As you step into Hawksmoor Air street and away from the frenetic cacophony of Piccadilly Circus, you are transported to another world. Gone are the shoulder barging crowds and intrepid shoppers. There is an understated opulence about the place, think gentlemen’s club crossed with an Edward Hopper painting. Dark wood, art deco touches, stained glass windows and parquet flooring all contribute to the sense of restrained elegance and calm. Once you ascend the sweeping marble staircase you are delivered into an inviting bar staffed by some of the best cocktail brains in the business. Many at the bar were sipping on the now infamous Full Fat Butter Old fashioned, which makes fine bedfellows of bourbon and you guessed it, butter. I opted for a grown up little tequila number which went down the hatch far too quickly, as all good cocktails should. As you are shown to your table, you start to realise the sheer size of the room, it is a very long dining room. However, some clever design means that you never feel overwhelmed in the space and the room is broken up into intimate compartments.
The menu at Air street showcases a bold move for Hawksmoor, the move into all things ocean. What do you do when you are consistently lauded as the best steak restaurant in the country? You make a decision that will test your mettle and try your hand at fish, or at least, that’s what Hawksmoor did! With the guiding influence of Mitch Tonks who owns The Seahorse in Dartmouth, the much celebrated destination restaurant which champions the finest seafood Brixham has to offer, the Air street chefs have been briefed and trained in all things seafood.
And boy did it pay off! The Hawskmoor smoked salmon is a joy to eat, it has a true depth of flavour and the smokiness is verging on sexy. The mussels had a lot to live up to after the salmon and they more than held their own, they were plump and succulent and incredibly tender, in a way that I haven’t really experienced before. I made sure I tried the seafood before I tucked into my firm favourite, the Tamworth belly ribs. Now, I must warn you at this juncture, these are life changing ribs. Do not, under any circumstances think about how many calories they contain as it will ruin all the fun. Simply bask in the joy of their presence in the world, they are all at once, a little spicy, a little tangy, a little sweet and a lot tender. The pickled red cabbage which accompanies them keeps them on the right side of rich and makes you feel momentarily virtuous.
At this point in the evening, I was content and satisfied and we hadn’t even reached the main course. We had ordered rib eye steak cooked medium rare and monkfish cooked over charcoal. The monkfish was cooked perfectly, the meaty flesh was superbly succulent and coupled with the salsa verde, was a bright star in the evenings offerings. The rib eye was as you would expect from the best steak restaurant in the country, flawless. All this and plentiful sides made me a very happy camper. The highlight of the side dishes was the Jansson’s temptation, essentially, potato dauphinois with anchovies, all kinds of scrumptious.
Amazingly, by this stage,I had managed not to slump into a food coma. Instead, I felt like I was riding high on the crest of some drug induced wave, the drugs being sophisticated alcohol and sumptuous food. It seemed necessary to order a nice Tokay to accompany the smorgasbord of desserts which I knew was about to descend on the table. And descend they did. I worked my way steadily around the table which had become home for champagne jelly with mandarin foam, jaffa cake, ferrero rocher sundae, assorted macaroons and salted caramel rolos whose reputation precede them and have been setting Twitter alight. The champagne jelly is a masterclass in simplicity, use good quality ingredients, treat them with the respect which they deserve and you will be rewarded with a harmonious and cohesive result. There is a creamy character to the luscious champagne jelly which makes a perfect pairing with the zingy, floral notes of the mandarin foam. If the champagne jelly is a masterclass in simplicity then the jaffa cake is a seminar in indulgence. It has everything going for it, from the glossy chocolate veneer to the rich mousse which it envelops, this is not for the faint-hearted. A secret pocket of sticky marmalade is housed within chocolate walls, hence the name and this is much, much more than a mere jaffa cake. After eating my own body weight, I made the smart decision to take home the rolos and macaroons and they made a delightful morning snack, which I must admit, I ate in bed!
This is a restaurant which means business, they do not do things by halves and this is reflected across the board. From the well informed and refreshingly approachable floor staff to the quality of the food which is made under the guiding influence of head chef Liam Kirwan and executive pastry chef Carla Henriques by their talented crew of chefs, their is substance and consistency at every turn.
Hawksmoor delivers what all great restaurants do and what all restaurants should aspire to, it gives you a feeling. From the moment you cross the threshold, you know that everything is going to be taken care of, you can temporarily hand your cares away to the Hawksmoor staff and in their place, will be a damn fine cocktail, some exciting wines and some mighty fine food. Unfortunately, when you leave you will have to collect your cares from the cloakroom but that ‘feeling’ will definitely hang around, it will definitely make the tube ride home a little less painful, it will definitely make the throngs at Piccadilly circus a little less frustrating and it will definitely still be with you when you’re eating macaroons in bed the next morning!