Hawksmoor: Sumptuous steaks and top notch customer service
The Hawksmoor Restaurant feels a little bit imposing when you first enter. The beautiful oak panelled lobby has the feel of the entrance to a gentleman’s club where men in bowler hats go to discuss their country estates over their crystal brandy glasses. However, the staff behind the front desk instantly made me feel welcome. Cheerful and casually dressed, a girl in jeans and trainers led me through the lobby, through a relaxed bar area and into the dining rooms. The dining area was light, spacious and airy. The décor was distinctive and interesting. The building is a Victorian era courthouse, and traces of its past are everywhere. The historic building nerd in me loved it.
I was having an early meal on a weekday and so the diners were casual and chatty. Groups of familiar workmates with their top buttons undone, a handful of established couples. The girl put me by the window looking out across the room so that I could people watch. As she lit the table candles, I could see how the Restaurant would be transformed as evening drew close, with the high ceilings and muted avocado colours taking on an air of understated glamour.
I ordered the potted mackerel starter because it sounded quaint and vaguely famous five-ish. Also I adore the strong pushy taste of mackerel. It arrived in a cute jam jar like pot accompanied by a couple of crunchy bruschetta slices and a few sprigs of very fresh crisp tasting watercress. It was simple, delightful and homely. I enjoyed the process of spreading my own mackerel which made me feel as though I were at a seaside picnic. The texture of the potted mackerel was velvety smooth and I could eat wantonly without fear of any pesky bones. Despite its potted form it had lost none of the distinctive mackerel taste and had a pleasantly smoky kick to it.
I ordered the steak. Due partly to the fact that Hawksmoor is primarily a steak Restaurant but more so because Hawksmoor steaks have built up something of a formidable reputation. I ordered the rump. I know that the rump isn’t the steak connoisseurs cut of choice but it is my personal favourite and one which I have the most room and experience of for comparison. There is something about the sight of a slab of rump steak tossed onto a plate that brings out the Cave girl in me. And the presentation of this did not disappoint. I ordered mine medium rare which was delivered to me on a minimal white plate, a deep sizeable piece of meat. My tongue moistened at the sight of it and I felt almost ready to pick it up between my teeth like a cartoon dog. My plate was accompanied by a dainty jug of peppercorn sauce (there are an array of well made sauces to choose from: the lady who served me recommended the anchovy and stilton).
I cut into the steak and the flesh gave way beautifully. Beneath my steak knife it really did feel meltingly soft and supple, and made a rather glorious ripping sound. Once in my mouth, it was majestic. Rich, juicy and satisfying. Often when a dish has built up notoriety the way that the Hawksmoor steak has, the diner cannot help but pick faults. However, this meal exceeded my expectations. The meat is local, from Yorkshire in fact. I wouldn’t say it would be an exaggeration that Hawksmoor restaurants are helping to put English steak on the map, with a quality that might leave the Japanese a little impressed. The peppercorn sauce was a delightful accompaniment which complimented rather than covered the complex flavourings of the meat.
As a side dish I ordered the fries. They came, a generous handful, presented in a playful American diner style pot. The fries let me just say were pretty damn good. I’m fairly fussy when it comes to a good fry but these hit all the right notes. The outer skin was crisp without being hard and was aesthetically pleasing with a golden, sun kissed colouring. Inside the skin was feathery potatoe that had lost non of the earthy flavour of the spud. The fries were generously salted but not overly so. If Ronald McDonald began working towards his Michelin star then this would be the result.
The one niggling aspect of the main course that I will criticise is the ketchup bottle which was served in a sweet vintage style glass bottle. I couldn’t for the life of me get the sauce out of the bottle. Now, I’ve become reluctantly used to the ordeal that is the glass ketchup bottle but I have never known anything like this. I banged the bugger on the bottom. I tapped it on the table. I tipped in upside down, hoping that the unattainable liquid inside would begin to flow towards the neck. Nada. I’m not sure whether it was the consistency of the sauce or the slim shape of the bottle but that tomatoey goodness just wouldn’t budge.
I ordered the passionfruit crème brûlée on the advice of the waitress. I’m normally a sticky toffee pudding sort of girl but decided to be a bit daring. Sweet Jesus, am I glad that I did. The crème brûlée was presented like a fragment of summer in a shallow dish, the surface rather adorably sprinkled with pips. The glassy surface broke nicely with a firm bash of my spoon. The first taste was so utterly perfect that I had to hold in the crease of my tongue for a moment in order to make sense of it. The texture was daisy petal light but the flavour packed a serious punch. Sharp and impossibly fruity, this was one of the most refreshing desserts that I have ever had. Had I been at home then I would have ran a sly finger around the edge of the bowl but since I am a very serious, sophisticated Restaurant Critic I set down my spoon with a very understated “that was delicious”.
Overall, I would highly recommend the Hawksmoor Manchester. The food is well made from superior ingredients and simply delicious. The customer service feels natural yet extremely professional. The atmosphere is welcoming and homely but also special enough to be the perfect environment for that family birthday or anniversary dinner. This is certainly a restaurant for people who love food and expect a high standard of quality. Perhaps if you’re a ketchup aficionado though it might be best to sneak in a few sachets in your purse…