Last year I was in the Redchurch chatting to one of the owners and he mentioned that they were planning on opening up a new bar in the City. Now the Redchurch is one of my favourite London bars, it has an enormously welcoming and relaxed atmosphere and attracts the cool kids . . . and me too. How on earth would that kind of ethos transfer to a City bar, all stripey shirts and undiscerning palates (judging by the kind of bars and restaurants that fill the Square Mile)?
A few months ago the new place, Hawksmoor, arrived and the thrills turn out to be not merely alcoholic. On Commercial Street, just North of Spitalfields, the restaurant/bar is right on the edge of the City and actually as close to Brick Lane. It's part of the Spitalfields food hub though with Canteen and St John Bread and Wine close by. This means it gets both City and non-City custom and it definitely doesn't feel like a City place. It's almost like the Redchurch has put on a tie, polished its shoes and got a job. What hasn't changed is the informal, relaxed atmosphere. Also, design elements carry over, though in a darker, more adult incarnation.
The cocktail list is determinedly retro, along the lines pioneered by Milk and Honey a few years ago. There's a wide range of juleps, many of the recipes taken from historical sources. On previous visits I've tried an astonishingly good Hawksmoor Fizz, made with rhubarb syrup, and also an Alsacian Martini, which was, to be honest, a dog of a drink (sorry). This time I gave their martini making another go and had a Puritan: basically a gin martini with orange bitters and a dash of yellow Chartreuse. It's an incisive, aromatic drink and was well made and served at the perfect temperature. Ben tried to order a cocktail but was advised by the bartender that it was too sweet for a pre-dinner drink . . . a gin-based, 'secret' cocktail was supplied instead which went down very well indeed.
The main food deal here is steak. Big, juicy, well-sourced, charcoal grilled fantasies of what a steak should be. To complement this there is a range of grill restaurant Americana. I ordered a caesar salad to start and Ben and Mark both had macaroni cheese. One of the crucial elements of a caesar salad is the crunch. This salad crunched. The croutons were made from a light rye bread which added flavour interest, there was a necessary and sufficient amount of anchovy and a creamy dressing. The macaroni cheese raised smiles, with a good chewy/crispy topping and a creamy macaroni mix below.
For steaks, Mark had the hangar steak (£16.50), Ben had a 600g rib-eye (£21.00) and I went for the bone-in sirloin, weighing in at 600g (£24.50). These prices may look steep, but this is top quality Ginger Pig meat . . . I'm guessing that if I'd bought my steak from the butcher retail it would have cost around £12. My sirloin was ideal, a steak that all other steaks merely approximate to. There was a subtle dousing of a barbecue sauce and then some charred bits, demonstrating the use of the charcoal grill, inside the steak was succulent and bloody. The taste and the texture of the whole thing was just amazing. Yabadabadoo! I'd had the hangar steak before and had recommended it to Mark. It's meant to be a bit of a connoisseur's choice - chewier than sirloin and rump but with a better flavour. I have to say that Mark's steak (delivered cut up on his plate) paled in comparison to the ruddy magnificence that Ben and I had before us. We'd asked for bearnaise sauce and wholegrain mustard, the former was fresh and unctuous. Chips were triple cooked - floury on the inside, crisp and crunchy on the outside.
The wine list, at least for reds, includes a number of big, chewy wines to complement the steaks. We had a Saia Nero d'Avola 2004 . . . it's young at this point, but this meant its tannin worked with the steaks.
We were groaning with our excess but Ben and I still managed to squeeze in some less than wafer-thin desserts. My cherry sundae was made with delicious creamy ice cream, the sour cherry cut through this in a satisfying way.
We retreated to the bar and ransacked the Scotch selection for digestive aid. I had a couple of peat heavy malts while Ben shied away from anything too medicinal. The bartender was amiable and interesting . . . as a final fillip we tried a sip of their home made damson gin.
My previous 'best steak in London' experience had been at Santa Maria Buen Ayre. This meal at Hawksmoor has, for the moment, put that in the shade. The combination of top quality, innovative cocktails with simply brilliant steaks makes this a winner.
Hawksmoor, 157 Commercial Street, E1 6BJ 0207 247 7392