Classy Piccadilly steaks and fish
It’s not usually fair to review a restaurant during its soft launch period – this is when a new restaurant offers a discount on its usual prices while it works out the kinks both in the kitchen and in the front of the house. I’m willing to make an exception in the case of Hawksmoor Air Street though. This meal was easily one of the most satisfying I’ve had all year and I have to share it with someone before I burst – although the sheer quantity of food I ate probably has something to do with that.
Hawksmoor is a small chain that serves up some of the best steaks I’ve had in London, the chateaubriand alone is worth selling your firstborn for, but each of the four restaurants has a slightly different menu and its own distinct character. The original Spitalfields branch has a stylish bar with a quirky menu of small plates separate from the main menu. The Covent Garden-based Seven Dials location does a small but fine line of burgers – although it’s fallen behind a little in the London burger race. The Guildhall restaurant serves up gut-busting breakfasts for swaggering City boys and normal people alike.
The newest Piccadilly Hawksmoor serves up a menu of both seafood and steak. It’s located in the large space formally occupied by the mediocre Senkai and it’s been lovingly redecorated. The curved wooden and brass fittings, stained glass windows and handsome but simple light fixtures give the place an art deco-esque feel that’s stylish without being vulgar.
The Euro Hedgie and I sampled a fair swath of the new seafood dishes. One of the two meat dishes we had was a starter of potted beef and bacon served with onion gravy and Yorkshire puddings. The potted beef and bacon, served in a glass jar, may look unappetising but this coarse mixture goes down a treat – the moist tender strands of beef dotted with pork are complimented nicely by the sweetness of the thick onion gravy. The only hitch is the Yorkshire puddings. Although soft and fluffy, they’re also quite thick and get in the way of appreciating the loveliness of the potted meat.
Despite the Britishness of Hawksmoor, for some reason I was expecting a Spanish-style fish soup with a tomato base. What actually arrived was a much thicker, starchier soup that had a salty hit to it probably derived from a prawn shell stock. The scratchings of cheese added a surprisingly pleasing musky punch to the soup, but it’s telling that the thing I enjoyed most about the soup was the soft, fluffy pot pie-style pastry crust.
The roasted scallops were an unconditional success though – the firm, milky molluscs had a slightly crisp exterior and an unusually herby hit to them that’s apparently due to a combination of port and garlic.
Three starters deserves to be matched with three main courses. The monkfish had been grilled over charcoal and was both firm and moist with a herby flavour to it that I couldn’t quite identify. It’s simple but delicious.
The one fish I like more than monkfish is turbot. The flesh of Hawksmoor’s charcoal grilled version is milky and firm with a buttery sheen and herby hint to it that was immensely satisfying. The Hedgie’s only quibble is that he prefers his turbot skin crispy rather than soft, but that’s a very minor quibble indeed.
Sea bream in lesser restaurants can often arrive in such a dilapidated state that you’d be hard pressed to tell it apart from an equally tired slab of sea bass. That’s not a problem here though – the bream baked in paper with pepper, garlic, rosemary and chilli retains that unmistakable and distinctive taste of fresh bream. The fish has been lightly but expertly seasoned with a mild chilli kick that occasionally punched through the garlic and rosemary.
The only potential problem with the bream is that it’s served on the bone which may trip up those not used to deboning fish.
The only other meat dish the Hedgie and I had besides the potted meat starter was a side dish of braised pig’s trotter meat and fennel. The pieces of fennel bulb had been cooked just right – neither too firm nor too soft. They were perfect for conveying the tender, moreish and intensely meaty strands of trotter into my mouth.
Even though the onion rings didn’t really compliment any of our main dishes, I had to have them. Onion rings are not only one of my food obsessions, but they’re unique to the Air Street menu as far as I can tell. The batter was remarkably free of oil, but it was also quite thick and crunchy which got in the way of savouring the sweet, sour, gently sweated whole rings of onion.
Despite shovelling all that down our gullets, we still had room for dessert. The Euro Hedgie opted for salted caramel rolos which aren’t really shaped like the famous Nestle chocolates – probably due to intellectual property issues. The unremarkable chocolate shell contains a thick and gooey salted caramel interior. It’s not bad, but I’ve had better salted caramel chocolates where the contrast between the sweetness of the caramel and the salt is much more pronounced.
I have rarely had room for desserts during my previous visits to the other Hawksmoors, so I was looking forward to the orange and hazelnut jaffa cake. The chocolate shell was once again unremarkable and I couldn’t detect much hazelnut anywhere, but inside the sharp, gently citrusy jam was sandwiched between two thick layers of fluffy, chocolate sponge. Although the chocolate aspects didn’t satisfy the chocolate snobbishness of either myself or the Hedgie, it’s still a very rich dessert but this is neatly counterbalanced by the moistness of the vanilla cream supplied in a separate jug.
Hawksmoor’s cornflake milkshake, which is available in all four restaurants, is just as brilliant as ever – the sweet, crisp, milky taste of a bowl of cornflakes in a delightfully creamy milkshake. Ace.
The fruit cup was the Hedgie’s boozy tipple of choice. The mixture of gin, vermouth, curaçao, bitters, ginger ale and lillet rouge was a potent one.
Enthusing over a new restaurant that has yet (at the time of writing) to exit its soft launch period may come back to bite me in the arse and yet I don’t care. Although there were one or two hitches, these were minor flaws in a meal where the highlights were the simple, seemingly effortlessly well-cooked fish dishes.
There’s always a worry that chains will lose their soul and their competency as they expand, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem with Hawksmoor. London doesn’t have enough good seafood restaurants (especially once you exclude sushi restaurants and oyster bars) and if Hawksmoor Air Street can maintain this standard of quality, or perhaps even exceed it, then it will be the standard by which others are judged. Plus they have steaks.
Name: Hawksmoor Air Street
Address: 5a Air Street, London W1J 0AD
Phone: 020 3641 1893
Opening Hours: call to confirm
Total cost for one person including drinks and service when shared between two people: £65 (we actually paid £45 each during the soft launch – either way, you’ll pay less if you’re not as gluttonous as we were)