We tend to think of traditional steakhouses as very American-style institutions, with deep Chesterfield chairs, dark wood paneling, and portraits of long-dead people on the walls. But head to Hawksmoor, a steakhouse that’s taken London by storm since its first location opened in 2006 and has since expanded to seven locations, and you’ll see that a great steakhouse doesn’t have to be stuffy; it can be fun, exciting, unpretentious, and adventurous. And it can also be very, very British.
We recently dined at the Seven Dials location in London at the invitation of the restaurant, and though it’s still unclear exactly how much of the formula will be brought over to New York when a 14,000-square-foot location opens in Lower Manhattan in 2017, we can’t wait to see what owners Will Beckett and Huw Gott have in store.
The restaurant, located on a quiet Covent Garden street, is dim and stately, with old iron pillars running the length of it, parquet floors, brick walls, and brick barrel-vaulted ceilings; there’s also a large bar that was clearly a popular spot. The dining room has a buzz and energy unlike any other steakhouse I’ve been to with an even mix of suited businessmen and casual couple and families enjoying carefully sourced meat.
Beckett and Gott source their beef from Yorkshire’s Ginger Pig, where cattle are grass-fed and humanely raised before being slaughtered at 36 months (as opposed to 12–18 months for commercial beef). Meat is dry-aged for 35 days (55 days for their famed rump steak), and sold by the gram, which can get a little bit confusing for those used to ounces: filet and rump steaks are 300 grams (10.6 ounces); sirloin and rib-eye steaks are 400 grams (14 ounces); and larger cuts including bone-in prime rib, T-bone, porterhouse, and chateaubriand are priced per 100 grams but generally don’t come any smaller than in 500 gram (17.6 ounces) portions. A chalkboard relays which steaks in which sizes are available, so if you have a later reservation, don’t be surprised if they’re out of some options.
My sirloin (one of the evening’s last) was perfectly medium-rare with a deeply browned crust and a rich, beefy flavor. The dry-aging imparted the slightly funky minerality they you look for in a nicely aged steak, and it was satisfying on that primal level that only a great steak can reach. But there’s a lot more than just steak on the menu to love: Brixham crab on toast, roast scallops with white port and garlic, Tamworth belly ribs, bone marrow with onions, house-smoked salmon on soda bread, and potted smoked mackerel are all standout appetizers (the crab on toast was especially delicious and absolutely loaded with crab); and additional entrées include grilled free-range chicken, baked lemon sole, a whole grilled lobster with garlic butter, and ash-baked celery root. The sides also shouldn’t be missed; triple cooked chips, mash and gravy, macaroni and cheese, roasted field mushrooms, and Bermondsey sourdough are standouts (especially the macaroni and cheese).
Hawksmoor proves that great steak doesn’t need to be served in a stuffy and snooty atmosphere. The Hawksmoor restaurants are unlike steakhouses you’ll find in America, and the laser-like focus on sourcing the finest possible ingredients and preparing them simply and with little fuss yields stellar results. If you're in London and love steak it's a must-visit, and if you're in New York City, get excited.