It’s Not So Tough In The ‘Outlaw Borough’ | Hawksmoor Borough, 16 Winchester Walk, London
My first experience of a Hawksmoor restaurant was a complete mystery to me, literally. For back in 2011, Saff had arranged a surprise birthday meal for me and my nearest and dearest at Hawksmoor Seven Dials. I’m not going to say which birthday, just that it ended in a zero. Coincidentally so did my bank balance – it was a long, long night of steak, red wine, cocktails and whisky.
Obviously this was one of the best nights of my life – amazing company, fantastic food and a brilliant atmosphere – I even had my very own Hawksmoor birthday menu printed up. We’d not long started this blog and Hawksmoor blew all of our previous restaurant experiences out of the water. I knew then and there that the ever-expanding chain would always remain a very special place to Saff and I.
So special, in fact, that we used any excuse to visit. If we found ourselves anywhere near Spitalfields, we’d try to pop down for a poutine or French dip in Hawksmoor’s beautiful basement bar. When it was my turn to arrange a breakfast meeting, then it had to be at Hawksmoor Guildhall – you honestly can’t beat a Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew (with gin, ginger, lemon and London Pride) at 8am.
So what was our excuse this time? Actually we had not one, not two, but three reasons. Firstly their newest restaurant, Hawksmoor Borough, had recently opened. Secondly, Saff (now a bona fide employee in the hospitality industry) has the brilliant CODE app and the discounts that it brings. And lastly, it was a bank holiday Monday – DIY or steak? An absolute no brainer.
I’d recently moved offices away from vibrant Bankside in Southwark (AKA the Outlaw Borough*) to the much more corporate and sanitised Canary Wharf and was missing the narrow cobbled streets around Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral. So a Mayday visit to Hawksmoor felt a little like coming home – except my home isn’t a former warehouse – originally for hops then, from 1932, for fruit.
Like the other venues, this latest site’s decor resembles a late Victorian gentlemen’s private members club – dark wooden panelled walls, bottle green leather chairs and checkerboard tiled floors, all oozing grandeur and exclusivity. But the Borough restaurant is a little brighter, due to the large windows, warehouse doors and white painted walls (well the top half anyway, the bottom half are painted black). Decor fact – the interior features tabletops made from school chemistry lab tops. It seemed a little more relaxed and casual too – not that we’ve ever felt uneasy at any Hawksmoor restaurant.
As mentioned above Saff and I intended to take full advantage of the app’s discount but didn’t really want to go crazy and go over the £50 per head max limit that we set ourselves when reviewing restaurants. So we decided to skip a bottle of wine (although prices start at a very reasonable £23 and on Mondays they only charge £5 corkage on BYO) and to save a few extra pounds, share a starter too.
The Potted beef and bacon with Yorkshire puddings (£8.75) was placed on this earth to share. Two big, crispy and oven warm Yorkshires served up with a pot of finely shredded beef and bacon terrine with a beef dripping lid and a rich, thick onion gravy – wow, talk about a taste bud jumpstart.
We did treat ourselves to a cocktail each, both from the Market cocktail list and both £10. I had to order the J.O. Sims Daisy (my best mate’s mum’s name is Jo Sims) – gin, honey, lemon and pineapple eat de vie. A sharp, fresh tipple with a slight medicinal taste – in a good way. Saff went for the Hop House Sour – hoppy gin, malt, lemon, egg white and IPA, a proper sour with a subtle flavour of beer.
But what wasn’t subtle, both in size and flavour, was our huge Porterhouse bone-in steak (half sirloin, half fillet), weighing in at a whopping 850g and a wallet straining £78 (that’s £9.25 per 100g). More than enough for two to share and with the discount it worked out at less than £20 each so we didn’t beat ourselves up too much over the indulgence.
It goes without saying that the steak here is absolutely top-notch, perfectly cooked, seasoned and packed with flavour. Owners Will and Huw have travelled the world in search of the perfect steak, from Kobe in Japan to Argentina’s Pampas via Italy and Texas. The verdict? Well they concluded that the best meat comes from carefully reared cattle right here in Britain, so stick that in your Big Green Egg and smoke it.
Now that I’ve raved on about the meat, it’s time to drool over their sides (not literally – that would be gross.) There’s an amazing selection of 15, yes 15, sides to choose from. In fact picking the meat is simple in comparison to deciding of which side dish to order. We couldn’t make our minds up so had two sides each – Mash and gravy (£4.50) and Cauliflower cheese (£6) for me plus Beef dripping fries (£4.50) and Evesham asparagus (£5.50) for Saff.
I actually wanted the macaroni cheese but didn’t want to carb overload, anyway surely cauliflower cheese counts as one of your five-a-day, right? Saff and I agreed to trade a few crispy fries for a dollop of smooth creamy mash. There was no way she was having any of my cauliflower cheese even if she did like cheese. I thought that £5.50 was a little steep for six asparagus spears – as good as they were, at just under £1 each they seemed a tad pricey. That said, they added much-needed freshness and a splash of colour on the plate.
Next up was dessert. We judged the rest of our meal perfectly – we had that ‘need to open the top button of your jeans’ feeling but still enough room to squeeze in half a pudding. And that’s exactly what we did, share a dessert (and pop open our top buttons). We went for what seemed like the lightest and most refreshing dessert on the menu – a Blood orange bomb (£7). We weren’t disappointed by this perfectly spherical snowball sized shell of meringue hiding a core of orange sorbet, sharp blood orange segments and sat in a sweet orange syrup – amazeballs.
When the bill arrived we were sure glad of the discount. Sure, had this been a special occasion the near £100 a head price tag would have been justifiable but not so for a casual afternoon lunch. Worry not though, you don’t have to smash open the savings to dine at Hawksmoor. They have a brilliant and very reasonable ‘express’ menu available, two-courses £25 or three-courses £28 (available until 6pm and from 9:30pm onwards Monday to Saturday.)
A couple on the table ordered from this menu and neither were they rushed (as the express name suggests) or were they disappointed by the quality and portion sizes of the meal. So, people of London (also Manchester and soon to be NYC) there is absolutely no excuse to visit those dodgy steakhouses – you know the ones (click here if you want a clue.)
*On the south bank of the Thames, outside the jurisdiction of the ancient City of London, Bankside has long been known as a hotbed of creativity, dissent and loose living. With its brothels and bear-pits, its prisons and its pubs, the area has inspired the nation’s greatest writers – Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Keats and Blake – and been home to its most famous theatres – the Globe, The Rose, The Old Vic and the National. These same south London streets have given sanctuary to immigrants and refugees, to tradesmen, craftsmen and Thames Watermen, to the workhouse poor and the criminal underclass.
Nearest station: London Bridge Station (3 mins walk)