Review: Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar
The first thing you notice about the new basement-bar below Hawksmoor Spitalfields is that it looks like it’s been there forever. The space, which once housed a strip-club, is in fact only a matter of weeks old, but already feels like a proper (dare I say it) ‘speakeasy’; the sort of which many in London have attempted in recent years but few have pulled off as impressively.
It also appears to have had a fair bit of money thrown at it. There’s a brass wall made from Art Deco lift doors salvaged from the 1920s Unilever Building in Embankment, columns built from reclaimed Victorian glazed bricks, and old chemistry lab table-tops and booths nestled in beautifully tiled alcoves opposite the bar. It certainly feels like the most glamorous and, fittingly, ‘nocturnal’ of all the Hawksmoor venues so far.
The bar menu here doesn’t feature Hawksmoor’s signature steaks (the kitchen downstairs is too small) but instead serves up an array of ‘burgers, dogs and wings’ to accompany a short but punchy list of beers -Kernel and Meantime are currently available – and cocktails. On the cocktails front, five are mainstays, and five – the ‘Desert Island Drinks’ – are picked each month by a different bartender.
On our party of four’s recent visit, favourites included ‘Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew’, topped off with London Pride, and the totally tropical ‘Monk Antrim’s Manila Julep’, made with pineapple bourbon. The Marmalade Cocktail came as somewhat of a surprise for those of us expecting a drink containing gin, campari and marmalade to more closely resemble the bitter-sweetness of, say, a negroni, when it was actually citrus-fresh thanks presumably to the generous splash lemon juice also listed as an ingredient. Regardless, the end result was still infinitely and dangerously drinkable. The tobacco-infused Old Fashioned was a genuine disappointment and the only real bum note of the night for me, as it lacked any real detectable smokiness to separate it from a (albeit very good) standard Old Fashioned.
Of the food menu, everything we ordered, and we ordered a lot, was great, but the side dishes in particular were absolutely bloody brilliant. The shortrib nuggets were mind-blowingly good – crispy on the outside and all unctuous, sticky flesh on the inside. The chicken wings were, simply put, the best I’ve ever eaten. The tangy meat just slides off the bone in one whole go. Fuck off Nandos. This is how it’s done.
The ‘smashed cucumbers’ and ‘Tamworth Laab’ venture off somewhat incongruously towards South East Asia, but who cares when it tastes this good. The latter is Hawksmoor’s riff on Yuk Sung – a zingy combination of minced pork, chilli, garlic and fish sauce, served in fresh gem lettuce leaves which you use to scoop it all up like a taco shell. Both dishes are perfectly executed plates of freshness, and provide a welcome respite between the slabs of meat and grease that also undoubtedly warrant your attention.
The ‘French Dip’ – braised shortrib with cheese in a brioche type roll, with a boat of marrow gravy on the side – is as overwhelmingly rich and deliciously filthy as it sounds. Although their cheeseburger was perfectly cooked and enjoyable enough, we were all in agreement that it fell just short of the ones served at Lucky Chip, currently in residence at The Sebright Arms. My friend Tom noted that this was a 7.5 out of 10 kind of burger and that, by way of comparison, a bacon cheeseburger (The ‘Kevin Bacon’) at Lucky Chip would probably rate as a 9.5, and the bone-marrow studded ‘main event’ served upstairs in the restaurant (at twice the price) would score at least a 15.
We also tried the poutine – chips, cheese and gravy with melted cheese and tender slow-cooked oxtail thrown in for good measure, an excellent chicken burger – served with egg and bacon on top – and a portion of triple-cooked chips with home made ketchup.
Unsurprisingly, at this point in the evening our party was pretty much defeated and so opted to share a peanut butter shortbread with salted caramel ice cream for desert. The shortbread was a bit dry. And it needed more ice cream. But in fairness, at this point in the meal I think we’d have struggled to genuinely enjoy any more food at all, whatever it was and however good it might have tasted.
In all honesty though, these are minor gripes and you have to look very hard to find fault with the place. The venue is great, the drinks and food were superb and the staff were, as always, fantastic. Like the rest of their operations, Hawksmoor’s new bar is as pretty near to perfect as it gets.
Finally, if this is to be East London’s rebuttal to the likes of Soho’s Spuntino, Pitt Cue and MEATLiquor – the no-reservations, queued-around-the-block hip homages to American fast food at it’s dirty best – then Hawksmoor already has one sizeable trump card up it’s sleeve: you can actually book a sodding table here.