It all felt like a trip through time, really – you begin by descending stairs through an unassuming door off an alley in Covent Garden. Move through reclaimed doors and you emerge into the expansive bar of Hawksmoor’s new Seven Dials location, a wide space of panelled wood and thick leather chairs.
It’s something only the best restaurants can do: they take you from your life, and put you somewhere else, apart from the mundane. You don’t even realise you’ve forgotten about it until you emerge, blinking, into the sunlight.
Our table at the soft opening last week was for lunch, but never to be rushed, my dining companion and I took the afternoon off work and settled into the bar for an afternoon of leisure. We began with the bottle of manhattans to share. With individual ice, glasses and homemade maraschino cherries, it all felt very retro in a very good way. A boozy business meeting in an anonymous basement institution – nevermind this institution has yet to officially open its doors.
I like to think that by the end of the lunch (either intentionally or unintentionally) we had done Don Draper proud.
The Manhattans were heady, smooth and undiluted. They flowed easily and the self-assembly was fun. I wanted extra maraschinos but worried it would take me from ‘adult female cocktail connoisseur’ to ‘girl one step away from umbrella’ and so held my peace.
These finished, we moved into the dining room. We were business like in ordering: rather than perhaps take time to peruse the menu, take in the new options, we went straight for what we wanted. A loss perhaps, in that neither of us went for a lobster roll. Or any lobster full stop.
For starters we split 6 big, fat oysters and I had the goat cheese and beetroute salad while my companion opted for potted mackerel. The salad was substantial, hearty and rustic. Cooking for myself lately I’ve been really into cutting things very small and it was a welcome change of pace to take bites out of hearty (but manageable) chunks of delicious yellow and pink beets complimented by heady cheese.
I only tried a bit of the potted mackerel, but seriously enjoyed the contrast of smoky fish, fresh and crisp cucumber and the crunchy, salty toast that it was served with. My only qualm with the whole meal: we ran out of toast before we finished the mackerel. Mostly because the toast was that good.
For the main meal we kept it simple: an 800g porterhouse to share (medium rare), beef dripping chips, buttered greens, macaroni and cheese (spot the North American! said my companion).
For anyone who has had a Hawksmoor steak (and this was my 3rd) the praise has already been lauded, and this was no different. It was, as always, the steak of my life – the beauty here being I can get it over and over again. Perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, wanting for nothing: the meat stands alone.
The macaroni and cheese, as always, stood out: creamy but sharp and full of moreish mature cheddar, it is by far the best macaroni and cheese I’ve had outside of North America, and potentially the best I’ve ever had.
To accompany this we drank 2 bottles of French Syrah – a nice full-bodied friend to such robust food. Yes, that is 1 bottle each. What can I say? It was that good. And perhaps we got carried away.
To finish our visit off, we again moved to the bar for tobacco old-fashioneds – a signature drink of Hawksmoor (if not officially, signature for me!) on recommendation by our barman. We each sampled their two varieties: rye and bourbon. But the wine had taken its toll, and any analysis I gave you of this drink would be simple conjecture on my part, dear readers. My dining companion remembers it as a ‘wonderful twist on a classic cocktail’ – I can only say it went down very well indeed.
The service was friendly, unassuming, prompt. The food was excellent. The drink and merriment flowed easily. And when I emerged into daylight, I felt very much like I’d visited somewhere else, another time or somewhere very far away indeed. And that was really nice.