All the way back in 2006 when Hawksmoor first opened its doors, Jay Rayner declared that it had finally filled a void in Britain for “the sort of steak which is so readily available in the U.S”.
Fast forward 17 years and a truly excellent British steakhouse isn’t such a rare breed anymore. In fact, shortly after that particular restaurant critic’s public pronouncement, London started upping its steak game considerably.
In fact, just two years after Hawksmoor’s inaugural outpost helped turn Londoners conversant in the difference between bavette and brisket, the Lanes Restaurant & Bar became Marco Pierre White’s award winning London Steak House Company, a restaurant who are still cooking dry-aged British beef sourced from their private cutting room at revered butcher Aubrey Allen as 2023 cranks into gear.
Then there is Miller & Carter, the steakhouse chain from the hospitality company behind brands like Harvester and All Bar One, who, despite associations, serve an admittedly fine steak with full field-to-fork traceability from British farms intact.
Or, how about chef Jason Atherton’s Berners Tavern, who source their premium, grassfed beef from the Buccleuch Estate, a name that carries some serious pedigree in the world of steak.
There’s also popular places like Steak and Company, a collection of modern steakhouses with millennial pink branding to match the rare steak served within, housed in four central London locations for anyone looking for a side of skirt with their shopping.
However, despite the proliferation of steakhouses that have graced the streets of Britain in recent years, Hawksmoor remains a cut of flank about the rest.
Last year, the restaurant received the title of the World’s Best Steak confirming its bastion of beef status. The steak ambassadors and tastemakers that preside over the award declared that Hawksmoor “currently offers the best meat in the world”, going on to explain that “not only the taste, texture and preparation of the steak cuts convince us, but also key factors such as breeding, feeding, maturing and the respectful treatment of cattle from exclusively local and extensive farming”.
That respect for produce and process sees British-reared, grass-fed cattle sourced from various small farms (all part of Hawksmoor’s own breeding programme) scattered around the country. Once the beef arrives at the restaurant, it’s dry-aged for 35 days in dedicated chambers, creating beautifully textured steaks rich in flavour.
The beef offered at Hawksmoor is undoubtedly acclaim-worthy, and you’ll have a selection of massive cuts available to you, marbled to perfection and all served by weight. Though you pay by the 100g, realistically the minimum you can order is half a kilo, which is a perfect amount for a very, very greedy punter, or for two to share quite happily.
What makes a great steak is, of course, a matter of personal preference. Do you value a melt-in-the-mouth tenderness, of meat the texture of butter and a minimal effort in chewing? Then you’ll be wanting to seek out a fillet; it’s the part of the cow which has done the least work possible and is as lean as you like.
When it comes to steak, fat generally equals flavour, and if you’re seeking a seriously beefy taste, then connoisseurs will point you in the direction of something more marbled, such as the rump, which is full of the richness a good distribution of fat brings.
Whatever steak you choose, at Hawksmoor it’s pretty much obligatory to order the anchovy hollandaise to accompany it. You’ll want to dunk more than just your steak in it – definitely your chips, too, and perhaps even your body?
Speaking of anchovies, the seafood, which at Air Street shares headliner status with the steaks, is something to write home (or in an online magazine) about, too.
Indeed, the menu at Air Street is equally-weighted between steak and seafood, and if you weren’t convinced by a famous steak restaurant trying their hand at fish, then you will be when you hear that Mitch Tonks, the chef/owner of critically acclaimed Seahorse in Dartmouth, oversees all things oceanic here.
His school of thought towards fish – to ”buy the best and cook it simply” – echoes that of Hawksmoor’s attitude to meat; it’s a match made in heaven. Tonks’s cookbook, prosaically named ‘Fish’, is superb, by the way.
Anyway, back to the fish at Hawksmoor, which comes from Brixham market, brought in fresh daily. On a previous visit, a whole tail of monkfish, grilled over coals and standing up more than capably to the restaurant’s signature bone marrow gravy, had this carnivore contemplating turning pesci (if it weren’t for that pesky bone marrow, of course).
Perhaps our favourite section of the menu, though, is the starters. It’s a beautiful litany of every entree you’d expect to see on a surf-and-turf restaurant menu, and then some.
There are roasted scallops, perfectly caramelised on the outside and opaque in the middle, served in their shell and swimming in a white port and tarragon sauce, all topped with breadcrumbs. It’s a classic Mitch Tonks starter if ever there was one.
For the carnivores in the crew, a rich, unctuous, and oh-so indulgent bone marrow with onions and sourdough is another must order, as is the Hawksmoor Caesar, something of a house speciality. All freshness and crunch, it’s one of the more perfect plates of food you’ll find in London. And whilst occasionally prone to hyperbole, this time we’re not exaggerating.
Yep, you could easily build a meal of small plates from the starters here, and in a place sometimes associated with splurging, this might actually represent a wallet-friendly way of doing things.
A final word to the wise for those with a sweet tooth; do save room for the sticky toffee pudding. Carla Henriques, known as the Portuguese Princess of Pastry and more lately as Hawksmoor’s Queen of Puddings, has tweaked and refined the recipe here into its purest, most straightforward form, and it’s an exemplary version.
If glucose levels haven’t yet spiked, order a box of their salted caramel ‘Tributes’ to take home. Essentially a pimped up version of Rolos, you may not love anyone enough to give them the last one of these.
One for the road? Finish off with their ‘anti-fogmatic’ marmalade cocktail: gin, Campari, lemon juice, orange bitters and marmalade. It’s a quaffable drink if ever there was one and a great way to steel yourself before the bill arrives.
Through all the patter about dry-ageing and grass-feeding, day boats and rare breeds, perhaps the best thing about Hawksmoor is its dependability. There’s nothing worse than blowing money on a mediocre steak – or a cottonwool-like lobster tail for that matter – but you’re always confident that’s something which doesn’t happen there.
Instead, you’re guaranteed a meal of class and good taste from the moment you settle in until you spill out into Air Street full but happy.
Now stick a fork in us, we’re done.
Address: 5A Air St, London W1J 0AD