicy and tender inside, which is impossible with a thin piece of meat," explains Turner. He cooks the steaks on the fiercely hot charcoal grill, turning the meat every few minutes. Steaks are accompanied with a choice of five sauces: béarnaise, peppercorn, bone marrow gravy, Stilton hollandaise and anchovy butter. Porterhouse and fillet are the best sellers among the steaks, while the most popular side dish is a generous portion of beef dripping chips, which - crisp and fat - are an absolute killer.
In addition to the carnivorous element of the menu at Hawksmoor there's an added focus on seafood, with starters including Cumbrae rock oysters (£10 for six); hand-dived Scottish king scallops with champ (£12); and Dorset blue lobster served with beurre noisette (£15 for a half; £30 for a whole lobster). There's also a daily changing fish special, which might be mackerel, sea bass or, occasionally, sole. "Our fish is always from English shores, always fresh that day and cooked simply: whole, over charcoal," says Turner. "We buy from Wright Brothers, Cove Shellfish and Chef Direct."
Puddings continue the menu's general idea and include classics such as custard tart (£6) and sticky toffee pudding (£6) alongside a selection of mini-sundaes (£6) accessorised with a choice of chocolate, sticky toffee or cornflakes.
After just a month Hawksmoor Seven Dials has already made its mark on the West End dining scene. It seems to cater perfectly to an increasingly meat-driven market.
SAMPLE DISHES FROM THE MENU
STARTERS Grilled Poole clams in bacon bone broth £7 Potted smoked mackerel £5.50 Bone marrow and slow-cooked onions £5.50
MAINS Lamb chops £18 Fillet (300g) £30 Half a chicken £12
SIDES Triple-cooked chips £4 Mash and gravy £4 Macaroni cheese £4
DESSERTS Apple and quince crumble with cinnamon ice-cream £6 Chocolate pudding with Ivy House cream £6 Neal's Yard cheeses with chutney £9
Hawksmoor Seven Dials Tel 020 7856 2154
11 Langley Street, London WC2H 9JG