Can the great steak restaurant's first location outside London live up to its USP?
So Hawksmoor’s been open a while now. And a bit like a jittery goalkeeper who just needed a couple of clean sheets and the fans’ approval (yes, this is a sporting analogy in the food section), it seems to have settled down into a solid dependability, with the capacity for the odd gaffe now and again.
Now, if I’d judged it purely on the soft launch, there’d be considerably fewer stars attached to this review. In fact, there might not have been any at all.
It was a pretty momentous occasion – at least for those who’d heard of Hawksmoor or been to their London locations – when the brand announced their intention to open on Deansgate. Presumably one of the business directors had deigned us worthy of a restaurant, after realising that steak didn’t have too many complex cultural, north-south divide barriers to transcend. I imagine the meeting went something like this: “Manchester’s a big city; big cities have people; people like steak; well, apart from the veggies but we’ll give them some heritage tomatoes and, y’know, we are a steak restaurant after all.”
As is customary in the industry, introductory offers were brandished and the city lined up for cut-price meat. Already apprehensive about the quality of delivery – given the often inauspicious combo of a new kitchen and new chefs – I exercised my more forgiving side when the bone-in prime rib arrived looking as though it’d been salvaged too late from a house fire. I’ve cooked steak less unevenly at home, four pints down, on a disposable barbecue. Memories of decent potted crab and steak tartare weren’t enough to erase the disappointment.
First time around, egregious treatment of meat. The second time, we actually avoided steak entirely (well, sort of) and sampled the bar menu. The French Dip, a short rib sandwich that you dunk in a jug of bone-marrow gravy, is stupidly delicious, if a little pricey at £12. The poutine, augmented by yet more rich beef gravy, needs to win some kind of award for chip dishes. Throw in a clever cocktail list, and it’s not hard to see yourself stuck in a dark corner until closing time, addled by whisky, clothes soiled with reduced beef stock that’s dripped from the ends of a hundred triple-cooked chips.
On another visit, it seemed foolish not to have the best of both worlds; to warm up with a bar menu snack before the main event. That meant ordering the short rib nuggets – deep-fried wheels of tender beef with creamy cheese centres of Ogleshield, which has similar stretching properties to a raclette. There’s something almost carnal about pulling them apart and watching the pale yellow filaments drape themselves in the air.
This time the bone-in sirloin and ribeye steaks are far better cooked than on previous occasions, so either the chefs are getting better or the original lot didn’t make the cut. Sometimes, the modernist in me thinks, why not water bath them all to the ideal doneness for sake of convenience? But then you can’t allow for all the preferences of your inevitably fussy clientele.
Avoiding beef? The Ginger Pig ribs are hard to fault, especially considering the quality of the meat. The sea bass ceviche leaves you feeling a bit short-changed but fish starters tend to do that. My only real gripe is that they don’t serve hanger steak, which has surely attained the status to be included on the menu.
If I want steak, I’ll more than likely visit a good butcher and cook it at home. But, unless somewhere better comes along, if I want to eat a steak out it’ll have to be Hawksmoor.
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